On Wednesday, members of the Class of 2024 begin their time at Harvard today after an application cycle unlike any before it.
Just weeks before they received their acceptance letters, they witnessed the evacuation of Harvard’s undergraduate population. A virtual version of Visitas — the College’s annual admitted students weekend — gave them only indirect insight into the character of the school. Ultimately, they made their college decisions for the fall without a clear vision of the College’s reopening plans.
Harvard did not release its fall plan until July, when it announced that all undergraduate courses would go virtual and invited freshmen to live on campus and take classes from their dorm rooms. Several weeks later, the College clarified that international freshmen would not be permitted to come to campus due to federal visa restrictions.
Though some said they felt lucky being invited to campus, many freshmen reported viewing their situation as suboptimal. Without mentorship from upperclassmen, the ability to socialize with their new classmates, and the dynamism of in-person classes, many said they were inclined towards taking a gap year. A record 20 percent of admits eventually decided to defer their offers of admission.
Despite their rocky start, this year’s freshmen bear some similarities to previous cohorts.
As in years past, they come from overwhelmingly wealthy backgrounds compared to the country at large. Nearly 30 percent of members of the Class of 2024 who answered a question about parental income in The Crimson’s survey of freshmen said their families make $250,000 or more per year — earnings higher than 95 percent of American households.
The racial demographics of the class, however, changed from last year’s incoming class; numbers of Asian American and Black or African American students both reached all-time highs.
As the majority of freshmen settled into their dorms — and a small number prepared for three months of virtual instruction from home — roughly 76 percent took the time to respond to a Crimson email questionnaire about their backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles. The anonymous survey asked them about topics ranging from political ideology to alcohol consumption to perspectives on the global coronavirus pandemic. Of 1,420 students comprising the Class of 2024, 1,083 freshmen responded. The Crimson did not account for potential selection bias in its analysis of the results. Due to rounding, reported statistics may not total exactly 100 percent.
The opening segment of The Crimson’s three-part introduction to the Class of 2024 examines the demographic profile of this year’s College freshmen, analyzing the interplay of factors like gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Consistent with past admissions cycles, this year’s freshmen are largely straight, white, wealthy, and hailing from suburban communities. After a federal judge ruled this past fall that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies do not illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants, the College welcomed the largest cohort of Asian American students in its history. The number jumped more than 6 percentage points from last year’s record of 22.6 percent. The number of Black or African American students also increased by nearly 5 percent from last year, reaching a new record of 15.8 percent.
Of students who responded to The Crimson’s survey, roughly 52.1 percent identified as female, 46.9 percent as male, and 0.7 percent as non-binary. Separately, approximately 0.7 percent identified as being transgender.
- Among participants who answered a question about ethnicity, 49.8 percent identified as white, 29.1 percent as Asian, 13.4 percent as Hispanic or Latinx, 15.8 percent as Black or African American, 4.8 percent as South Asian, 1.8 percent as American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.5 percent as Pacific Islander.
- 73.6 percent of surveyed freshmen were 18 years old on the first day of classes last week. 10.7 percent were 17 or younger, 13.6 percent were 19, 1.1 percent were 20, and 1 percent were 21 or older.
- Of those who responded to a question about sexual orientation, 78.0 percent indicated they identify as straight, 9.6 percent as bisexual, 5.9 percent as gay or lesbian. Roughly 2.7 percent of students said they are questioning their sexuality.
- 14.4 percent of women said they identify as bisexual, compared to 3.1 percent of men. While 9.1 percent of men indicated that they identify as gay, only 3.1 percent of women self-identified as lesbian.
- Of the students who do not identify as heterosexual, 37.4 percent said they have not yet come out.
Consistent with past years, a plurality — 41.3 percent — of surveyed members of the Class of 2024 hail from the Northeast. Twelve percent come from the Midwest, 13.7 percent from the Southeast, 14.7 percent from the West, and a meager 7.3 percent from the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.
- The distribution of students who report coming from urban, suburban, and rural communities remained roughly consistent with last year’s cohort. About 7.7 percent of surveyed freshmen said they come from rural communities, while a majority — 63.3 percent — indicated suburban origins. The remaining 29.0 percent of these students come from urban areas.
- 10.8 percent of respondents said they live outside the United States, marking a decrease over the roughly 11.8 percent who reported international residency last year.
Families & Finance
Though coronavirus has fundamentally altered undergraduate education, this is the third year in a row that University administrators have raised tuition faster than the pace of inflation. Tuition for the full 2020-2021 academic year — not including room, board, and other fees — is set at $49,653, up 4 percent from last year. Without in-person classes, access to study spaces, and other on-campus perks and resources, students say the pandemic has spurred them to question the ever-climbing costs.
Roughly 57.5 percent of surveyed students reported receiving financial assistance from Harvard’s need-blind aid program. Even as coronavirus places severe financial strain on many American families, that figure is similar to the approximately 58.6 percent of aid-receiving respondents last year.
- About 12.0 percent of freshman respondents said they are legacy students, defined as having one or more parents who attended Harvard College as undergraduates. That number dipped from last year’s statistic of 16.8 percent.
- Over 17 percent of surveyed freshmen who identified as white also reported being legacy students. Among Hispanic and Latinx respondents, 9.1 percent indicated the same, 8.4 percent of Black and African American respondents did so, and roughly 10.8 percent of those who identified as Asian reported being legacy students.
- Among self-reported legacy students who answered a question about their family income, 53.0 percent indicated their parents make at least a combined $250,000 per year, with 32.6 percent raking in $500,000 or more. Less than 7 percent of these legacy respondents report a combined parental income below $125,000.
The percentage of survey participants who said they are the first in their family to go to college rose again this year — increasing from 17.3 percent to 22.8 percent.
- Roughly 49.6 percent of Hispanic or Latinx respondents self-identified as first-generation, as did 28.3 percent of Black and African American students, 19.1 percent of Asian and Asian American students, and 15.7 percent of white students.
- First-generation freshmen reported considerably lower family incomes than non-first-generation matriculants in this year’s survey. About 6.1 percent said their parents make a combined $125,000 or more each year, while 45.0 reported an annual family income of less than $40,000.
- The vast majority of first-generation students surveyed — 96.5 percent — said they receive some form of financial aid from Harvard.
The Path to Harvard
This year, 4.92 percent of the 40,248 applicants to Harvard College snagged coveted spots in the Class of 2024. Though still one of the most competitive rates in the nation, admission rose around half a percentage point from last year’s record low of 4.5 percent, marking the first uptick in 6 years. Experts attributed the bump seen at Harvard and a number of other Ivies to shrinking applicant pools. Harvard’s applicant pool, for example, decreased by 7 percent relative to the previous year.
Prospective freshmen weighing their Harvard offer were deprived of a crucial decision-making tool when Visitas moved online due to coronavirus. Yet, by the May 1 deadline, 84 percent of Harvard admits — the highest since the 1970s — accepted their offers of admission. Of those who accepted their offer, more than 20 percent — 340 freshmen — ultimately deferred their enrollment to next year. This group is markedly larger than the typical gap year cohort, which ranges between 80 and 110 students, according to the College’s website.
- Harvard was the top-choice school for a substantial majority — 80.6 percent — of surveyed freshmen.
- 38.3 percent of respondents also applied to Yale. Among these students, 39.8 percent were also accepted at the New Haven-based school.
- Harvard accepted 50.1 percent of survey-takers through its early action process. Of those students, just 4.6 percent said that Harvard was not their top choice.
- About a fifth of respondents reported receiving help preparing college applications from a privately-hired counselor. Of these students, 42.9 percent of those who disclosed their parents’ financial status reported a combined family income of $250,000 or more; 8.2 percent reported a parental income of less than $40,000.
- A majority of survey participants — over 62 percent — said they attended a non-charter public high school. Over 33 percent indicated they went to a private school, and 0.2 percent reported being homeschooled.
- Over 67 percent of respondents said they attended secondary schools that reported class rank. Among these students, 74.8 percent said they graduated among the top 2 percent of students in their graduating classes.