For Class of 2024, Smaller Applicant Pools Meant Less Competitive Admissions at Harvard, Peers

In light of shrinking undergraduate applicant pools, admissions to a majority of Ivy League schools were less competitive for the Class of 2024 than in recent years.

Harvard announced last week that it admitted 4.92 percent of applicants to the Class of 2024 — the first percentage increase in six years. MIT and four other Ivy League schools also reported increased acceptance rates, while Princeton reported a slight decrease. Columbia and Cornell have not publicly released their admissions statistics.

Harvard saw a seven percent decrease in applications for the Class of 2024 relative to the previous class; Princeton and Brown were the only Ivy League schools whose applicant pools grew.

Of the eight Ivy League schools, Dartmouth experienced the largest increase in its acceptance rate — from 7.9 percent last year to 8.8 percent this year. The University of Pennsylvania and Yale followed, with increases from 7.44 to 8.07 percent and 5.91 to 6.54 percent, respectively. Brown’s rate grew from 6.6 to 6.9 percent. MIT saw an increase as well, with its acceptance rate rising from 6.7 to 7.3 percent.

The swelling admission rates mark the first break in a recent trend downward at Harvard and peer universities.

Brian Taylor — managing director of private college consulting service Ivy Coach — said the schools have seen higher acceptance rates in light of smaller applicant pools across the board this year.

“They still have to fill around the same class sizes overall. So when you have fewer applications — just basic math — you’re going to have higher acceptance rates,” Taylor said. “But I would say that this year, in particular, they also accepted more students because they couldn’t predict their yield as accurately as they could in previous years.”

Taylor added that higher acceptance rates — as well as secondary factors, such as admitted student weekend cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic — will change how colleges draw from their waiting lists this year.

“Schools which are notoriously insecure about their yield will admit more kids. And they’ll also offer longer waitlists,” Taylor said. “This year, I anticipate that schools will go deeper into their waitlist than in prior years.”

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said he was uncertain about how current events could impact how many students are admitted from the waiting list.

“It is truly impossible to know in any year. It would be the most difficult year in our history, you know, to try to make any kind of a guess,” Fitzsimmons said. “We do stand ready for whatever might happen but there are lots of unanswerable questions.”

Anna Ivey — the founder of the college admissions consulting firm Ivey Consulting — said she believes it will be hard for admissions offices to accurately project yield rates amid the pandemic.

“All the tools that they normally use to predict enrollment are gone. Those are not valid anymore,” Ivey said.

“I suspect there’ll be a lot of movement this summer, and then who knows if you guys are going to be back on campus in the fall,” she added.


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