Applications are in, but the verdict is still out

They’ve filled out the forms, penned their life stories and mailed their hopes to the Office of Admissions. And now they await the verdict on their lifelong dream: to attend Yale, their first-choice school. Or maybe not. Maybe they just want to keep their options open, to apply to an Ivy League school early because they can, because Yale asks no promises in return.

This fall’s applicants for the class of 2008 are the first under Yale’s switch to a new non-binding Early Action policy. While the applications — all 3,700-some of them — are in, the verdict on the policy is still out. Until there is evidence that the new policy improves the diversity of applicants, we urge the University to resist the temptation to increase the number of students admitted early, a move that would further disadvantage regular applicants.

Two years ago, President Levin sparked national debate when he told The New York Times he’d like to do away with early admissions altogether. But unable to make such a radical move alone and remain competitive with colleges that did offer early admissions, Levin decided upon a nonbinding Early Action program to replace Yale’s binding Early Decision program, a switch he reasoned would reduce the stress on high school students as well as increasing the diversity of the applicant pool. But until last week, it remained unclear how the new policy would affect Yale admissions. Last week the numbers came in — early applications increased by a staggering, although not unexpected, 42 percent.

The problems with early admissions are, by now, well recognized. Experts worry it forces high schools students to decide upon a school before they are ready and unfairly advantages the socioeconomic elite, who have the resources to apply early and do not have to wait until the spring to receive and compare financial aid packages from various colleges.

Yale’s new Early Action policy solves some, but not all, of these problems. It certainly makes strides in the equalizing direction by allowing those students who must wait until the spring for financial aid offers to participate in the early admissions process without being locked into a school before receiving an aid estimate. But early admissions in any form still favor the students who attend schools or have parents with the resources to prepare them for the process or fund various college prep activities.

Because the process is still imperfect, we urge the Admissions Office to be cautious. Although the temptation will undoubtedly be to admit even more students early this year — since there is now no guarantee students admitted will matriculate — we must oppose such an increase. We are afraid that increasing fall offers of admission can only translate into even worse odds for applicants who apply through regular decision. Until early admissions are perfectly equitable — if that is even possible — universities cannot do anything in the fall that will further disadvantage spring applicants.

Last year Levin expressed concern that capping the number of admitted students under early admissions because he thought deferring qualified candidates might be discouraging, prompting those students, if admitted in the spring, to choose other schools. Being deferred would be discouraging, but those who really want to come to Yale still will. Despite the risk of losing prospective students through deferment, it would be far worse to shut the door on qualified applicants who apply in the spring because they lack the resources to do so in the fall.

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