Early admissions change generated premature praise

After yesterday’s news that Harvard University dropped early admissions, what are the chances that Yale will do the same — nearly 100 percent? It seems that for at least the past couple years, Yale has taken the follower’s role in relation to its two closest competitors, Harvard and Princeton. In the admissions arms race, Yale has failed to deviate from the Harvard-led jump to early admissions, and then to binding early admissions, and then back to regular admissions. In fact, it is rumored that Yale likes repeating after Harvard so much that we might try winning this year’s Harvard-Yale Game. But that is only a rumor, just like the rumor spread yesterday by Harvard and The New York Times editorial page that ending early admission is a good idea.

Of course, Yale did have a lower admission rate last year and is far better known and respected in China. Harvard and Yale have slightly differing admissions realities, and the jury is still out as to whether early admissions reduces or increases pressure on lower income students.

The slightly differing admissions realities stem from every real estate agent’s three favorite words: location, location, location. The People’s Republic of Cambridge is both one of the most international cities in the country and the epicenter of a very wealthy array of Boston suburbs. New Haven, while very international itself, and situated in the second-wealthiest state, can be described by two four-letter words: “poor” and “Yale”.

Both universities attract a large portion of their applicants, and especially their athletes, from their immediate vicinities. It should come as no surprise that the high school with the most students matriculating to Yale is New Haven’s Hopkins School, and to Harvard the most come from Boston’s Roxbury Latin. Also, the second reason that Yale’s admissions reality is different is that Yale students like fun, and Cantabs, well, don’t. (If this seems subjective, read a little about Harvard’s finals clubs.) It is easy to see why very few get into either school, and why both typically yield the vast majority of their admitted applicants.

The claim that early admissions inherently discriminates against lower income students is tenuous at best. While critics point to higher rates of admission for students who apply early, the rate seems to be almost entirely a factor of self-selection. Students who are prepared enough to apply early would seem likely to have their acts together during the rest of the educational career. Furthermore, the early process gives the admissions committee more time to sort through the tens of thousands of application they receive, making the task that much less daunting, and more importantly, less random. Perhaps the most valuable feature of early admissions is that it separates the “really want to go” applicants from the “kind of want to go.” And of course, no college, especially Yale, wants to be the answer to the question: “Where else did you get into?”

But what this controversy really exposes is the inability for elite colleges to provide a top-down solution to almost any of this country’s educational challenges. My grandmother, a daughter of mentally ill Irish immigrants, was accepted to Radcliffe College at the age of 16, but actually matriculating was not a possibility during the Great Depression. Harvard, which was far more progressive in its admissions standards than Yale was at the time, according to “The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton” by Jerome Karabel, could not undo the country’s economic tumult. Likewise, affirmative action admissions has, like many other social programs, done little to change the racial realities which have remained stagnant since the 1970s, though it has made it less likely that race issues will be aggravated. The best a school like Yale can do is to take some of the best and make them better. So, Yale Admissions: Don’t believe the hype coming from Harvard by ending early admissions, because like the institution itself, it’s probably just hype.

Eric Purington is a sophomore in Morse College.

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