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The BBC's Nick Bryant
Harvard hopes to make the Ivy Tower accessible
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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Changing Harvard's image
Harvard University
Harvard hopes to make the Ivy Tower accessible
By Nick Bryant in Washington

A university older than America itself and based on the same founding principle: the equality of opportunity for all.

Or at least that is the theory. Some of Harvard's students remain unconvinced.

"Sometimes there are the remnants of that old boy feel to the school, but I feel like they are trying to move the best that they can away from that," one student said.

Another student said: "There is definitely the sense that you're the best, you're the cream of the crop, the number one most intelligent students in the country and don't you forget that."

Harvard students
Harvard is stressing the diversity of its students
Harvard says it no longer deserves its elitist, rich-kid image and uses its network of alumni to identify potential applicants from a wide range of backgrounds.

They are judged on national tests, school grades and interviews with the aim to create as diverse a student body as possible.

"What the admissions committee is looking for is the young woman from Montana from a high school that no-one has heard of who has been a rodeo rider for the last few years. That is an interesting person. Admit her, " said Ted Marchese of the American Association for Higher Education.

Only for the elite

A school perhaps like Fenway High. It is two miles away from the university in a run-down neighbourhood of Boston. It has never got a student into Harvard.

These pupils don't even bother to apply.

"It carries the image of being someplace snobby, somewhere where you have to be elite, a family with money, someone with history. I'm not that kind of person," said one Fenway student.

Another student said that when she looks through the Harvard catalogue, she sees the same black person on every page, "Just so they look like they are diverse."

Harvard campus
Harvard is still viewed as out of reach by many students
The latest recruitment video tries to show it's a university open to all and stresses that 70 % of undergraduates receive financial aid.

"If you are admitted to Harvard and you are admitted to Harvard without regard to your financial need, we will find a way to make sure that you can come here if that is what you choose to do," said Sally Baker a spokeswoman for Harvard University.

Harvard v Oxford

Harvard and Oxford University are alike in so many ways, but frustratingly difficult to compare - especially when it comes to student enrolment.

At Oxford, 53% of students offered places come from state schools. Harvard refuses to publish statistics, saying they are irrelevant.

Harvard recognises it still has an image problem is working hard to solve it.

It is targeting inner city schools and promoting schemes through which their pupils take on a mentor. It is exactly the same initiative that Oxford is adopting.

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15 May 00 | Education
Oxford seeks state school students
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