College Pushes Aggressive Admissions Policy

The fast-talking executive wound up his pep speech to a group of aspiring advertising copywriters by holding up a pack of "Sweet Caporal" cigarettes.

"Anyone here ever see this kind of cigarette before?"

A few nodded their heads.

"Not many, are there? Well, they used to be pretty popular. Widely-advertised--Ask Dad, he knows'--and all that. then they figured they'd be able to sell on quality alone. They quit advertising. Get the point?"

America's colleges have gotten the point. Many of them would still like to sell on quality alone. But, as the chairman of one Harvard Alumni Schools Committee put it, the problem of admissions policy is One of the most vital that faces the College today. Each year we see wonderful boys of Harvard calibre go elsewhere. If we don't keep selling, we'll soon be left behind. To let up one iota in this fiercely competitive field would insure the same results as an established firm deciding it was not necessary to advertise."


During the last decade, Harvard, a well-known, established firm, has abandoned the policy of living easily on its past prestige. The College has thrown itself, for good or bad, into this fierce advertising competition. University Hall, rather than letting up on its efforts to "sell" the College, has intensified them, making Harvard an all-out competitor.

The increasing concern with words like "balance," the national college," and the "scholar-athlete" indicates the importance of the admissions problem, which since the war, has resolved itself into an earnest nationwide rivalry to recruit the country's most outstanding students An especially keen competition has developed between Princeton, Yale Dartmouth, and Harvard all of which are seeking the elusive scholar-athlete is evidenced by certain facts: Yale drew a record number of applicants Spring. Princeton's Committee on admissions found its selection task "the most difficult in history": Dartmouth officials chose 760 men from an unprecedented number of 3.511 applicants Harvard admissions officers have also had a tremendous job: 3.800 men filed application for the Class of 1956, 600 more than for the previous freshman class.

The fact that, a year or two ago, Harvard was faced with the problem of catching up with its Ivy competitors is ironical. For Harvard was perhaps the first college to introduce such a policy. In 1931. President Conant's National Scholarship program represented the biggest step ever taken by an Eastern school to become a "national college." One of the program's major aims, according to Conant, was to "present the advantages of Harvard in places where Harvard is not so obvious"--chiefly in the West.

However, even before the introduction of the National Scholarship program was initiated Harvard attracted a considerable number of men from great distances. In those days, there existed no problem of "recruiting" top students; a cosmopolitan body was maintained through prestige alone.

But during the thirties, several factors began to complicate the picture. Excellent state universities like Michigan and California, and private colleges like Stanford and Oberlin, grew in academic stature and began to appeal to students all over the country. Harvard, armed with with a reputation and a National Scholarship program, was able to ignore the competition until Eastern schools like Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth began to expand westward.

Right after the war, the other Ivy schools greatly stepped up their recruiting programs. But Harvard, having abandoned the National Scholarship program for the duration of the war, had not geared itself to the upsurge of alumni activity at other colleges. F. Skiddy von Stade, Jr. '38, former Director of Scholarship Aid and new Dean of Freshmen, claims that the College lost many contacts during the moratorium. Conant believes that the movement for "Balance in the College" lost momentum about this time.

Provost Speaks

Provost Buck noted the completely changed and changing character of admissions policies, and realized that Harvard faced a possible loss of its pre-war balance. In his 1946-47 articles in the Alumni Bulletin, he warned that too many applications were "running to type" and he claimed that:

"...What is not obvious to outsiders and even to many close to the situation as it existed in the prewar years--is the paucity of applicants of the kind we must desire ...

... We need at Harvard an extended organization for making contacts with the 500 to 1,000 schools which now send us students, often only occasionally ... And we must more effectively carry our message of what Harvard is and what it offers to the country at large."