A Lawsuit Has Exposed Harvard’s Surprising Admission Policies




With an acceptance rate of 5.2%, Harvard University is the most difficult American college to gain admission to. However, a lawsuit brought by the anti-affirmative-action group Students for Fair Admissions accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American candidates who are often described as intelligent but unexceptional in their ” personal rating.” This lawsuit has revealed aspects of Harvard’s admissions process that were previously unknown by the general public, including the Z-list which was started in the 1970s.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Harvard argue that many of the students admitted off of the Z-list are legacies (meaning that their parents attended the university) who would otherwise not have the grades to get in. Students who are “Z-ed” must defer their enrollment for one year.

In 2002, The Harvard Crimson, an independent student-run paper, collected information on 36 of the approximate 80 Z-list students attending Harvard between 2001 and 2002. They found that 26 of those students (72%) were legacies, compared to just 12% to 14% of the entire class.


A second Crimson article regarding the Z-list was published in 2010 and reported that 18 of the 28 Z-listers interviewed had parents who had attended Harvard. 24 of the 28 students received no financial aid from the College (The Crimson reported that about 70% of Harvard’s student body received financial aid).

Nevertheless, Harvard admissions staff disagree that the Z-list shows preference to legacy students.

According to William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, the Z-list has a disproportionate number of legacies to the class a whole because legacy students might be more inclined to accept their spot on the list. He also explained that Z-list admissions are need-blind, but many students can’t afford to take a year off before starting college and so they might not accept their spot.

“We are 100 percent sure that we want them here next year, not 99 percent,” Fitzsimmons said of the claim that Z-list students were of a lower caliber than the remaining admitted students.

Other shocking revelations about Harvard admissions include the existence of a “dean’s interest list” or a “director’s interest list” which identify candidates who have connections to Harvard.

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