Interview with Harvard’s new President, Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Bacow

I just interviewed Harvard’s incoming President Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Bacow for a cover story for one of my hometown weekly newspapers in suburban Detroit; he grew up in Pontiac, MI. The piece will be published in the coming month, just before he takes over the helm of the most prestigious university in the U.S. (July 1). He is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most accomplished, respected, and insightful higher education leaders, having held senior roles at MIT, Tufts, and Harvard.

I met Dr. Bacow seven years ago at his cousin’s son’s bar mitzvah. There was a Motown band, and he and his wife, Adele, were dancing the night away, celebrating their young cousin. He was warm, kind and exceptionally humble for someone so accomplished.

Dr. Bacow has a compelling personal story; the son of immigrant parents – his father a Jewish refugee from Eastern Europe, his mother a Holocaust survivor. Bacow has long been devoted to education’s vital role in enabling pursuit of the American dream.  It has inspired him to work to create similar opportunities for others from all walks of life.

I was – and still am – impressed with his commitment toward expanding access and opportunity for students of talent and promise.  At Tufts, he presided over a doubling of the university’s annual budget for financial aid, the replacement of loans with grants for undergraduates from low-income families, and the introduction of a loan repayment assistance program helping graduates pursue careers in public service and the nonprofits.   He also served on President Obama’s advisory committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

During my interview, I asked Dr. Bacow a few key questions that parents ask us, and I think his answers will interest you. Dr. Bacow is funny, too. When I asked him what advice he’d give to parent who thinks their child is Harvard material, he joked, “Admissions is way above my pay grade.”

Are Colleges Out of Touch and Out of Reach?

“The gap in lifetime earnings between college grad is bigger than ever. While real cost has increased, the return has never been higher.  We need to do a better job of explaining this to students and their families, and explain the degree to which financial aid is available. At Harvard, if total income is $65,000 or less, family, pays nothing to attend. About 20 percent of the students at Harvard come from families that meet that test.”


Advice to Students Who Want to Get into Harvard

“Study hard. Have the courage to find your passion and then pursue it. There are many great universities. I never applied to Harvard (undergrad). All great universities are looking to attract students who are willing to push themselves and try and be true to themselves in what they do.”


What Would You Say to Parent Who Asks If You Can Get a Child into Harvard?

“I would say relax a little bit. Kids feel too much pressure from their parents. It’s not a feather in their cap. It’s about their child, not about them.


“Where a kid goes to college is not a grade on their parenting skills. They should help their son or daughter achieve what they want to achieve and find a place which is good for them You can get a good education almost anywhere as long as you make the big decisions right.”


How to Select the Right College


Bacow poses four basic questions for college-bound students to consider.


  • Do they want big or small?
  • Urban or rural?
  • To Get on an Airplane to get there?
  • Do they want to wear flip flops in January?


“Beyond that, you can be happy almost any place. Kids can find their niche within any school because there are great teachers everywhere.”


What are Your Thoughts on Rising tuition and Decreasing Government Funding?

“When I was at Tufts, I testified at the Massachusetts statehouse for increased funding to the University of Massachusetts. Costs have gone up in Michigan because the state has withdrawn support for universities, shifting the costs to students and families. That’s shortsighted. I hope to be an advocate for that. I am worried about state support and federal support.”


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Feel free to email me with questions? We offer free training webinars for counselors, too. Meanwhile, we probe deeper and answer all 5 of those questions in our book. To show you how much we appreciate the work you do, we’d like to give you a free electronic copy of How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. You’ll find out how to get free books for every parent in your school when you click on the book link.


Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Wow’s team of professional writers and teachers understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. If it involves words, we can help. Email