When you’re doling out entrance to an elite community at the rate of 5% in an open yet political society such as ours,6 you will be tasked, as Harvard is, with achieving a balance among wide-ranging outreach efforts, inner-circle interests, and mission-driven recruitment. Harvard navigates its complicated web of stakeholders by maintaining a regular pool and some special lists of applicants.
First, here’s how the regular pool works. After each submission deadline, applications are sorted among 20 geographic “dockets.” Next, a subcommittee of two or three admissions officers who know each region well rate applicants in five categories:
- personal, and
- strength of school recommendations
An alumni interviewer, who does not review candidate applications, submits a separate rating.
Harvard rates students on a scale of 1-5, with 1 as the highest score. Applications scoring 2 or above advance to the next round: review by a subcommittee of admissions officers, faculty readers, and a senior admissions official. Here’s where the intense discussion and debate take place as members deliberate and then decide through majority vote which applications to send to the full committee, which makes final decisions.
Along the way, readers give “tips” – or admissions advantages – to five groups of applicants:
- racial and ethnic minorities,
- the children of Harvard or Radcliffe alumni (legacy),
- relatives of a Harvard donor,
- the children of staff or faculty members, and
- recruited athletes (Harvard admits almost 80% of recruited athletes).7
Applicants with tips will be given special consideration along with students on two additional VIP lists. These two lists are the dean’s or director’s “interest list” and the “Z-List.”8 Known as a “sort of back door to admissions,” the Z-list admits 50-60 students a year who are academically borderline but personally connected. The dean’s or director’s interest list consists of students the Dean William Fitzsimmons personally tracks. While the list includes some extraordinarily impressive students he’s been following for years, the dean himself testified that it favors well-connected applicants who are then presented to the alumni association or development office for a separate, additional rating.9