Harvard's Admitted Class Has Record Share of Asian Americans

Gains have been steady over a decade, but increase is large this year as federal judge considers lawsuit over affirmative action.

April 1, 2019

Last fall, a federal judge in Massachusetts heard arguments in a lawsuit charging that Harvard University's admissions practices -- in particular its consideration of race in admissions -- discriminate against Asian American applicants. Harvard denies the allegations. A ruling in the case is expected soon -- and appeals are expected regardless of the ruling.

Last week, Harvard announced the results of the latest admissions cycle, for the Class of 2023, and the share of Asian Americans admitted is at the highest level ever -- 25.4 percent. That's up from 22.7 percent a year ago, and a 12 percent increase in the share of the admitted class made up of Asian Americans.

What that means is impossible to know. During the trial, the plaintiffs introduced evidence suggesting that Asian American students have a more difficult time getting in than do students from other groups with comparable or in some cases lower grades and test scores. Harvard does not release admission rates by racial and ethnic group (although some from past years came out in the trial).

It's also important to note that, year after year, there is new evidence that Asian Americans are making educational gains at a pace that exceeds those of other groups -- and they are making up a larger share of the potential college-going student body.

Data released by the College Board in December showed that the average combined score on the mathematics and evidence-based reading and writing sections of the SAT of Asian Americans was 1223, up 42 points. That gain was far larger than those of other groups. Black students and white students saw gains of five points, while there was no change in Latinx students and Native Americans saw a decline. Asian Americans now make up 10 percent of test takers, up from 9 percent a year ago.

So Harvard and other institutions applying the same approach to admissions could have admitted more Asian American applicants this year than in prior years. Asian Americans have been showing such gains year after year -- not always with similar gains in the Harvard class.

Here are data for the last 10 classes admitted by Harvard. (Note: These are admissions numbers, not enrolled students figures, but Harvard has one of the consistently highest yields in the country.)

Harvard Admitted Class of % Asian American
2023 25.4%
2022 22.7%
2021 22.2%
2020 22.1%
2019 21.0%
2018 19.7%
2017 19.9%
2016 20.7%
2015 17.8%
2014 18.2%

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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