“I have heard of the Z list, but I don’t know much about it, and I’m not really sure who does . . . and would divulge,” said Allison Matlack, a private college counselor based in Needham, echoing the sentiment of many other admissions experts.
But the lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions that claims Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants is drawing back the curtain on the Z list and raising questions about whether it should even exist.
According to five years of admissions data and internal e-mails and documents that Harvard had to provide Students for Fair Admissions for the court case, about 50 to 60 students in the college’s freshman class of more than 1,600 students enter through the Z list process.
They are predominantly (70 percent) white students, and nearly half have parents who attended Harvard. Just a few are economically disadvantaged, and nearly 60 percent are drawn from a special list kept by the dean that includes children of significant donors and potential donors. As a group, their test scores and academic records fall somewhere in between students who were rejected from Harvard and those who got in.
Even in court documents, Harvard skirts the term Z list, referring to the practice as “deferred admission,” instead. Harvard’s foes have no such qualms in their legal filings.
Harvard declined to answer specific questions about the Z list, but university officials cited previous reports by the college that suggest legacy admissions is a way to foster a stronger loyalty and community among alumni and further grow the school’s vast-by-any-measure $37 billion endowment. Harvard’s admissions officials believe these students can benefit from a gap year as an opportunity to grow and mature.