Canceled Harvard Visitas unlikely to affect yield

Hundreds of newly accepted Harvard students flocked to Cambridge, Mass., over the weekend to participate in the university’s signature prefrosh welcome event — only to find out that they had nowhere to go.

Due to public safety concerns surrounding the bombings at the Boston Marathon last Monday and the citywide manhunt for suspects that effectively shut down the greater Boston area on Friday, Harvard canceled its annual three-day Visitas prefrosh weekend on Friday afternoon. The sudden cancellation of the program — which would have run from April 20 to April 22 and is similar in format to Yale’s Bulldog Days program — precluded several hundred prospective students from arriving on campus, and left the other several hundred who had already arrived in Cambridge with no structured events to attend. Still, experts and college counselors interviewed said they do not think the cancellation will have a large impact on the percentage of students who matriculate at Harvard this year.

“Personally, I do not think this will affect anything — Harvard and [its peers] are in the rarified arena of super-high yield, no matter what,” said Terry Kung, college counselor at Immaculate Heart High School. “Those determined to go to Harvard will go.”

Officials at Harvard sent an email Friday at around 2 p.m. to students announcing the cancellation of the program. Though there was no known threat to Harvard’s campus, they said, the turmoil in Boston — as well as transportation issues between Boston and Cambridge — was enough to cause the administrators to call off the program.

Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons, who ran in the Boston Marathon on Monday, and other admissions officers have contacted prefrosh by phone and email. Harvard paid the hotel and meal fees for families who needed to stay the night in Boston, and the university planned to reimburse the cost of changing flights.

On Friday afternoon, Fitzsimmons headed to Boston Logan International Airport with other university officials to meet students and families who had just landed at the time of Harvard’s cancellation announcement. Jayshlyn Acevedo, a Harvard junior and co-coordinator of Visitas, said students at the airport quickly found one another and were able to get assistance from admissions officers.

“The prospective students that were either in Boston or on campus during the events on Friday were quite distraught, and those outside of Boston as well,” Acevedo said. “I’d say their safety was of great concern, as [it] was with everyone in Boston.”

Acevedo added that the Undergraduate Admissions Council, a student group that works with the admissions office, coordinated with admissions officers to react quickly to the program’s cancellation and share information with prospective students.

Despite the official cancellation of Visitas, Acevedo said Harvard students continued to host events and lead tours of campus, creating impromptu gatherings for the prefrosh who were already on campus at the time of the announcement. Harvard students have also taken to online platforms such as Twitter and YouTube to create “virtual Visitas” videos to help bring the undergraduate experience to prefrosh who were unable to visit campus.

Although the cancellation leaves hundreds of prefrosh without the opportunity to see Harvard in person, experts and college counselors were confident that the cancellation will have little effect on Harvard’s yield rate — the percentage of students who accept their offers of admission — this year.

David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said he does not think the lack of a prefrosh program will significantly lower Harvard’s yield rate due to Harvard’s prestige. Though schools typically use admit weekends such as Visitas or Bulldog Days to “bring students in” and “roll out the red carpet,” he said, most prefrosh who are accepted to highly selective schools already have an idea of which school they will choose before attending the events.

“It would probably have more of an effect at schools that are still prestigious but don’t have the panache of a Harvard,” Petersam said. “I think a lot of the students have already made up their minds.”

In light of the cancellation, Fitzsimmons said Harvard could possibly grant an extension for accepted students to reply to their offers of admission, which are typically due by May 1. Ivy League admissions officers had been in email communication with him about the possibility of extending the reply date, he said.

Harvard’s yield rate last year was 81 percent, a leap from its 77-percent yield rate in 2011.

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