In the wake of Harvard and Princeton’s recent announcements that the universities will eliminate their early admissions programs, Yale students have mixed feelings about the idea of adopting a single admissions deadline, according to a Yale Daily News poll of more than 300 randomly selected undergraduates.
As the Yale Corporation and the Faculty Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid Policy prepare to reevaluatethe University’s early admissions policy this year, the poll revealed that students are ambivalent about early admissions in general but supportive of Yale’s own early action policy. In the poll — which was conducted last week, before Princeton’s announcement — 42 percent of students said they supported Harvard’s decision to abolishearly admissions, 39 percent said they did not favor the decision and 19 percent said they had no opinion on the issue. But while a fair number of Yalies seemed to be in support of the changes made at Harvard, only 26 percent of students polled said they supported Yale making a similar change, and 59 percent said they would actively oppose Yale’s disposing of its early admissions program.
Administrators stress caution
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the varied nature of student responses makes the gravity of Yale’s decision regarding early admissions even more evident.
“In reviewing the changes in deadlines and procedures that Harvard and Princeton have announced, we want to think through the consequences for all students and for the selection process itself,” he said. “Your poll gives some indication that Yale students themselves would vary fairly widely in their views on this.”
Yale President Richard Levin said he is not surprised that an increasing number of students support the idea of eliminating early admissions. Levin said the administration will not be rushing into a decision.
“It will be useful to see what students, high schools and faculty across the country think about this before rushing into action,” he said. “We’re going to take our time. I don’t see any need to rush. I think we should consider the matter thoroughly and widely canvass the relevant groups.”
Brenzel said that careful consideration will have to go into the decision, and that administrators must spend time examining all ramifications and outcomes of any potential decisions.
“We think it is right that Harvard and Princeton have put the emphasis in their announcements on what would be best and most fair for students,” he said. “At the same time, we want to be thoughtful and careful about evaluating such a major change, to see whether it would in fact produce the desired results and whether it might have any unintended consequences.”
‘Advantaging the advantaged?’
Students’ varying opinions of the decision to get rid of early admissions may reflect their varying opinions of the rationale for doing so. Administrators at both Harvard and Princeton have said that early admissions programs “advantage the advantaged,” as Harvard interim
President Derek Bok said in a statement last week, since a lower proportion of low-income students generally apply early. Getting rid of early admissions, they said, will allow students from less privileged backgrounds to compete on a level playing field with their more privileged peers.
Phoebe Rounds ’07, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, an organization that for years has actively campaigned for financial aid reform, said she agrees that early admissions programs can place some students at an unfair disadvantage.“I think that students coming from backgrounds with a lot of access to good schools and resources about college are more poised to take advantage of those programs,” she said.
“At a lot of public schools, people don’t even think about where they’re applying to college until they get back to school in the fall of their senior year.”
At her own Rochester, N.Y., high school, Rounds said, college counseling did not start until late October of her senior year. By that point, a student applying early would have been finishing up his or her application, since the early admissions deadlines for most schools are at the beginning of November. By eliminating their early admissions programs, Rounds said, Harvard and Princeton have opened the doors of elite universities to an increasingly diverse pool of students.
“I think what Harvard and Princeton have done is a fantastic thing for access to education,” she said.
Data gathered in the poll suggests that early admissions attracts students from areas with higher average incomes, consistent with Harvard and Princeton administrators’ statements.
In the poll, 75 percent of students questioned said they applied to at least one school under an early admissions program. Based on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average median annual family income in the home zip codes of these respondents was over $8,000 higher than the average median annual family income in the home zip codes of the 25 percent of students who applied to college only at the regular deadline.
Marisa Williamson, a Harvard junior who applied early to Yale and was not accepted, said she believes the decision will make the process better for minority students like herself.
“Early didn’t help me, and I don’t think it helps many minorities,” she said. “It allows the socioeconomically privileged to thrive.”
But Sarah Hecht ’08, a member of the Yale Admission’s Office Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, said she does not think early admissions unfairly disadvantages a particular subgroup of prospective students. Early admissions, she said, gives all students more flexibility.
“I appreciated the option,” she said. “I don’t think Yale should change the policy.”
Williamson said the general consensus in Cambridge is that the decision was a good one, though she said those opposed to the change likely would not feel comfortable speaking out.
“People are feeling similarly about the decision,” she said. “And if people aren’t, they’re staying quiet. It would be pretty unpopular [to speak out against the decision] at a liberal university like Harvard.”
Financial aid issues
In addition to equalizing the amount of time students have to plan for applying to college, administrators from both Harvard and Princeton said getting rid of early admissions will allow students to more easily compare financial aid offers.Brandon Bierlein, a Princeton junior, said his university’s decision — which eliminated Princeton’s binding early decision program — shocked and upset him.
“The primary justification is that early admissions advantages those who are already advantaged,” he said. “But financial aid at Princeton promises to meet 100 percent of need. On average, Princeton gives $31,000 for financial aid. The idea that students who can’t afford to apply early could apply doesn’t hold.”
But Rounds said she thinks eliminating binding early decision programs like Princeton’s is especially important for students on financial aid. Yale’s policy, like the one Harvard eliminated, is a non-binding single-choice early action program.
“I think when Yale moved to early action from early decision three years ago, that was a great step,” she said. “But I think having one round of admissions for everyone is a point that I hope all of these schools get to, including Yale.”
Although he agreed that eliminating early admissions will have a positive effect on students applying for financial aid, Noah Kazis ’09, also a member of the UOC, said he thinks recent financial aid reforms at Yale, Harvard and Princeton will ultimately have a much larger effect on increasing the diversity of the Ivy student population.
In March, Harvard announced that it would eliminate the parental contribution for students from families with annual incomes below $60,000 and reduce the parental contribution for students from families earning between $60,000 and $80,000 a year. In March 2005, Yale eliminated the parental contribution for students from families earning under $45,000 and reduced it for families earning between $45,000 and $60,000 per year.
Still, Kazis said he thinks eliminating early action would be a positive move.
“I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Pressure and prestige
Another reason Harvard and Princeton administrators gave for eliminating early admissions is that it will help take some of the pressure off of high school students applying to college. They argued that with one single deadline for all applications, students will not be subject to the tumult of early action and early decision plans.
But over 66 percent of students polled said the absence of early admissions would not have decreased the pressure they felt in high school. Many students agreed that stress is an intrinsic part of the college admissions process, one that getting rid of early admissions will not eliminate.
Kazis said he thinks the stress of applying to college is independent from the date students happen to send in their applications.
“I don’t think stress is a particularly significant issue,” he said. “If kids are going to be stressed, they’re going to be stressed, and if they’re not going to be stressed, they’re not going to be stressed.”
Bierlein said he thinks early decision actually made the process less stressful for students.
“I think early admissions takes pressureoff students,” he said. “They get to apply and find out in December. They find out if they got into their first choice and if they have to do more applications or not.”
But some Yale students said Yalies’ ambivalence about a change in University policy is a result of college pride rather than a substantive consideration of the legitimacy of early admissions. Hecht said the 59 percent of students who want Yale to keep its early admissions may simply be hoping that Yale will not put itself behind its peer institutions.
“I feel like the results of the poll are probably such that Yale students don’t want to be considered secondary to Harvard,” she said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said any decision about adjusting admissions policies would be a joint decision made by a number of Yale officials.
“Major policy decisions in undergraduate admissions involve the president, dean of Yale College, dean of admissions, and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid,” he said in an e-mail.
Jamal Fulton ’08, one of the co-coordinators of the Yale Ambassadors Program, which the University started in an effort to encourage high school students in low-income areas to apply, said he is confident Yale will make the right decision.
“I think Yale should consider what is best for this school and the people who are going to be coming to this school,” Fulton said. “I feel like if it’s going to happen, it’s going to be because people actually sit down and have a real conversation and decide it’s the best decision. But if they don’t, they should feel no pressure to change.”