Harvard to e-mail acceptance letters

Harvard University will join Yale and Dartmouth in announcing admissions decisions online for applicants to the Class of 2006, but will use e-mail and not a Web site.

The decision comes shortly after Yale said it will use the Internet for admissions notification, becoming the first Ivy League school to do so.

But Marlyn McGrath Lewis, dean of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, said Harvard’s system has been in the works for more than two years. She added that Harvard designed the online notification system to increase efficiency, not to compete with other universities.

“There are a hundred other reasons to go to either Yale or Harvard, and I don’t think this will change that,” McGrath Lewis said.

McGrath Lewis said the Harvard system of e-mail notification is more secure than posting information on the Web, which Yale and Dartmouth University plan to do.

“We all make decisions as it relates to our own institution,” said Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale. “I just think the Web is a more sophisticated way [than e-mail] to interact with candidates.”

Yale announced in late October the development of a secure Web site that will release admissions decisions to applicants. In early November, Dartmouth announced the creation of a similar Web site.

Jeffrey Orleans, the executive director of the Ivy League, said in October that any time an institution makes technological improvements, other universities typically follow suit.

Immediately after Yale said it would post admission decisions online, McGrath Lewis told the Yale Daily News that Harvard “certainly has no plans to [go online] in the foreseeable future.”

McGrath Lewis said Tuesday that Harvard’s changed position is not in response to the advancements of other top universities, despite Orleans’ comments.

Shaw said he would rather not speculate about Harvard’s motivation.

“I don’t want to get into the chicken and egg issue,” Shaw said. “They do what they do, and I’m not spending every day trying to figure out why that is.”

McGrath Lewis also said Harvard’s decision to use the Web is not in response to recent anthrax scares.

She said she has confidence in the mail system and added that Harvard is employing the system because it has the ability to do so and not because online notification is necessary.

Harvard recently completed a $1 million data record system that has been in development for the past two years, McGrath Lewis said.

Although McGrath Lewis said the admissions office had the idea of using the Internet to reveal admissions decisions in mind, she said she did not expect the new technology to be ready so soon.

“If [online notification] is reliable, we’ll use it. It’s that simple,” McGrath Lewis said. “We are the home of simple thinking.”

Like Yale and Dartmouth, Harvard will use the online notification only to supplement regular decision letters.

While Harvard’s admissions office has used e-mail to notify international applicants in the past, McGrath Lewis said she does not yet know if e-mail notification is the best option for the entire applicant pool.

McGrath Lewis said she drafted a letter Tuesday morning to prospective students. The letter informed candidates of Harvard’s decision and asked them to submit secure e-mail addresses, she said.

As she wrote the letter, McGrath Lewis said, she was somewhat nervous about Harvard’s decision and is not confident that the decision will make a substantial difference.

“I am not invested in it being significantly better,” McGrath Lewis said.

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