Harvard Z-List

Harvard Waitlist, Z-List at Harvard, Harvard University Waitlist

Do you think that the Harvard Z-List is unethical (photo credit: Jacob Rus – 2004).

Ever heard of the Harvard Z-List? You probably haven’t so we’ll fill you in. The Harvard admissions office is encouraging of students who wish to take a year off between high school and college to do something else. Harvard students are typically (a.k.a. always) extremely ambitious and to avoid burn-out, a year of doing something completely different from schooling could be a good thing (though this year should certainly be educational and fulfilling — it shouldn’t consist of sitting on the couch watching television). Anyhow, for about 20 of the 50 students who deferred their admission last year, as “The Harvard Crimson” states, “deferring is not an option, but a requirement.”

That’s right. These students didn’t have a choice but to defer a year. And why’s that? Because these students were pulled off of Harvard’s waitlist on the condition that they defer their admission by a year because Harvard simply doesn’t have enough beds for them. But, more interestingly than this is the fact that these 20 students have something in common besides having been plucked off of Harvard’s waitlist. What’s that, you ask? They are the children of alumni. That’s right — they’re legacies.

According to “The Harvard Crimson” article on the Harvard Z-List, “The Crimson obtained information about the legacy status of 36 of the approximately 80 Z-list students at Harvard in 2001-02. Though McGrath Lewis insists the Z-list is ‘not a legacy list,’ 26—or 72 percent of the 36-student sample—were legacies, compared with 12 to 14 percent of the class as a whole. Even if none of the remaining 44 or so Z-list students were legacies, 33 percent of the 80 students would be legacies—still well above the proportion of legacies in the class as a whole.”

We at Ivy Coach have known for quite a while about the Harvard Z-List. We haven’t written about it because, well, we surely don’t share the vast majority of our secrets on our college admissions blog since we are a business at the end of the day. But now that it’s getting some more press (it has gotten some press before), we felt the need to let our readers know about this admissions practice. What do you think about the Harvard Z-List? Is it unfair? Should it be done away with? Let us know your thoughts on the subject by posting below!


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  • Becky says:

    We all know the decision isn’t about whether the student is qualified for admission. If they were clear qualifiers, they clearly would have been admitted in either round. The decision is over how much money Harvard seeks to gain or lose by admitting that student or not. You can’t p___-off major donors, after all. Haha, and maybe THAT process is what takes all the time. A few more months of some emeritus board member hobnobbing with grandpa to see if he’ll still donate if junior is rejected.

  • Joanie says:

    I would like to say that I am not a legacy nor affluent and I was placed on the z-list.

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