I attended a breakfast hosted by Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia this week. I visited Princeton last summer and my write-up on it is here; this post contains information about Harvard and UVA. I will discuss some general thoughts about admissions at highly selective colleges in a separate post.
Harvard University is in the Boston community of Cambridge; the city as a whole is one of the densest “college towns” in the U.S. In September, the population of Boston increases by about 200,000 people and the average age drops by over 10 years.
All of Harvard’s ~1,600 freshmen live together in Harvard Yard; they all eat in the same dining hall, building a sense of community. When they begin their second year, they move to one of 12 upperclass houses, each with 350-500 students per house; they live in this same house for the next three years. Faculty and staff also live with students in these houses, each of which has its own dining facility, library and gym.
Not surprisingly, Harvard has the world’s largest university library system, with sixteen million volumes in 70 libraries on campus. Students also have access to MIT library resources. The median class size is 12 and the student-to-faculty ratio is 7:1. The new general education curriculum requires all students to take one course in each of eight disciplines at some point during their four years at Harvard. There are 48 concentrations (similar to majors).
Harvard does not offer loans; they meet 100% of each accepted student’s demonstrated need with grant aid in an effort to allow students to graduate with no debt. Merit aid is not offered (all students at Harvard are meritorious!) but need-based aid is offered to students whose families have incomes into the six-figure range. Two-thirds of Harvard students graduated from public high schools.
The University of Virginia is in Charlottesville, VA, which is, according to Senior Associate Dean of Admission Ryan Hargraves, Charlottesville, VA, between 2 and 8 hours from Washington, DC, depending on traffic. The University of Virginia is a public institution, and is known as Mr. Jefferson’s University.
UVA is a highly selective school and about 2/3 of the students come from Virginia. However, UVA receives twice as many applications from out-of-state applicants, so while the acceptance rate is 43% for students from Virginia, it’s closer to 23-24% for out-of-state students.
The themes of liberal arts, leadership and citizenship are celebrated in UVA’s curriculum, and the university works to encourage students to find their passion outside of the classroom. Students who have original works of art, including visual and performing arts, are encouraged to submit those as part of the admissions process, even if they do not plan to major in those areas. Charlottesville is an arts-friendly community, home to the annual Virginia Film Festival, and is a quintessential college town.
UVA is need-blind and will meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need. Loans are capped at about 25% of the in-state tuition cost, so the maximum debt a student would have after graduation would be about $26,000.
The representatives from all three colleges (Harvard, UVA and Princeton) reminded the high school and independent counselors at this breakfast, and by extension the students with whom we work, that of course, there are many more qualified applicants than spaces at each school. Students who apply to these schools should realize that they are a “reach” school for every single applicant, and should not take a denial or a wait-list offer as a personal rejection. More in a separate post about selective college admissions.