GW should shift away from early decision to benefit prospective students

The college application season is in full swing. As students work through applications, they are inundated with essays, federal student aid and looming deadlines. As if the decisions tied to applications weren’t enough, their academic and financial futures may well rest on which application round they pick.

Students can decide to apply regular decision, early action or early decision. The early decision deadline for GW’s Class of 2023 is quickly approaching, and students are clamoring to finish their Common Application before Nov. 1. Those who apply early decision have a very good shot of getting in – GW’s early decision acceptance rate can be as high as about 69 percent – but students are also bound to attending GW if they are accepted.

This can be good news for students who are sure they want to attend GW, but for others it can be a deterrent to finding their perfect fit or can eliminate students altogether because of financial need. To prioritize learning over profit, education over prestige and students over institution – GW should reconsider its early decision application program.

The single biggest knock against early decision is the wealth disparity associated with it. The crop of early decision students admitted each year is more affluent than the student body on a national scale. This is not a problem specific to GW — it is one that afflicts higher education at top schools nationally.

To apply early decision, a significant amount of research must be done. This is an extremely daunting task to undertake as a high school student without help from guidance counselors, special prep classes or private tutors. All three are often less accessible to applicants from lower-income backgrounds. Classes and tutors are expensive, and counselors are likely to be spread thin at high schools that lack the budget and staffing to sustain a robust advising program.

But making the decision to apply to a specific school through a binding early decision program is only the first hurdle. Financial aid and scholarships awarded to those who are admitted through early decision are usually final, meaning that students are stuck with whatever amount of money they’ve been given. While most schools will allow students to be released from their contract if they cannot afford the cost of attendance, schools can better support students who will actually enroll at their institution if they offer an alternative to early decision.

It’s not difficult to see why early decision is favored by relatively high profile universities like GW, given how it bolsters a university’s national standing. In theory, the process allows a university to lock down high-achieving applicants early on to shore up its prestige. The more affluent nature of the early decision pool also means less expenditure on deal-sweetening financial aid and scholarship packages. This displays an institution-first bent, prioritizing the optics and prestige of a university over accessibility for prospective students.

The University has taken steps to make the college application process more accessible to lower-income students who have not had the luxury of private advisers and review courses by making standardized test scores optional. That being said, this still doesn’t address the inherent inequity associated with early decision, nor does it make any conclusive progress in abating the additional pressure it causes.

A solid alternative to the early decision policy could be instituting an early action policy. This program, which GW does not offer, benefits students by giving them an earlier admissions decision without forcing them to commit to one institution.

Early decision, and the decisive financial and academic choices it can force students to make prematurely, constitutes a huge source of stress for students. This could be mitigated by eliminating it and replacing it with an alternate system, like early action. Deciding where to attend college is one of the most pivotal choices a teenager will make and GW should support them in offering a non-binding early program to ensure they make the best decision for them.

Andrew Sugrue, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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