For the third consecutive year, Stanford took top honors in the selectivity race by dropping to a breathtaking 4.69 percent admissions rate. Out of 43,997 applicants—the largest in Stanford’s history—2,063 high school students were offered places in the class of 2020.
"We are honored by the interest in Stanford, and overwhelmed by the exceptional accomplishments of the students admitted to the Class of 2020," said Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid. "Our admitted students reflect the deep and profound diversity of the world in which we live. We believe these students will impact that world in immeasurable ways."
And on the other side of the country, Harvard took an extra week to mull over the news from Palo Alto and admitted 2,037 students from a pool of 39,041, coming in with the second lowest admit rate of 5.2 percent—an historic low but not enough to threaten Stanford’s position at the top.
“This year, despite the fact that it was a relatively small percentage rise in applications, it seemed to us like the quality of the pool, any way you want to look at it, was quite unusual,” commented William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid.
All signs pointed to a tight admissions year. In December, Stanford made offers to 745 restrictive early action (REA) candidates out of a pool of 7,822—or 9.5 percent of the applicants. Harvard accepted 14.8 percent of its “single choice” early action applicants or 918 out of 6173. Both were already on track to receive a record number of applicants, and ultimately they did, grinding ever closer to Frank Bruni’s apocryphal prediction of a 0 percent acceptance rate.
In their respective admissions announcements for the class of 2020, both Stanford and Harvard took the opportunity to describe special efforts to reach low-income and minority students.
At Stanford, an expanded financial aid initiative means that for parents with total annual income below $125,000 and typical assets for this income range, the expected parent contribution will be low enough to ensure that all tuition charges are covered with need-based scholarships, federal and state grants and/or outside scholarship funds. For parents with total annual income below $65,000 and typical assets for this income range, Stanford will not expect a parent contribution toward tuition, mandatory fees, room or board.
Harvard’s Dean Fitzsimmons credited an increase in diversity among admitted students to what he described as a “multiplier effect” thanks to Harvard’s efforts over the last decade to specifically recruit underrepresented groups of potential students through programs such as the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative.
But the competition doesn’t end with offers of admission.
While Stanford won the selectivity competition for the Class of 2020, the true test will come when numbers are tallied and final yield or percent of students accepting an offer of admission is computed. In other words, both schools will be anxiously awaiting responses from students they have admitted.
Harvard traditionally boasted a higher yield, but even this distinction disappeared last year as a greater percentage of admits to the class of 2019 elected to go west and reap the benefits of year-round sunshine.
This year, as in the past, both parents and students in The Princeton Review’s “College Hopes & Worries Survey,” said they would pick Stanford over Harvard, Princeton, and Yale if they could go to any school regardless of cost.
And these preferences clearly concern some folks in Cambridge, one of whom remarked, “Even if it isn’t the weather, make out parties, or chances of becoming a reality TV star that is drawing students to the west coast school, something about Stanford’s popularity is definitely on the rise.”
There’s no question about it. The weather is definitely nicer in Palo Alto and palm trees are a nice touch. But the question is more complicated as an extended Quora debate over the pros and cons of Harvard vs. Stanford drew long and thoughtful responses citing everything from Harvard’s “old money” and “social clubs” to Stanford’s “bubble” and connection to the “tech culture.”
“I wonder how many of those admitted will accept Stanford's offer. After all, who wants to live in a farm with Spanish architecture and a bunch of ducks?” remarked a commenter on the Stanford Daily website a couple of years ago.
Evidently quite a few.
Disclaimer: In 2006, the author’s son turned down an offer from Harvard to head west to Stanford.