News analysis: Early admit cutback levels field

As a record-breaking flood of applications looms on the horizon, the Yale admissions office has worked to create more space for regular applicants in the class of 2013 by cutting back on the number of students admitted early compared to last year.

This year, the total number of applications to Yale College is approaching 26,000, according to preliminary counts, up from 22,817 total applications last year, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said Monday. Although Brenzel denies that the expected increase in applications was the reason behind the decline in early acceptances, the office accepted nearly 150 fewer early applicants than last year, despite a record high number of early applications. Ten college guidance counselors interviewed said worries about running out of room for qualified regular candidates — of which there may be more than ever this year — might have prompted the cutback in early acceptances.

Brenzel maintained that the office simply returned to early admissions policy employed prior to last year, when 885 students were accepted early to the class of 2012. He said it was not a reaction to an anticipated rise in regular applications, which he said have increased proportionally to early applications.

Last year, he said, the admissions office accepted a high percentage of early applicants because it expected a lower yield of early admits after the cancellation of early programs at Harvard and Princeton universities. But because the yield dropped only slightly, Brenzel said he felt the office should limit early admits to leave space for regular applicants.

“On the one hand, the early pool is very strong and we want to reach out to the most outstanding students who apply early,” he said in an e-mail. “On the other hand, many of the very best candidates do not apply until the regular process, and we want to make sure we have plenty of room to offer them places.”

“It’s a balancing act,” he added.

The college counselors interviewed agreed that this year’s “balancing act” favors regular applicants more than last year’s. It is well within the realm of possibility that more spots were left for regular applicants because more students were expected to apply in the regular round, several college counselors said.

Admissions offices typically track the number of regular applications in the months prior to the deadline, comparing tallies of applications to benchmarks during past years, said Andrew McNeill, senior associate director of college counseling at the private Taft School in Watertown, Conn. If Yale had seen high totals of regular applications as the Dec. 15 decision deadline approached, the admissions office could have chosen to leave more spaces open for regular applicants.

Brenzel said the admissions office took only one action in anticipation of high application totals: hiring two additional admissions officers.

Yale may have adjusted its approach to early admissions if it found that it lacked space in its class for highly qualified regular applicants in past years, said Maria Morales-Kent, director of college counseling at the Thatcher School near Santa Barbara, Calif., and a former regional admissions officer for the University of Pennsylvania.

“Admissions committees learn from year to year,” she said. “When they weren’t as conservative [in offering early admissions offers], they found themselves with such a wonderful regular pool, they were thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve already filled all those spots.’ ”

While Yale’s impetus for leaving more spaces for regular applicants remains a subject of debate, the impact will nonetheless be positive, eight of the 10 admissions officers interviewed said.

By accepting fewer students early, Yale will help alleviate the admissions frenzy and rush to apply early, said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School.

“Yale does not want 5500 early applications — people are just chasing the brand,” he said. “The argument will be at the end of this year that you’ve got almost the same chance if you apply regular.”

Focusing more heavily on regular applications is also more equitable for students who come from less advantaged backgrounds, said Jane Horn, director of college counseling at the private Kent Denver School.

“It’s fair to assume that a reasonable percentage of students in that early action pool have a lot of counseling,” she said. “Students that don’t have a lot of access to high quality college counseling and apply regular deserve a chance.”

Brenzel said the admissions office plans to accept between 1,900 and 2,000 applicants for the class of 2013, similar to past years. He said he anticipates the office will also accept some students from the wait list.


  • '11

    They should just get rid of the early admission program. All the reasons offered for cutting it back argue equally for eliminating it altogether. Yale doesn't need this yield-boosting crutch.

  • Old Blue

    Couldn't agree more with #1. There's something wrong with filling 50-60% of the class from 20% of the applicant pool. This is hardly a "level playing field."

  • EA admit, 2010

    Early admission is win-win. It lets them know that they have a firm offer from a top college without forcing them to attend if they get a better offer elsewhere. Of course, most students who get in EA at Yale can't be bothered to apply elsewhere. In the end, it's good for Yale's yield AND good for reducing stress for college students.

  • Old Blue

    Yale's early admission program hardly "reduces the stress" for the 82% of early applicants it rejected this year. More likely, it increased the stress exponentially, since they must now acknowledge themselves as "rejects" for another three months until other schools are free to admit them.

    No … it is the SCHOOL for which early admission is "win-win": if we want you, you're in, if we don't want you, we don't have to take you and you've lost your chance to earn a similar edge elsewhere.

  • EA deferred…and unhappy

    Poster #4 is 100% correct

  • @Old Blue

    You're 50% wrong. Yale didn't reject 82% of the EA applicants this year - about half were deferred, which just means they have to wait until April to find out like all the RD applicants. I know plenty of people who were deferred EA and then accepted. I don't disagree that EA students help Yale's yield rates (because those applicants are implying Yale is their top choice to begin with), but at least EA is better than Early Decision at other schools - students still have a chance to compare financial aid packages and such before making a final decision.

    What is also not commonly known is that Yale's policy still allows students to apply to state schools that have rolling admissions, or schools that have earlier deadlines for merit scholarship consideration. There's no reason why a student has to feel like a "reject" from December to April.

    Also, applying somewhere EA reduces overall stress in that it forces students to get their applications done earlier, so they're not among the thousands of last-minute submissions that almost crashed the Common Application website on Dec 31. Now THAT would have been stressful.

  • Old Blue

    To #6:

    Of course, as an interviewer, I'm acutely aware that the main reason Yale has its virtually unique "single choice" early action option is to get first dibs on top students before they can apply to or be admitted to Harvard. The assumption is that without this advantage we'd lose most common admits to the "Colossus of the North"!

    I'd like to think we didn't have to resort to such tactics.

  • A Yale interviewer

    I think Yale and all the other colleges should get out of Early Action/Early Decision altogether. It's CRUEL. Yale should step up to the plate itself here. Other colleges watch its admissions policies. Early Action is stressful and unfair: to the regular applicant, the poor applicants who need financial aid, the badly counseled ones, and even to almost all of the Early Action applicants. It increases stress on every applicant except for the very few who know they're likely to get in and only want one school.

    Early Action helps ONLY the admissions office and should not never have been installed.

    If you think applying early is less stressful-- it's not. Suppose you think you don't have great chances to get into Yale, but your counselor tells you your chance is better if you apply Early Action-- but it's not necessarily your first choice-- which is also Early Decision or Early Action. This is a common case. Low stress?

    Seriously--I think the admissons office should make a first cut and then just do a lottery among those applicants-- it would be just as fair as the "we already have a soccer-playing harpist from North Dakota" approach currently favored.

  • Old Blue

    I second the motion of #6, my fellow alumni interviewer. The Admissions Office, unfortunately, does not seem interested in this kind of advice from "the field."

  • Oldballs

    You old fogies aren't getting it!

    Applying early shows that the applicant wants to go to the University. Otherwise the people who really want Yale would be pooled with regular applicants who are applying everywhere and just trying to get into the best school possible.

  • Old Blue

    To Oldballs …

    Ah, I see!

    So if these "people who really want to go to Yale" have to apply with the rest of the crowd on January 1, they may not look as good compared with all the people whose secret first choice may be Harvard, Princeton or Stanford, but who Yale may, in consequence, admit by mistake?

  • Anonymous

    I applied EA, was deferred, and eventually accepted. At the time, H and P still had their ED programs. I really think that, in the end, having demonstrated a singular commitment to Yale really helped me. Moreover, I did not find applying early stressful because I'd had my application ready since September. The savvy applicant won't be too stressed by applying early. I think it would be better for high schools to step up their guidance programs than for Yale to have to change a process which was working pretty well.