Nearly a year after he initiated a national debate over early admissions policies, Yale President Richard Levin announced Wednesday that the University will adopt a nonbinding early action policy beginning with the Class of 2008.

The decision, which Levin said was the first step toward encouraging the elimination of all early admissions programs, was made on the same day that Stanford University also announced a shift from early decision to early action. Under both Yale and Stanford’s policies, students will only be able to apply early to one school.

“I think it’s a very important step,” Levin said. “I personally would prefer to eliminate all the early admissions programs, but realistically we cannot do that.”

Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said early action would benefit both the future student body and high school seniors.

“I think that the applicant pool will probably be more diverse because students from all levels of socioeconomic status will apply,” Shaw said.

The change would give all students more flexibility and more time to consider their options, he said.

“We think it also doesn’t force them into making a decision, locking them in when they’re not prepared to do that,” he said.

Stanford Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Admission Marcela Muniz said Stanford made the decision for similar reasons.

“We have been considering this for quite sometime,” she said. “We’ve been concerned just about what high school students and families are dealing with as they make their decisions about college enrollment and the pressures placed on them.

Shaw said the decision was the result of much evaluation and consideration that included a faculty committee headed by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead.

A national debate

Wednesday’s announcement came 11 months after Levin established himself as a vocal proponent of abolishing early admissions — a move that sparked a national debate.

In December, Levin told The New York Times, “If we got rid of [early decision], it would be a good thing.”

He expressed concern about high school students making a binding decision so early in the year. Under early decision, he said, some students were strategizing instead of choosing their first choice schools, and students applying for financial aid were at a disadvantage.

But Levin also said repeatedly that the University could not act unilaterally in abolishing early admissions programs. He said he wanted to form a coalition with other schools to get rid of early decision entirely.

Levin said Wednesday, however, that the University decided to go it alone in the face of two major obstacles — the difficulty of coordinating such a coalition and obtaining an antitrust clearance from the federal government.

“First of all, it would be unlikely to get everyone in the Ivy League to agree, and second, the process of getting antitrust clearance would have taken a couple of months and a lot of time and effort,” Levin said. “So we decided back in the spring that we would have to do this on our own.”

Levin said the topic was not discussed at the meeting of the Ivy League presidents in June.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see some follow-up activity over the course of the next year,” he said.

The committee on admissions recommended to Levin that Yale abandon the early decision policy after debating the effects of a change in early admissions policy.

Leon Plantinga, a music professor and committee member, said he thought the new policy would help Yale attract lower-income applicants who cannot commit to a school without knowing about their financial aid packages.

“There are lots of other people who may be just as talented and who wouldn’t think of applying to Yale early,” Plantinga said. “In fact, they might be discouraged by that by their high school counselors — ‘do one that’s safer’ — so what happens then is that those students who may be extremely good get snapped up by these other places.”

Levin said the committee considered limiting the number of students admitted early but ultimately rejected the idea. Last year, Yale admitted approximately 40 percent of its freshman class early.

“We looked at simply restricting the number of students we accept under early decision,” Levin said. “Our sense was that the quality of the applicant pool — early — was very strong and if we deferred a great many students, we might discourage them or somehow make them feel less positive about Yale.”

Muniz said Stanford admits approximately one-fourth of its class early each year and that it does not have any plans to change the proportion. Last year Stanford admitted 34 percent of its freshman class through early decision.

Philosophy professor and committee member Gabriel Richardson said she thought the new policy would put a more positive spin on early admissions.

“We ought to be in the business of helping students learn to think freely,” she said. “People think they’re not going to even get a chance to come to Yale if they don’t apply early decision. They’re being motivated by fear.”

Because students admitted through early action are not required to attend, the University will face greater uncertainty in predicting how many students would enroll. In 2001, Brown University switched from early action to early decision, citing concerns about the overwhelming numbers of early applications.

Shaw said he does not think the switch will overwhelm the admissions office because students are only allowed to apply early to one school. At Brown, students were allowed to apply early action to multiple schools.

“We’re hopeful that it doesn’t go out of control,” Shaw said. “Even under early decision we’ve seen our numbers rising. We think it may not be as significant an increase as if students could apply all over the place.”

Mixed reactions

Admissions officers at other universities offered mixed responses to Yale’s move.

Willis Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, said he disagreed with Yale’s decision.

“It will have no influence on what we’re going to do,” Stetson said. “We have maybe 45 percent of the students for the class coming from early decision. They seem to flourish here. All of our surveys tell us that they don’t feel they were rushed in making the decision.”

But Jerry Lucido, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which eliminated its early decision option last year, applauded Yale’s switch.

“First of all, I think it’s it’s a very responsible and appropriate move by Yale,” Lucido said. “It’s one that I think provides real leadership in college admissions at a time when I think it’s really needed.”

Lucido cited the “frenzy” to apply early and the strategizing that takes place in the early admissions process as reasons UNC switched its policy.

“I think this steps out and says we want to return this to an environment of more thoughtful choice. In particular, Yale’s decision permits students, even those who apply early action, to allow the maturation process that takes place in their senior year to contribute to their ultimate college destination,” he said.