The Ivy Coach Daily

June 18, 2024

The Scoop on the Harvard Z-List

A bronzed statue of John Harvard is visible from the side.

Have you heard of Harvard University’s Z-List? About 60 students earn admission to Harvard through the Z-List each year. Unlike typical admits, these students do not gain admission in the Early Action or Regular Decision rounds or earn a spot off the Harvard waitlist. Z-Listed students are neither accepted nor denied at the conclusion of both admission rounds. Instead, they’re Z-Listed. So what exactly is the Z-List, and who gets Z-Listed by Harvard?

The Harvard Z-List Unmasked: Who Gets Z-Listed?

Harvard has long sought to avoid public scrutiny of its secretive Z-List, but this hasn’t stopped Ivy Coach from writing about the list over the years. And it didn’t stop the list from being spotlighted during the Students For Fair Admissions v. Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College case, which led to the outlawing of the practice of Affirmative Action in college admissions decision-making.

As discovery in the lawsuit brought to light, approximately 60 students earn admission each year through the Harvard Z-List. All of these students must defer their college education by one year. So a 2023-2024 Z-Listed applicant would not be able to enroll with the Class of 2028 but instead with the Class of 2028. These Z-Listed students, predominantly Caucasian (about 70% of Z-Listers are white, 2% are Black, and white students outnumber Black, Asian, and Latino students combined) and well-connected (about 50% of Z-Listers are legacies), typically boast academic profiles that more closely resemble denied applicants than admitted applicants.

Ivy Coach’s History with Harvard Z-Listed Students

As Bev Taylor, Founder of Ivy Coach, is quoted in a piece by Deirdre Fernandes in The Boston Globe on Harvard’s Z-List, “The Z list is a way for Harvard to keep its alumni and donors happy while maintaining its reputation as a highly selective college.”

The Boston Globe piece continues, “A handful of students that Taylor has counseled through the admissions process have gotten into Harvard through the Z list. All had some legacy connection to Harvard and families willing to donate to the school — anywhere from $1 million over four years to several million — Taylor said. And though Harvard’s offer came late in the admissions process and the gap year wasn’t always planned, most students accepted the conditions. They traveled, participated in gap-year programs, or worked for their parents’ companies, she said. One student rejected the offer and went to Yale University instead, concerned that he would be at loose ends with the year off, Taylor said.”

Money Alone Can’t Buy a Spot on the Harvard Z-List

In light of Ivy Coach’s history of helping students earn admission off the Harvard Z-List over the last three decades, parents often ask, “I have no connection to Harvard, but how much will it take for my child to get into Harvard?” 

But the question is preposterous. Harvard has the largest endowment of any university in the world (it stood at $50.7 billion in the 2023 fiscal year). As such, if you believe that Harvard will risk its reputation for a quick payday, you’re mistaken.

Note how Ivy Coach’s founder describes Harvard’s Z-List in The Boston Globe. Students most often Z-Listed by Harvard have a solid connection to the institution; they are rarely donors out of left field. Specifically, they’re typically legacy candidates — the children of major alumni donors. And for those Z-List candidates who are not legacies, they’re typically the children of influential families. Note we didn’t say merely wealthy families — we said influential families. Maybe it’s even the child of a U.S. president.

Save Your Harvard Donation, Pay Ivy Coach Instead

So save your money. Those who do not have deep connections to Harvard and choose to donate a million dollars will receive warm thank-you notes for their generosity, but it will not help their child earn admission to the Ivy League institution. Instead, it will be perceived precisely how they likely fear it will be perceived: they’re trying to buy their child’s way in. Such a tactic will only render their child less likable, which should be the opposite of their objective.

Besides, why pay Harvard millions of dollars in exchange for a thank-you note when you can work with Ivy Coach to optimize your child’s case for admission to Harvard? Ivy Coach’s track record speaks for itself. If you’re interested in working with Ivy Coach, fill out our complimentary consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

FAQ on the Harvard Z-List

Do other universities have a Z-List like Harvard?

While many elite universities offer preferential treatment in admissions to the progeny of major alumni donors, few such schools keep an official list that Harvard has even gone so far as to name. That said, the University of Chicago, which has a history of emulating Harvard with respect to its class size, also keeps a Z-List.

Should students accept Harvard’s Z-List offer?

Yes! We don’t know many students who would turn down Harvard — unless they prefer to attend Stanford University, Yale University, Princeton University, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So, without question, students should strongly consider a Z-List offer. That said, we did once have a student turn down a slot on Harvard’s infamous Z-List to instead go to Yale, as referenced in The Boston Globe piece.

As per The Boston Globe piece, “One student rejected the offer and went to Yale University instead, concerned that he would be at loose ends with the year off, Taylor said. ’We were thrilled they had that avenue,’ Taylor said of the Z list. ’I’m happy for any way a kid can get to go to a dream school.’”

Will the Z-List will be eliminated in the future?

Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball hereby predicts that Harvard’s Z-List is on its last legs. While Harvard will always find ways to offer preferential treatment to the children of significant alumni donors and influential families, it doesn’t mean an official list will always exist.

Yet, for now, Harvard’s Z-List is alive and well. In fact, Harvard has been Z-Listing more students in recent years than ever. In 2002, Harvard’s then-Director of Admissions Marlyn E. McGrath said there were 20 Z-Listed students in each Harvard undergraduate class. That number grew to between 30 to 50 in 2010, according to Harvard’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons. As The New York Times reports on the legendary Z-List, the figure climbed to between 50 to 60 between 2014 and 2019. It’s believed to be at the high end of that range in 2024, and we suspect it may even exceed 60 in 2025.

Will Harvard be impressed by a million-dollar donation?

No! As Brian Taylor of Ivy Coach has asserted in The New York Times, they’ll appreciate an offer ten times this amount. And even that will not guarantee a student’s case for admission.

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