Early applications to Harvard tumbled 17% from last year—and that was before its president’s controversial testimony about antisemitism


Harvard College received 17% fewer applications for early admission from high school seniors this year, the lowest total in four years, according to the school’s website.

The drop comes after incidents of antisemitism on campus in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. Applications were due Nov. 1, before university President Claudine Gay gave widely derided testimony on antisemitism and free speech at a congressional hearing Dec. 5.

Harvard received 7,921 applications this year for non-binding early admissions, compared with 9,553 last year. 

By contrast, at least two of Harvard’s Ivy League peers reported gains. Rival Yale University received 7,856 early applications this year, a 1.4% increase and the second-highest number of early applicants in its history, the school reported. Applications at the University of Pennsylvania increased to more than 8,500 from just over 8,000 last year, according to E. Whitney Soule, vice provost and dean of admissions.

Penn’s president, Liz Magill, stepped down on Saturday amid a backlash over her testimony at the congressional hearing on antisemitism, where she, Gay and MIT leader Sally Kornbluth failed to clearly condemn calls for genocide of Jews as a violation of school policy.

It’s the first early enrollment period since the Supreme Court’s decision in June to prohibit race-based admissions in higher education, which raised questions about the impact on diversity and enrollment in US colleges. Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, William Fitzsimmons, said he was excited about the 692 students the school accepted early. 

“Their extraordinary range of talent and many contributions to their communities will add immeasurably to Harvard over the next four years and beyond,” he said in a statement. 

Following the attack by Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist group by the US and European Union, Jewish students at Harvard reported incidents of harassment, and Harvard leaders came under fire from alumni, donors and others for failing to keep them safe.  

The conflict has bitterly divided a number of elite schools including Harvard, sparking an increase of antisemitic incidents on US college campuses, as well as a rise in reports of Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian sentiment.

Bob Sweeney, a retired college counselor at Mamaroneck High School in New York, said the incidents of antisemitism may be one of the factors in the admissions decline.

“That’s possibly one of several reasons, about the concern of safety on the campus,” said Sweeney, who worked as a counselor for almost 30 years. “There might be other factors as well as students are being more realistic about their expectations and chances for acceptance.”

Harvard, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is under investigation by the Department of Education and the House Committee on Education after Gay’s testimony. 

Harvard announced in March it would again increase its financial aid program.

The establishment of a new launch grant gives students receiving full financial support – those whose annual family income is $85,000 or less — $2,000 in the fall of their junior year to help with the costs associated with getting ready for post-Harvard life. 

Students who received Harvard’s offers of admission aren’t required to accept and have until May 1 to decide. The deadline to apply for regular decision, the typical route for admission, is Jan. 1. Colleges like to shore up students with early applications. Early applications at Harvard, Yale and a handful of other schools aren’t binding, while other schools like Penn require a commitment. 

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