Harvard University officials announced Thursday that the school will return to an early action policy that prohibits students from applying early to other universities. The policy is similar to the one Yale announced in November.
The change comes after Harvard received a record number of applications this year, including almost 1,500 more early applications, under its one-year trial of a non-binding early policy, which allowed students to apply to an unlimited number of other universities early.
Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis said the new policy is a return to a decades-old admissions tradition at Harvard.
“We’re returning to a practice that for many years had served us well and that we thought had met many principal needs of an early action program,” she said. “It used to seem reasonable, and it still seems reasonable.”
Last year, Harvard changed its early admissions policy to be in compliance with the National Association of College Admissions Counseling’s guidelines, which do not condone single-choice early action policies, McGrath Lewis said.
“We did, as a member of that organization, try it for a year,” she said. “We have now decided to return to a program that we used for many years and which served us well.”
McGrath Lewis said this year’s experience confirmed her reservations that non-restrictive early admissions policies simply move up the application process, instead of allowing students to express serious interest in one institution.
“The early applicant pool is particularly strong. To add another eight or 10 percent has represented an extraordinary burden,” she said. “The other problem is the misleading or confusion message it sends to students that ‘you can apply to us early, but it’s just an early version of regular [decision].’ It had a sort of stampeding effect.”
Harvard admissions officials often worked six days a week to handle the high volume of applications, McGrath Lewis said.
NACAC Vice President for Admission, Counseling and Enrollment Practices Martin Wilder said he thinks Harvard, Yale and Stanford will probably not be the only schools to change their policies towards single-choice early action.
“I think the idea is that having an early action plan that is completely non-restrictive can tend to drive this sort of frenzy that we’re seeing with huge numbers of applications, sort of driving that whole process earlier and earlier,” he said.
NACAC is currently engaged in a one- to two-year long process of reconsidering its definitions of admissions practices. Wilder said during this process, the Admission Practices Committee will not enforce punishments regarding violations of its early action guidelines.
“I think what NACAC has found is that there is not one single right answer that is good for all students and all situations,” he said. “We as an association are looking to step back and take another broad look at this and re-examine the current state of definitions and decide what really is going to be a sensible position.”