More colleges dropping ‘early decision’ option

Harvard University’s Sept. 12 decision to end early admission, an acceptance policy that is thought to favor wealthier students, prompted a wave of repeat decisions throughout the collegiate world.

Princeton University followed suit less than two weeks later and the University of Virginia joined the group on Sept. 26.

Even though the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ended its program in 2002 and the University of Delaware dropped early admission in June of 2006, Harvard’s announcement gained more publicity and prompted more changes than both of the prior decisions combined.

Each school has had the early admission option for the past 30 to 40 years.

“We’ve been talking about changing our policy for a long time” said UVA Dean of Admissions John Blackburn, “but Harvard’s announcement changed the conversation.”

Harvard University has also been discussing dropping the policy for several years, but finally decided that “the frenzy surrounding the admissions process has grown dramatically and we felt that early admissions was adding fuel to the fire,” said John Longbrake, a spokesman for Harvard.

The policy has caused high anxiety in the fall quarter of high school as students frantically collect materials and fill out applications for the winter deadline.

Consequently, the early admission can cause some students to focus less intently on their classes and disregard the importance of their final grades.

Early admission lessens the influx of applications on admissions personnel, giving them more time to spread out the review process and look closer at each application.

Early decision differs from early acceptance in that the former is a binding agreement that must be made prior to the general deadline in the spring. Early acceptance, however, is a non-binding agreement that informs students of their acceptance in the winter, but does not require them to accept or decline until the spring.

According to Blackburn, early decision programs benefit the wealthy because applicants cannot compare financial aid packages from different schools until April, when financial aid information is typically released.

The type of student who usually applies for early admission, Blackburn said, has the resources both at home, in their well-educated parents, and at school, in easy access to counselors, to gather the proper materials and plan accordingly.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-counselor ratio of 250 to one, although the national average is 488 to one, with schools in higher income communities at the low end, and low income communities at the high end.

“Often students from first generation [college educated] homes just don’t know that [early admission] is a possibility and their counselors don’t have the time to counsel about college,” Blackburn said.

Early admission has also been found to hinder minorities.

Blackburn said last years percentage of early admission decisions favored whites at 59.7 percent compared to African Americans at just 3.1 percent.

The results of the policy change will not be seen for the next two to three years. The outcome could prompt more schools to make similar decisions, or to keep their policies the same.

Ending the early admission process is just “the right thing to do,” Blackburn said.

Harvard and Princeton are not implementing the new policy until September 2008, and UVA will begin as early as fall 2007.

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