Harvard to end early admissions

Harvard University’s announcement Tuesday that it will eliminate early admissions sent shockwaves through the college admissions community, but top Yale officials said the University is satisfied with its current early action policy and does not anticipate any changes.

Under the new policy, students applying to Harvard’s Class of 2012 will all be subject to the single deadline of Jan. 1 rather than having the option to apply under the school’s current single-choice early action program. Harvard officials said the unprecedented move was made to reduce the pressure placed on high school student applicants, and to increase the number of applicants from low-income households, who are less likely to apply early.

Harvard’s new policy will be in effect for a two- to three-year trial period, after which the university will reevaluate its program, Harvard administrators said.

Yale Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said the University is happy with its current crop of applicants and does not plan to follow Harvard’s lead. It is also unlikely that Yale will switch back to its former binding early decision policy in the wake of Harvard’s move, he said.

“In our case, the move to early action resulted in an increased proportion of low-income students in the applicant pool,” Brenzel said. “The logic in moving to early action is strong and addresses the primary problems.”

Three years ago, Harvard and Yale both switched to single-choice early action policies, citing the inability of many low-income students to apply under binding early decision policies due to their need to compare financial aid packages. Under the single-choice early action program, students can apply only to one school early, but can then apply to multiple schools during the regular application cycle. Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also have single-choice early action policies.

Schools with early action or early decision programs generally accept a higher proportion of early applicants. Last year, 17.7 percent of early action applicants and 5.8 percent of regular decision applicants were accepted to Yale. Of the 4,084 early applicants, 724 were admitted. For regular decision, 1,099 of the 18,976 who applied were accepted.

In a statement announcing the university’s decision, Harvard interim President Derek Bok said he hopes abolishing early admissions will make the admissions process “simpler and fairer”.

“Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out,” Bok said in the statement.

Yale President Richard Levin said he thinks continued improvements in financial aid packages and recruitment are more effective means of attracting low-income students than abolishing early admissions.

“It is not clear that eliminating early admissions will result in the admission of more students from low-income families,” Levin said in a statement. “Since such students are underrepresented in the Ivy League applicant pool, what is really needed is what Harvard, Yale and others have been doing in recent years: that is making efforts to increase the pool of low-income students who apply and strengthening the financial aid package they receive.”

But Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said she applauds Harvard’s decision and thinks the elimination of early admissions makes the university more accessible.

“I hope that Yale will follow their lead,” Trachtenberg said. “I think it’s a wonderful move.”

Admissions officials at some of the other Ivies — all of which have binding early decision admissions programs — said their policies will remain unchanged, at least for now.

University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson said in a statement that Penn’s early admissions process has been successful for 40 years and that the university “has no plans, at present, to change its early-admissions policy.”

Princeton University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said that Princeton reviews its admissions policies annually. The move by Harvard will be a factor in the review process this fall, Cliatt said, and if peer institutions change their policies, Princeton “would be comfortable with making a similar change.”

Admissions experts were at odds over what effect Harvard’s move will have on national admissions practices.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said he thinks Harvard’s announcement is largely symbolic and will have little impact on less well-known institutions for which early admissions is crucial.

“It’s mostly a symbolic signal event,” Nassirian said. “Its actual impact is likely to be limited to Harvard’s peers. There are second- and third-tier institutions for which early decision is a critical tool in forming their institutions.”

But David Hawkins, director of public policy of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said he believes Harvard could start a nationwide trend with its dramatic move.

“Harvard being Harvard, they won’t have any trouble getting applicants,” Hawkins said. “Now that Harvard has gotten the ball rolling, other schools may follow suit.”

Students had mixed reactions to the news of Harvard’s decision.

Genevieve Tauxe ’07, who applied early decision to Yale, said she hopes Yale sticks to its early action policy.

“I like early admission for people who do know early what school they want to apply to,” she said. “For those students, it just saves so much time and energy to be able to apply to their first choice early in the fall. There may be some truth to the idea that eliminating early admissions would increase applications from low-income students, but I think early action is a good compromise.”

Joshua Batson ’08, who applied early action to Harvard and regular decision to Yale, said he thinks abolishing early admissions will neither reduce stress for high school applicants nor lead to a surge in low-income applicants.

“I think that the idea that it will reduce stress is actually false,” Batson said. “I can’t conceive of any students suddenly applying to Harvard because Harvard had cancelled their early application process.”

But other students, such as Betny Townsend ’08, said they are hoping Yale follows Harvard’s lead.

“The argument for increasing the number of low-income applicants is very, very valid,” said Townsend, who was accepted at Harvard through early admission and at Yale regular decision. “I would be shocked if the socioeconomic makeup of the early and regular was the same. … I would like to see Yale follow suit and be one of the top progressive schools.”

In order to attract more low-income applicants, both Harvard and Yale have recently increased their financial aid packages. Last spring, Harvard eliminated the parent contribution component of financial aid packages for families with incomes below $60,000 and reduced it for families earning $60,000-$80,000. The year before, Yale eliminated the parent contribution for families earning below $45,000 and reduced it for families earning $45,000-$60,000.

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