Yale President Richard Levin said Wednesday that he opposes the early-decision admissions process, challenging the way students, parents and educators approach college admissions.
Two days before Yale mailed decision letters to a record 2,115 early applicants, Levin told The New York Times that the early phase of admissions has distorted the entire process.
Levin said Sunday that despite his opposition to the system, Yale would not abandon early decision alone because the University would be put at a serious disadvantage relative to its peer institutions. He said he was looking for support from other Ivy League presidents.
The Council of Ivy Group Presidents — the body that could make such a decision for the entire eight-school group — met a week before Levin made his comments.
Princeton University spokeswoman Marilyn Marks said early decision was a topic of discussion at the meeting, and that the presidents were willing to examine the issue further.
University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin and Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings III told The New York Times that they were wary of changing the system but admitted it had its flaws. Columbia University President George Rupp told the Times he did not agree with Levin’s argument and remained supportive of the process.
Levin said he believes the issue of early decision needs to be re-evaluated at higher education institutions across the country.
“I really was less talking about Yale than the national picture,” he said.
Yale decided to switch from a non-binding to a binding early-admissions policy in 1995, the same year as Princeton and Stanford universities.
Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said the early-decision process was originally intended to allow students with a clear first choice college to save the time and energy of applying to multiple schools. But he said it has had unforeseen repercussions.
“What has transpired is not what any of us would have hoped for,” Shaw said, “and that is … the rush by students to make a decision very early in their high school experience to the extent that they are … forcing themselves into a decision to applying early somewhere.”
Levin said colleges benefit from early decision but sometimes at the expense of students. He said parents, counselors and students have become obsessed with gaining admission, and that as a result students are reluctant to apply to schools perceived as “risks.”
Levin said that while Yale has not seen an adverse change in the composition of its student body since instituting the early-decision policy, other schools have experienced a decrease in socioeconomic diversity.
Shaw said that early programs tend to attract students in higher economic brackets.
Levin offered alternatives to the current early-decision system — a cap on the number of students accepted early, reinstituting non-binding early action, or eliminating early admissions altogether.
Yale students’ opinions about whether the University should keep early decision varied with their personal experiences.
Ryan Sheely ’04 applied early to Princeton and was deferred. He said that looking back, he is glad he had the chance to wait to make his decision.
“I actually applied to Princeton without having visited Yale. When I visited Yale, I was glad I hadn’t gotten into Princeton because then I had more options,” Sheely said.
Sheely said he believes most students no longer apply early decision for the right reasons.
“The purpose [of early decision] is to indicate that you have a first preference, but I think that’s outdated and people just do it to beat the odds,” Sheely said.
But April Ruiz ’05 disagreed.
“A lot of people I know here did apply early, and that makes Yale a better place because they really want to be here,” Ruiz said. “Early decision is a good idea because it shows that an applicant really wants to go to a certain school. It shows enthusiasm and it ensures that the student applying to a school is going to take advantage of the resources more because they really want to go to that school.”
High school and college administrators have said one downside of early decision is that once students are accepted in December, they no longer put as much effort into their school work.
Speaking as an administrator at a school where 50 percent of the senior class applied early this year, Edward Hu, junior-senior dean at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, said he would “love it” if early decision were abolished.
“Early decision has really devalued the senior year in high school,” Hu said. “Given the climate we are in, getting rid of early decision would do wonders for the senior year in high school.”
Hu said he already has students asking him how low they can let their grades go and still retain their place at the colleges where they were accepted early decision.
“The sheer numbers of kids in early decision has made it difficult to … maintain [a] good learning environment,” Hu said.
Shaw said the early decision process has “gotten out of control.”
“If you look at the private schools in New England and over 60 percent have applied early, that’s a little bit disconcerting,” Shaw said.