The New York Times is running a question-and-answer series featuring William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, who starts off with a somewhat saccharine explanation of the student Harvard is looking for. Harvard seeks the “best” students, he says, but “we apply a more expansive view of excellence. Test scores and grades offer some indication of students’ academic promise and achievement. But we also scrutinize applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities.”
He summons a “kindler and gentler” image in his lengthy description of the admissions process — where every application is scrutinized, some of them by four people, and a full committee may deliberate an hour on a single applicant. “We proceed with care, discretion, and humility.”
All that may be true, but Fitzsimmons doesn’t inform parents why extreme scrutiny is given to the incoming freshman class, merely suggesting that Harvard has chosen well because nearly all its students graduate. He doesn’t point out that the class is the raw material of Harvard’s “product.” Whether they are taught badly or well at Harvard, these freshmen will mature into adults. If they are brilliant and enterprising when they enter, they will be brilliant and enterprising when they leave. And Harvard’s A-1 reputation depends on them.