Levin’s suspect stance against early decision

My sister is applying to Yale early decision, as I did four years ago. Like me, she’s applying from a posh single-sex private school in Vancouver, Canada. As President Richard Levin pretends to have it, she and I are what’s wrong with early decision. While we enjoy informed guidance counselors and easy access to admissions advice, students in inner-city Detroit must apply regular decision — otherwise, they might be forced into bad financial aid packages. Only our applications reflect the fact that we’ve made Yale our first choice. We get accepted to Yale and they don’t — or so the argument goes.

Attacks on early decision have been swiftly gaining momentum over the past year. Levin got the ball rolling last December, when he told The New York Times that he would abandon early decision if other Ivy League schools followed suit. This semester, he set up a committee to review the policy. In November, it will issue a report of its findings.

At first glance, Levin’s crusade against early decision might make you wonder: Has Yale’s president finally grown a heart? In contrast to his reactions on sweatshops, labor issues and just about every other activist cause, is Levin finally using his bully pulpit to better America?

Hardly.

Banning early decision may attract more low-income talent into the nation’s top universities, but if Yale were truly concerned about attracting more underprivileged applicants, it could do much more. For instance, a much bigger step than condemning early decision would be to allot more funds to recruiting in poor neighborhoods. When visiting Vancouver, recruiters would visit public schools in addition to the private schools my sister and I attended. Eliminating early decision is only one step toward making Yale’s student body more socioeconomically diverse.

But this goal is not Levin’s main concern. His real reason for condemning early decision has little to do with bettering America, and everything to do with bettering Yale. From Levin’s perspective, abolishing early decision across the Ivy League would first and foremost greatly benefit Yale. In its current form, the policy allows universities like Columbia, Dartmouth or the University of Pennsylvania to lock in students who would have otherwise come to Yale. That’s Levin’s primary beef with early decision, and that’s the real reason he wants it discontinued.

To see how early decision hurts Yale’s applicant pool, take a top-rate senior who is qualified for Yale, Princeton and Harvard, but who underestimates himself. Or take a similar student who hates the thought of not getting into any Ivy League school at all. Rather than risk a chance at getting rejected — after all, applying to Yale is a crapshoot even for the brightest students — these applicants can guarantee themselves a spot at Columbia or Dartmouth by applying early. If early decision were abolished, these students would end up at higher-ranked schools. Yale, Harvard and their top-tier peers would benefit; lower-rung colleges would suffer.

When Levin speaks of convincing peer institutions to abandon early admissions, I suspect he’s mostly referring to Harvard, Princeton and maybe Stanford. If these top four collectively abolished early decision, second-tier schools would follow suit. For these schools, having policies different from those of Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Stanford reinforces the public perception that they belong to a different tier.

And if they keep the status quo, they’ll receive bad press — the national media, as revealed through editorials by The New York Times and the Washington Post, is convinced that early decision hurts poor students and unnecessarily complicates the admissions process. College students feel the same way — the Yale Daily News, Harvard Crimson and Stanford Daily have all editorialized against early decision for similar reasons.

As you would expect, Yale’s direct rivals — Princeton, Harvard and Stanford — have been most receptive to Levin’s arguments. Schools like Cornell and the Penn have been his most vocal critics.

Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at Penn and a strong proponent of early decision, has called the policies “permanent fixtures.” In April, the Yale Daily News quoted Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg as saying, “Philosophically, I don’t see why students should be prevented from stating in an official way that a school is their first choice, and be able to apply to that school” (“The waiting game on early decision,” 4/22). In the same article, Doris Davis, Cornell’s associate provost of admissions and enrollment, chipped in that she also supports the current system.

In contrast, Harvard has been toying with the idea of no longer forcing students who had been accepted early action at Harvard and early decision elsewhere to cancel their Harvard applications. Such a move would seriously undermine the present order of things.

And rumor has it that when Princeton admissions officer and staunch early decision supporter Fred Hargadon retires this year, President Shirley Tilghman will reopen debate on the university’s early policy.

All this could be good news for underprivileged students applying to Yale. But more importantly for Levin, it’s great news for Yale’s U.S. News and World Report ranking.



Sahm Adrangi is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a former editorials editor of the Yale Daily News.

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