Fitzsimmons Fixing Admissions

by Cassandra Martinez

Now, as the admissions season kicks into high gear, the 65-year-old dean traverses the country on recruiting trips, sharing his tale of how a working-class youth managed to make the trip from the modest streets of Weymouth to Harvard Yard, just 15 miles away but seemingly a world apart. It’s a story line he imparts frequently to put Harvard on the radar of students who might have dismissed an Ivy League education as a pipe dream.

Even in today’s world of financial aid and grants for students applying to colleges across the country, when you picture a typical student gracing the halls of of a prestigious university such as Harvard you get a very clear image of a prep school kid with all the advantages in life.

Ask William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean, what the ideal prospective student looks like and he will give you a very different picture.

When Fitzsimmons took the position of dean he was unhappy with the “pipeline of students with prep school pedigrees” and was determined to change the way Harvard accepted students.

One of Fitzsimmons noteworthy changes to Harvard admissions procedures was back in 2006 when he influenced the change to dismantle early action because statistically early admission “tended to favor the most affluent, savvy students.”

Fitzsimmons relationship with Harvard started when he was in middle school living outside of the city, but in his eyes he was world’s away from the university “with its opulent dining halls and common rooms decorated with gilt-framed portraits, wood paneling, and leather furniture.”

According to Fitzsimmions’ collegues, he has been able to persuade Harvard alumni to fund scholarships for lower-income students even if it means the alum’s family might have a harder time getting into the school.

In a world where college education is becoming only more expensive with each passing year and financial aid is becoming a much more difficult process to obtain, Fitzsimmons is taking a stand and making changes that all other college’s can follow.

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