Gap persists between early and regular applicants

As students frantically studied for finals last term, Yale’s admissions officers were also shut indoors, deciding the fate of students who applied early action for the class of 2018.

Reflecting on the 4,750 early applications that the Undergraduate Admissions Office reviewed before the Dec. 16 decision date, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the early applicant pool will likely prove less diverse than the overall body of applicants this year, as in previous years. Quinlan and four outside college counselors interviewed said that in general, students who apply early action to Yale tend to be wealthier and more knowledgeable about the college process than regular decision applicants. Still, they added that this discrepancy between the early and regular application rounds is gradually decreasing.

Yale has gradually reduced the number of students admitted early action in recent years. Quinlan attributed this policy to his predecessor Dean Jeffrey Brenzel’s desire to free up spots for applicants from the regular pool.

William Morse ’64 GRD ’74, a former Yale admissions officer and a private education consultant, said the University’s numerous initiatives to recruit high-achieving low-income students are helping to close the gap between early action and regular applicants. He cited Yale’s aggressive advertising of its generous financial aid policies and the tours that admissions officers do across the country as two examples.

“As more students learn about Yale’s affordability and the general college process through democratizing tools such as the Internet and social media, we’re seeing more underrepresented students are getting on the same page as a legacy or boarding school student,” he said.

Quinlan said in December students who apply early action tend to be those who are most prepared to apply by the Nov. 1 deadline. He added that although Yale’s early action pool has traditionally been a less diverse group than the overall applicant class, he is seeing long-term trends of more students from diverse communities applying early action to the University.

A survey sent by the News to a random group of Yale undergraduates demonstrated that students who were legacies, attended private schools or did not require financial aid were more likely to have applied to the University as an early action applicant than the average student.

Of the 458 undergraduates who filled out the survey, 56 percent had applied to Yale early action.

The widest discrepancy for applying early action was found between legacy, non-legacy and first generation college students: 75 percent of legacy students had applied early action, compared to 51 percent of non-legacy students and only 33 percent of first generation college students.

“My parents had gone [to Yale] and my sister was attending Yale at the time so I always knew I was going to apply early,” Sam Faucher ’16 said. Faucher added that Yale was his first choice in part because he knew so much more about the University growing up than he did about any other school, even similar ones such as Stanford or Princeton.

The gap was also visible when respondents were grouped by family income. Of the students not eligible for financial aid, 66 percent had applied to Yale early action, while 47 percent of the students who receive financial aid said they had applied early.

Frederic Nicholas ’17, a first-generation student on financial aid at Yale, said when he first began the college process as a high school junior, he did not think that he could pay for Yale. Nicholas said that it was only because Yale’s early program was nonbinding that he felt comfortable applying early.

“Even if you love a school, you need to see what type of financial aid they can offer before you can commit to it,” he said.

Jon Reider, a college counselor at San Francisco University High School, said that he advises his students who need significant financial aid not to apply early to any school with a binding early admissions program because the school may not offer them sufficient financial aid.

Reider said if a student applies early decision, rather than early action, the student has no leverage in financial aid negotiations.

“If a student likes college X more but is unhappy with his financial aid, he could pressure college X into giving him more money by showing the money he got from college Y,” he said.

As a result, Reider said, Ivy League schools that fill significant percentages of their classes with early decision students are making it more difficult for low-income students to attend.

According to the survey, a slightly smaller discrepancy exists between Yale students who attended independent high schools versus public high schools. Sixty-four percent of the survey respondents who attended a private, charter or magnet high school had applied early action, but 48.5 percent of the survey respondents who had attended a public high school had applied early.

All four private college counselors interviewed said they were not surprised to hear the discrepancies in representation that the survey revealed.

“Wealthier kids go to [high] schools where they’re informed about the college process as sophomores or juniors,” said Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College and a former admissions officer at Harvard. With this greater awareness of the college process, these students are more likely to have their applications prepared by Nov. 1, he said.

Hughes added that some high-achieving low-income students may also refrain from applying to elite schools such as Yale or Princeton early action because they are intimidated by these schools’ well-publicized selectivity. He added that many of these students are the first in their community or school to apply to selective colleges.

Reider said a racial discrepancy also exists between the early action and regular rounds, adding that low-income students — a category that disproportionately includes African-American and Hispanic students — often do not apply to schools like Yale early action because they are unaware of the University’s robust financial aid programs or because they conflate early action with other schools’ binding early decision policies.

The idea that early action programs disproportionately benefit the privileged is not new.

In 2006, then-Harvard President Derek Bok told the Harvard Crimson that early action programs “advantage the advantaged” when Harvard abolished its early action program. Princeton shortly followed suit. According to Quinlan, Yale seriously considered following Harvard and Princeton’s lead, but ultimately decided not to scrap early admissions because the program allows students who feel confident about their application to begin the college process early.

Both Harvard and Princeton reversed their policies in 2011 and began offering early action once more after realizing that they were missing out on top students who were applying to Stanford and Yale early, Hughes said.

Quinlan said although he does not mind whether students apply to University as early or regular applicants, he is excited to see the percentage of nontraditional students in the early applicant pool rise every year.

Although Yale’s acceptance rate for early action applicants is considerably higher than its regular acceptance rate, Quinlan said this discrepancy exists only because applicants in the early action pool tend to be stronger on average than candidates in the regular pool.

“The advice I always give to students is that they should only apply when their application is the strongest,” he said, adding that for some students who might need stronger test scores or one more term of good grades, applying in the regular round may be advantageous.

The 4,750 early applications received this year was a 5.5 percent bump from last year, when 4,514 students applied early.

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