In a high-profile move in the world of higher education, Harvard University announced Monday that it would end its early admissions program. Though GW is a considerably different academic institution than the Ivy League college, our University should take this opportunity to consider the merits, and perhaps disadvantages, of its early admission program.
As with the former Harvard system, GW’s early admissions allows students to apply to college early and receive consideration before the general pool of prospective freshmen. GW’s system is divided in two rounds of early admission periods, and those wishing to apply early decision must sign a binding agreement that requires them to attend the University if accepted.
Any early decision program has obvious benefits. Giving preference to a group of applicants committed to attending GW, in particular, attracts students who are guaranteed to attend. This, in turn improves yield – the number of people who accept admission compared to those who are offered admission. A high yield is just one of many considerations in a school’s ranking and adds to the institution’s prestige.
Furthermore, early admissions gives those reviewing college applications more time to review a high number of applications. This may allow for a more careful consideration of each applicant.
There are other factors, however, that may negate the benefits of early admission. GW does not guarantee financial assistance to any early applicants when they are accepted. This fact may discourage students who cannot afford to commit to a school, such as GW, at which they may have to pay full tuition. The end result may be an initial group of students who come from a wealthier, less-diverse background.
Furthermore, early admission attracts those who are set on the idea of attending GW. While this may garner enthusiastic students, it won’t guarantee that the University admits the best applicants each year. Inherently, an early admissions system prevents talented students who are considering other schools from competing with those, possibly less stellar candidates, who have already decided on GW.
In light of Harvard University’s action, it would be wise for administrators to consider the merits of the current early admission system. The early admission program at GW has numerous benefits for both applicants and the University. There are certain aspects of the program, however, which may preclude top quality students from securing a spot in the freshman class.
It is imperative that GW follow Harvard’s lead, not necessarily by taking the drastic step of abolishing the system, but by considering whether the benefits of early admission are worth a potential decline in academic quality.