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While other elite universities see applications spike, Harvard’s applications drop

Antisemitism, loss of affirmative action, bad publicity cited as possible factors

In a year of record high applications to elite colleges, Harvard University’s applications are down.

In the fall, early admissions applications were down 17 percent. Overall, applications are down five percent, the nation’s premier university revealed in an announcement last Thursday night reported on by The New York Times.

“Overall, Harvard received 54,008 undergraduate applications in this admissions cycle, compared with 56,937 last year, a drop of about 5 percent,” according to the article.

Applications were also down at Brown, which this year had a longer application form with more essay questions. But applications were up — to record highs — at Penn, Columbia, Dartmouth, Yale, Amherst, University of Virginia, and many other elite colleges and universities, the Times reported.

A strong theory as to why applications were down is that antisemitism has taken over the Harvard campus and run wild. The New York Times, the New York Post, and many other publications and pundits proffered this theory in recent news reports.

The Times led its reporting on the development by noting the “drop suggests that a year of turmoil – which went into overdrive with a student letter that said that Israel was ‘entirely responsible’ for the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks – may have dented Harvard’s reputation and deterred some students from applying.”

That letter, written on Oct. 7 itself, was followed by many more active antisemitic actions, including protests, aggressive dogging of Jewish students on the main campus, active protests in the dining halls, libraries, and elsewhere, and classes interrupted by the chants calling for annihilation of Israel.

The New York Post pointed out that things got so bad at Harvard this year “that Jewish students even slapped the university with a lawsuit, alleging violation of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

The Post noted that President Claudine Gay’s attempt to claim that free speech was behind the lack of any punishments for pro-Palestinian protesting made no sense: “For a university that ranked dead last in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s (FIRE) free speech rankings last year, receiving a score of -10, suddenly hiding behind the defense of free expression fell flat for many.”

Gay ultimately resigned from her position after well-substantiated accusations of plagiarism landed at her feet.

Jewish high school students with the grades and scores to be admitted to Harvard may have looked at all of the anxiety-inducing activity and decided to apply to Yale or Princeton instead.

However, none of the Ivies are free of antisemitic protesting and activity. And some, including Penn and Columbia, appeared every bit as bad as Harvard. It’s unclear why Harvard saw applications fall and others did not.

Bad publicity may have played a role.

According to the Times, “College counselors and admissions experts said that it was difficult to pin down the factors behind the decline in Harvard’s numbers, but that the scrutiny has been intense and, by some accounts, the reputational damage severe. It began with a historic Supreme Court decision on June 29, striking down decades of affirmative action policy at Harvard that had become a model for higher education across the country.”

The affirmative action case may also have dissuaded minorities from applying.

The Times quoted a “private college admissions coach, Hafeez Lakhani, (who) said that the anxiety over campus climate was particularly acute in the fall. ‘Students were terrified about the doxxing trucks, the C.E.O.s calling for protester names, students losing job offers for speaking up about Israel-Palestine,’ he said. ‘I think that drove some applicants to less- spotlight schools.”

For all that, Harvard still ended up with an admissions rate of 3.58 percent.

MORE: Harvard sociologist defended against plagiarism accusations: ‘Bogus claims’

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