For the first time in at least a decade, Yale has beaten Harvard in the all-important admissions game by turning away a greater percentage of applicants for the Class of 2008 than the Cantabs did. Although we could choose to relish what was indeed a very narrow victory, obsessing about Yale’s performance relative to Harvard misses the larger lessons of this admissions season. In a year when both Yale and Harvard changed their admissions policies, the narrowing of the admissions gap and reversal of fortune for Yale bodes well for the changes being made to college admissions. Yale’s increasing selectivity is a result of the increase in applications, which is evidence that the University’s admissions forms are at least on the right track.
Yale received a record-high 19,674 applications for the Class of 2008 and accepted 1,950 of them, giving the University an acceptance rate of 9.9 percent. Harvard’s class sizes are larger, so although Harvard received about 100 more applications than Yale, it accepted more students, resulting in an admit rate of 10.4 percent. But the rates and the number of applicants for the two schools are much closer than they have been in the past; for the class of 2007, for example, Harvard received nearly 250 more applications than Yale and had an admit rate 1.6 percent lower than Yale’s.
For the Class of 2008, both Harvard and Yale switched to a single-choice Early Action program. Yale’s switch from binding Early Decision to the more flexible, nonbinding single-choice Early Action may have played a role in the 11 percent increase in applications. At Harvard, however, the change from an Early Action program that allowed applicants to also apply to other schools early to the more limited single-choice Early Action was likely responsible for a six percent drop in applications.
Although early application programs have been widely criticized for giving students from affluent backgrounds an unfair advantage in the college application process, we can see now how such programs can also advantage schools with the most liberal policies. If early admissions programs must exist, it seems reasonable to request that all schools offering early options develop the same guidelines. Not only will it put schools at the same level, but it will also eliminate some of the confusion students may experience when they encounter the diverse array of early application procedures.
What’s most incredible about this year’s admissions season, though, is that out of 20,000 applications, Yale admitted a mere 9.9 percent. That’s a shocking number. In the end, though, admission rates are nothing more than interesting statistics, and we’ve just seen how arbitrary they can be. If all it takes to shake up the college rankings is a change in admissions policies, there is all the more reason for students to look beyond numbers when applying to schools. This spring, we urge the students admitted to the Class of 2008 must look beyond the surface to decide where to matriculate.
Yale still has the task of winning the real admissions competition, of course — convincing the admitted students that Yale is the place for them. Still, it would be a shame if all we took away from this admissions season is what some of us have known all along — that Yale always wins. But a little friendly rivalry never hurts. Now that we’ve secured an admissions victory, we can devote our energies to the battle that really counts — next year’s football game.