A lawsuit exposed Harvard's 'Z-list,' which some people suspect helps VIP kids who don't have the grades get in

  • A lawsuit against Harvard has exposed admissions documents that reveal some surprising policies, The New York Times reported.
  • For example, students on the “Z-list” mustdefer=”defer”their enrollment at Harvard by one year. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the Z-list is a way to get legacy students into the college, even if they wouldn’t otherwise qualify academically.
  • Harvard disagrees, and it has said in the past that the Z-list has a disproportionate number of legacy students to the class as a whole because they might be more inclined to accept their spot on the list.

Among Harvard students in the classes of 2014 to 2019, about 50 to 60 students each year were admitted off the “Z-list,” according to a report by Anemona Hartocollis, Amy Harmon, and Mitch Smith at the The New York Times.

Students who are “Z-ed” mustdefer=”defer”their enrollment for one year. But plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Harvard say many of these students are legacies, meaning their parents attended Harvard, and might not otherwise make the cut.

Business Insider has previously reported that Harvard is America’s hardest college to get into, with an acceptance rate of about 5%.

The lawsuit, brought by the anti-affirmative-action group Students for Fair Admissions, accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions, The Times reported. Many admissions documents have been filed that reveal aspects of Harvard’s admissions process, such as the Z-list, that were previously unknown to the public.

The Harvard Crimson, an independent student-run paper, reported on the Z-list in 2002. The publication said it gathered information about 36 of the roughly 80 Z-list students at Harvard from 2001 to 2002 and found that 26 of them, or 72%, were legacies, compared with 12-14% of the entire class.

Another Crimson article about the Z-list, published in 2010, said that 18 of 28 Z-listers interviewed had parents who attended Harvard and that 24 received no financial aid from the college. (The Crimson reported that about 70% of Harvard’s student body received financial aid.)

Harvard disagrees that the Z-list shows preference to legacy students

Harvard’s admissions staff has said the Z-list is not a way to admit legacy students.

The 2010 Crimson article described William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid, as saying the Z-list has a disproportionate number of legacy students to the class a whole because they might be more inclined to accept their spot on the list.

Fitzsimmons also told The Crimson that Z-list admissions are need-blind but that many students can’t afford to take a year off before starting college and might not accept their spot.

Fitzsimmons said the Z-list began in the 1970s, though it didn’t have a name back then.

Other revelations about Harvard admissions since the suit was filed, according to The Times, include the existence of a “dean’s interest list” or a “director’s interest list,” said to identify candidates who have connections to Harvard.

And the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that Asian-American candidates are often described as intelligent but unexceptional in their “personal rating,” according to The Times.

Fitzsimmons told The Crimson in 2010 that the students on the Z-list weren’t of a lower calibre than other admitted students.

“We are 100 per cent sure that we want them here next year, not 99 per cent,” he said of the Z-listed students.

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