Academics and Extracurriculars

By Madeleine Nakada and Michael E. Xie

As Harvard’s efforts to curb the influence of exclusive social organizations officially set in with the arrival of the Class of 2021, the majority of freshmen say they are “not at all” or “not very” interested in joining single-gender groups, according to The Crimson’s annual survey of incoming students.

For years, Harvard administrators have sought to penalize membership in the off-campus groups as a way to minimize—and even eradicate—their role in undergraduate social life. The current freshman class is the first subject to sanctions preventing members of the groups from holding athletic and academic leadership positions or earning College endorsement for prestigious fellowships.

This summer, a committee formed to “revise or replace” the original sanctions in response to Faculty criticism recommended a policy that went one step further, banning student membership in all “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations.”

The prospect of more severe penalties may have dissuaded freshmen from joining the groups: about 27 percent of respondents said they are interested in joining a final club, fraternity, or sorority, a decline from 36.7 percent of respondents in the Class of 2020. Just over 60 percent of surveyed members of the Class of 2021 reported having little interest in the groups—data roughly in line with last year’s survey.

As the incoming class prepares to start school each year, The Crimson emails an anonymous survey to the new freshmen, who are asked dozens of questions ranging from their SAT score and religious views to their opinions of current campus and political affairs. Of the roughly 1,700 students in the class, 853 responded, representing roughly 50 percent of the class. The Crimson did not adjust the survey results for any possible selection bias.

This second installation of The Crimson’s three-part series on the Class of 2021 examines students’ academic and extracurricular interests, and their experiences both in and outside of their pre-college classrooms.


Anticipated Concentrations

As Harvard continues to grow its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which will soon move across the river to Allston, almost 21 percent of surveyed students reported that they were interested in engineering. Of the surveyed freshmen, a plurality of roughly 38 percent expressed an interest in the Social Sciences and around 29 percent in the Sciences, while only 11 percent indicated interest in concentrations in the Arts and Humanities—a slight decrease from 12 percent the year prior.

As with last year’s survey, more than one-third of respondents reported interest in the three most popular concentrations: Economics, Government, and Computer Science.

  • While just over 19 percent of male respondents said they were interested in studying Economics, just under 10 percent of female students reported an interest. Among female respondents, the most popular concentration was Government—12.9 percent responded with interest.
  • The most popular concentration among recruited athletes was Economics (around 31 percent of athletes), while the most popular among non-recruits was Government (around 14 percent of non-athletes).
  • Almost three-fourths of respondents say they plan on pursuing a secondary, citation, or both.
  • 49 percent of respondents interested in concentrating in SEAS were female, an increase from roughly 40 percent in the Class of 2020 and 37 percent in the Class of 2019.

Cheating on an Exam

In the semester after it was reported that roughly one-tenth of students in the popular course Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” appeared in front of the College’s Honor Council for academic dishonesty, 18.7 percent of all survey respondents reported cheating in an academic context in the past. Of those intending to concentrate in Computer Science, just over 11 percent reported having cheated in an academic context in the past.

  • While roughly 20 percent of public high school students—both charter and non-charter—said they had cheated, only around 16 percent of private high school students—both non-denominational and parochial—claimed to have cheated.
  • 10 percent of recruited athletes reported having cheated compared to 19.8 percent of non-athletes.
  • Of respondents who claimed to have cheated, over half—just over 56 percent—were male.

Social Life

Frats, Sororities, and Final Clubs

Interest in joining a social organization at Harvard correlates with family income bracket and political beliefs. Half of respondents who stated that they were “very interested” in joining a single gender organization come from families with combined annual incomes over $500,000.

  • More than 45 percent of students that identified as “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative” reported interest in joining a single gender organization compared to just under 25 percent of “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal students.”
  • Roughly 51 percent of students that indicated they were “very interested” in joining a final club, sorority, or fraternity were female, a shift from last year where 60 percent of “very interested” respondents were male.


Athletes at Harvard

Ten percent of surveyed freshmen are recruited athletes, while seven percent of students plan to walk onto a varsity team. Nearly 80 percent of recruited athletes report that the academic opportunities available at Harvard played the greatest role in their decision to commit to the school. Over 90 percent of recruits say that they plan to play four years on a varsity team.

  • 70 percent of recruited athletes have parents with an annual combined income above $125,000, down from 75 percent of athletes in the class of 2020.
  • 14 percent of surveyed recruited athletes have suffered a concussion, but 96 percent of athletes say that concussions have not affected their approach to the sport or their desire to continue playing it.
  • Nearly 50 percent of recruited athletes reported that they were first contacted by a Harvard coach during their junior year.
  • Over half of recruited athletes said that they were “somewhat interested” or “very interested” in joining a single gender organization compared to one quarter of non-recruited students

Pre-College Endeavors

High School Extracurricular Leadership Positions

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many surveyed freshmen reported holding leadership positions in high school extracurricular organizations. Over 83 percent of respondents were president of at least one club at their high school and roughly 19 percent of students were president of their high school student body. High school newspaper editor-in-chiefs represented 11.18 percent of respondents.

  • Almost one in five student body presidents is planning to concentrate in Government.
  • 81 percent of students that served as student body president believe that student government has the power to enact change. Roughly 65 percent of students that were not student body president reported that same optimism.
  • Over 71 percent of respondents who were editors-in-chief of their high school newspapers participated in at least one internship before attending Harvard.

Just prior to arriving on campus, the survey found that a majority of students—56.8 percent—attended at least one of the five pre-orientation programs. A plurality of respondents who participated in a pre-orientation program—42.53 percent—attended the First-Year Outdoor Program.

  • Roughly 38 percent of Fall Clean-Up participants reported that their parents had a combined annual income below $80,000, up from 32 percent in the Class of 2020.
  • 69 percent of survey respondents that participated in FOP said that their parents had combined annual incomes above $125,000.
  • Over 64 percent of FOP participants identified as white compared to just under 49 percent of dorm crew participants.

Up from the last two years, just over 9 percent of students reported taking a gap year before beginning their studies. Over half of the surveyed students that took gap years did so after they received deferred admission to Harvard—in other words, being added to Harvard’s “Z-list.” A plurality of gap year students—31.5 percent—spent time traveling. Around 24 percent of gap year students reported pursuing paid work, and roughly the same percentage were volunteers.

  • 53 percent of respondents who took a gap year had their admissions deferred by Harvard, an increase from 45 percent the year prior.
  • 31 percent of students who had their admissions deferred by a year have parents with a combined income of over $500,000.
  • Students from private schools took gap years at twice the rate of their peers from public schools–over 12 percent of private school students took a year off, compared to just under six percent of public school students.