Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community discussions, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

  • Reply to threads, and start your own.
  • Post reviews of your campus visits.
  • Find hundreds of pages of informative articles.
  • Search from over 3 million scholarships.

Does Harvard truly consider every aspect of a student's application-including financial information?

florahafloraha Registered User Posts: 101 Junior Member
Hey guys, so it's pretty well known that the Ivies are pretty holistic in their admissions. However, I was wondering if the adcoms are aware of the student's income as they review the application. I'm on the low end for finances, which prevents me from taking up as many EC's as I would like to. Should I specify something along these somewhere on my application (if so, where? <--additional info section, perhaps) or would that be unnecessary? Thanks in advance, hope you guys are having a good day!

Replies to: Does Harvard truly consider every aspect of a student's application-including financial information?

  • gibbygibby Registered User Posts: 10,581 Senior Member
    edited February 2017
    There is a firewall between Harvard Admissions and Harvard's Financial Aid Office. While the Admissions Office may notice you've checked the box for financial aid, because of that firewall, Admissions doesn't see any information you've submitted from the FAFSA and CSS Profile.

    That said, an Admissions Officer is going to assume certain things from a student's zip code. For example, a student applying from 90013, who attends school in the same district, is not going to have the same opportunities as a student living and going to school in the zip code of 90210. So, the zip code of your high school and the zip code of your home will be noticed by Harvard Admissions. The same thing applies to the rest of the ivy league schools.

    In addition, I would recommend that you NOT mention anything about your family's financial situation, as those things often come across as sob-stories when a student mentions them. Let your guidance counselor and recommendation writers take the lead on this with their letters of recommendation. See: http://www.theprospect.net/how-to-avoid-writing-a-sob-story-college-essay-36689

    One last item, here's an important quote from William Fitzsimmons you might have missed: https://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/14/harvarddean-part3/
    The term “extracurricular activities” covers an enormous amount of ground. We are interested in whatever a student does: in addition to school extracurricular activities and athletics, students can tell us of significant community, employment, or family commitments. There are many who spend a great deal of time helping to run their household, preparing meals and caring for siblings or making money with a part-time job to help the household meet expenses.

    Unfortunately many schools have had to curtail or eliminate extracurricular activities and athletics, or they charge fees for participation. In addition, many students cannot afford expensive musical instruments or athletic equipment — or have families without the resources to pay for lessons, summer programs and the transportation networks necessary to support such activities.

    Admissions Committees keep these factors in mind as they review applications, and are concerned most of all to know how well students used the resources available to them.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 10,031 Senior Member
    edited March 2017
    Can you be more specific in how income has limited your extracurriculars? Does your school offer any for free?

    I know a kid who got into an Ivy by writing about the limits in his school environment (theater, computer science, mainly) and how the limits forced him to be creative in order to overcome them. So it is possible to convey this but better to do it with a positive spin and show that you can "overcome obstacles."
  • florahafloraha Registered User Posts: 101 Junior Member
    Thank you @gibby! Also @compmom I hold 2 jobs because I am one of the main contributors towards my household income, which limits the time I have for EC's. My school is not one of the best EC-wise either, as we lack most of the fundamental clubs other schools posses. However, it's located in the suburbs so it doesn't have the "inner city" reputation
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 10,031 Senior Member
    edited March 2017
    Fitzsimmons, director of admissions, talks about coming from a working class background himself, and many admissions folks are now writing and talking about honoring jobs versus traditional EC's for those who are contributing to their families. (Will you work while at college? Will your family be okay with you away?) This includes year-round as well as summer jobs, in contrast to those who are paying to do some kind of impressive program or service over the summer months.

    I think it is fine to write a matter of fact, very concise, paragraph or two in the supplementary essay (the one where they ask if there is anything else they need to know about you) along the lines of "I have worked two jobs throughout the year for the last three years, to help my family, which, along with few offerings at my school, made extracurriculars difficult for me."

    You could then add more info: " My job at the dry cleaners was 3-7 three days a week plus Saturday, and I learned a lot about the ordinary work world" and even add " and about the challenges my co-workers faced raising families on low wages" I think this is fine, it's factual. You can add details on the job and something brief about what it taught you if you like but definitely don't go on and on about it : )

    I would NOT trust a guidance counselor to do this. One, it's private information and two, a GC is not doing to write negatives about his or her own school.

    With all of this said, it also helps to have some sort of interest that you want to pursue, even if it has been difficult. But working two jobs shows commitment, perseverance, discipline, generosity, and work ethic so it really can be a plus. I think a simple note in the supplementary essay will really help.

    Your GC CAN mention that you work if you include it in the info you give him or her about yourself.

    Remember, it is all about how you contribute to the mix of a class. Socioeconomic diversity is big with admissions these days. Don't feel like you aren't a fit or don't have a chance because you work.

  • exlibris97exlibris97 Registered User Posts: 1,019 Senior Member
    @gibby I disagree with your advice that the candidate not mention their financial circumstances, and that this information would be interpreted as a "sob story". Quite the contrary. In the instructions to interviewers, it says that this is the sort of information that is invaluable to the admissions committee. The interview report form also has a new section in which you are asked to discuss any circumstances that may have affected the applicants performance, educational experience etc. And Fitzsimmons has said that applicants, their schools, and interviewers should mention factors that may affect their ability to engage in ECs.

    From personal experience, I'd say that Harvard is very sensitive to this situation, in the same way as it appreciates that some applicants can afford tutors, SAT prep courses etc.

    My advice is to mention anything germane. Admissions counselors have been known to call schools to discuss special circumstances.
  • LindsayHarvardLindsayHarvard Registered User Posts: 172 Junior Member
    Hey I know this is kinda late in relation to your thread, but I saw you where a junior so it's probably stil pertinent to you. I disagree with @gibby as well, it's not about sob story it's about context. Why would you have a GC talk about personal issues like that? I know my has next to no idea about the financial situation at home.

    In my "additional comments" section I talked about my school lacking activities that I wanted to try and how the high turn around rate for teachers made it hard to form connections and made things hectic. I also mentioned my family dymamic and my work and how it affected me psychologicaly. As long as you end it on a positive, how you learned and grew from it, then I say include it. Be very specific too. Personaly I used my supplemental essay to have fun and show my personality, nothing serious.

    The additional comments are there for a reason. Good Luck in the future!
  • gibbygibby Registered User Posts: 10,581 Senior Member
    edited March 2017
    @LindsayHarvard wrote "Why would you have a GC talk about personal issues like that?"

    Unfortunately, in the past some students have told falsehoods, exaggerations, and alternate facts trying to gain an upper hand in the college admissions process. So Admissions Offices -- not just at Harvard, but all colleges really -- look for an adult in a supervisory capacity (teacher, principal, guidance counselor) to confirm the details of a student battling hardships and overcoming adversity. Here are examples of having a GC go to-bat for student and being their advocate by talking about these very personal issues.

    Letter Example #3
    Dear Admissions Committee,

    It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for the truly exceptional Laila. It is rare to meet a student with as much compassion and self-awareness as Laila. Her resilience, positivity, and humor are especially astounding given the challenges she has overcome in her life. As a refugee of war, Laila's strength of character has not only helped her adapt to a new home, culture, and language, but it also serves as an education and inspiration to others. Given the depth of her experiences and her sophisticated understanding of world events, Laila has an unusual maturity beyond her 17 years.

    Laila experienced the violence and upheaval of war in her home country of Syria. Her family lost their business and home before moving to the U.S. with the help of the UN. Her extended family remains in her home country, often off the grid of communication. Throughout these unstable and uncertain times, Laila tirelessly committed herself to her education while balancing part-time jobs to help support her family. She spoke little English upon arriving here in 9th grade, and immediately dedicated herself to studying English and conversing with her peers. Now she is not only fluent, but also a gifted storyteller. She promotes dialogues as president of our school's Arabic Club, and she strongly believes in the power of education to create peace and reduce inequity.

    I'm truly amazed with all that Laila has accomplished, and I feel that she is one of our most determined, caring, and balanced students. Her enthusiasm is contagious when you speak with her, as her face lights up when she speaks about her friends, family, education, and ambitions for the future. I've been especially impressed by her fearlessness in making friends and participating in class. Laila speaks with maturity and sophistication about world events and talks about her desire to promote multicultural understanding and peace among all. From the events, including hosting powerful speakers and movie nights, she's organized through Arabic Club to her active participation in her classes, Laila has already contributed a great deal to the school in pursuit of these goals.

    The challenges that Laila has faced have truly made her a uniquely strong and courageous individual. Her resilience and optimism have served her well as she has moved between cities and countries, and they will continue to serve her well in college and her future life. Laila has my highest recommendation. I know that she will continually impress you with her involvement in the school community, her international perspective, her unshakeable resilience, and her focus on her academic and career success. I am excited to see how far her educational and professional journey will take her in the future. Please call me if you have any questions.


    Ms. Wolfe
    School Counselor

    Critique: it's appropriate for Ms. Wolfe to share Laila's personal story to give insight into who she is and the hardship she has experienced.

    Guidance Counselor Recommendation for Jane:
    Jane is an outstanding young woman whose academic record may not fully reflect her ability. Her parents were divorced during her junior year, and, for several years before that, her home situation had been in turmoil with a great deal of fighting between her parents. Her father has an alcohol problem, and Jane certainly endured a great deal of emotional distress. The fact that she has been able to do as well as she has done given the circumstances says a lot about her. Now that the home situation has stabilized, her performance has improved. I believe her senior year grades are a much better reflection of her ability.

    Critique: You may wonder whether or not the above information is appropriate in a letter of evaluation. It is! We appreciate anything that gives us insight and perspective into a student's performance and the environment. Comments about problems that a student has experienced will help us understand the context in which they have accomplished whatever they have achieved. The extent to which they have dealt with these problems is useful to know as well.

This discussion has been closed.