Compared to the simple, dramatic shot of reason Yale President Levin gave the early decision debate in December — “If we all got rid of it,” he told The New York Times, “it would be a good thing” — any unilateral change he might declare next month could seem anticlimactic. It will not be, though, if the administration chooses to continue the momentum it fueled almost a year ago and significantly amend Yale’s own early admissions policy next month.
Levin rightly recognized from the start that in the absence of a coalition of top-tier schools, Yale cannot do away with the early option altogether. Instead, the News hopes he will keep early decision in place for now but ask the Admissions Office to drastically reduce the number of students admitted before January beginning with the Class of 2008.
An ideal college admissions process, and one that is for the time being out of reach, would look something like this: High school students across the country would spend their junior years learning, not strategizing. They would apply to their first- and fifth-choice schools at the same time with the confidence that they will be admitted because of their credentials, rather than because of any rank or preference they declare. Those dependent on financial aid would have the same options as anyone else, instead of having to withhold an early decision application to their disadvantage in order to wait and compare aid packages. Ideally, there would be only regular admission.
The system as it stands is clearly broken. The question now is how we will begin to fix it.
The University’s priority in shaping an improved admissions policy should be the well-being of high school students. Early decision effectively frontloads the entire process, to the detriment of prospective students. Early action has the same effect but without even the benefit of locking in some of the most qualified candidates.
Last year Yale admitted 549 people — roughly 40 percent of this year’s freshman class — through early decision. If Yale had only accepted 20 percent of its total incoming class early last year, many qualified applicants would have been deferred and students who deserved to get in would have been forced to fill out application forms to their full lists of colleges. Had they known their chances of getting in were so much lower, some might even have applied elsewhere rather than attempt the numbers game.
But those students who truly know Yale is their first choice will not be dissuaded by numbers. A binding early policy with a lower acceptance rate would still allow the University to secure the most outstanding applicants; it would just move the timetable of the process for a greater majority of candidates back to that of regular decision.
By changing Yale’s early decision policy for next year, President Levin will again serve as a model to college administrators nationwide, taking another critial step toward a more equitable admissions process for schools and students alike. The painful two-week countdown to the Nov. 1 deadline begins today for high school seniors around the country. Hopefully years from now, it won’t start for months.