Harvard and Princeton will rejoin Yale next fall by offering an early admissions program for students applying to the class of 2016.

Experts attributed the switch to single-choice early action admission, announced within hours of each other Thursday morning, to Harvard’s and Princeton’s concerns that they are losing top students to Yale and other schools with early admission by asking them to wait to apply in the regular round. When the schools disbanded their early admissions programs in 2006, representatives from both Harvard and Princeton said the early program gave an unfair advantage to students from privileged backgrounds. Now that the programs are back, officials from both universities say early admissions will actually increase socioeconomic diversity.

But college counselors say that an even bigger second motivator for the new switch may be the fact that the abolition of early admissions programs never caught on with other Ivies as the schools had hoped.

Princeton President Shirley Tilghman said in a press release Thursday that her university examines its admission program each year and has been pleased with the outcome since it eliminated its early admission program — but Princeton did not make that decision with only its own interests in mind, she added.

“In eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same and they haven’t,” she said.


Tilghman said that Princeton’s new program aims to allow students who know Princeton is their first choice to apply early and to aid the school in “diversifying our applicant pool and admitting the strongest possible class.” Michael Smith, Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, made a similar statement Thursday, the Harvard Crimson reported.

“We … saw that many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low-income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard,” he said.

Princeton offered a binding early decision program from 1996 until 2006, when the option was abolished. Though Harvard’s program was “early action” — non-binding, allowing those accepted to wait until May 1 to accept their spots — the Crimson reported that low-income applicants may fail to distinguish between non-binding “early action” and binding “early decision,” or that they may not have access to guidance about preparing to apply early.

In an interview on Sept. 11, 2006, Harvard Interim President Derek Bok and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons told the Crimson that the Harvard Corporation felt early action provided an unfair advantage to applicants from privileged backgrounds.

Harvard feared that students who applied early would lose out on the opportunity to compare the university’s financial aid package, which was not released until later in the year, to offers from other schools. Without that information, students might have chosen to attend other schools where they knew they would be offered scholarships.

Three of five college counselors interviewed said Harvard’s and Princeton’s fears that their policies might have allowed top applicants to slip through their fingers motivated the switch announced yesterday.

“They’re enormously competitive,” said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School.

He added that while the lack of an early admissions program has not hurt either school’s application numbers — Harvard and Princeton both reported record-breaking numbers of applicants this year — they felt they were losing students who apply early to Yale or Stanford.

Reider, who worked as an admissions officer at Stanford from 1985 to 2000, said Stanford’s motivation in adding early action was a desire “to fight for more kids.”


Harvard and Princeton had hoped to start a trend in abolishing early admission programs — but Yale refrained from following their lead.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said Yale chose not to follow Princeton and Harvard in phasing out early admissions because the University’s early action applicant pool has been highly diverse, thanks in part to the non-binding rule.

“Because our program [is] non-binding and our financial aid extraordinarily generous, our early program was attracting more and more of the country’s best minority and low-income applicants,” he said in an e-mail. “So it was working very well for us and for those students as well.”

Three college counselors interviewed Thursday said they think more universities might have abolished early admissions if Yale had done so in 2006.

But David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said in an e-mail Thursday that non-Ivy League schools may not have followed Harvard and Princeton’s lead in abolishing early admission even if Yale had gone along with the change.

Early admission is an important tool for universities looking to ensure good yield rates, Hawkins said. Ivy League schools generally have high yield rates and can afford to cut early programs, but it is more difficult for a non-Ivy League school to drop its early program, he added.

All five college counselors interviewed agreed that the failure of Harvard and Princeton’s peer institutions to adopt a single admission program put Harvard and Princeton at a disadvantage in admissions, particularly with regard to yield.


Experts are split on what the change could mean for next year’s admissions cycle overall.

Brenzel said Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions will likely mean fewer early applications for Yale, but a higher yield rate among the University’s early pool.

“Students admitted to their first choice schools have no particular reason to apply elsewhere, even though they will be free to do so,” he said.

But Reider said Harvard’s and Princeton’s changes make the admissions process easier for Yale. Currently, he said, some of Yale’s early applicants apply early simply because the option exists, though their first choice is Harvard or Princeton. The change will now allow students to apply to their true first choice early, he added.

Hawkins said he does not think Yale’s overall application numbers would be affected by Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions.

“While Ivy League colleges are a ‘peer’ group of institutions that compete with each other, a change of this sort … seems unlikely to drive large numbers of people away from another institution in that group,” he said.

Yale accepted 761 of the 5,257 early applicants to the class of 2015, which is a 14.5 acceptance rate.