Friday, February 25, 2011

Early admission returns to Harvard and Princeton

The Crimson reports that Harvard cares about equilibrium:  Harvard Announces Return of Early Action Admissions Program

"Harvard College announced the return of its non-binding early action admissions program, which was eliminated in 2007 due to concerns that it posed a disadvantage to low-income applicants.

"The announcement comes after the University of Virginia—which, along with Princeton, followed Harvard in deciding to eliminate early admissions programs in the fall of 2006—rolled out a new early action program in November.

"University President Drew G. Faust said in a statement that the return of early action, an admissions practice which Harvard had previously called unfair to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, is now “consistent with our bedrock commitment to access, affordability, and excellence.”

"The program will return this fall for the class of 2016.

"Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said in the same statement that offering an accelerated decision cycle for interested applicants would increase Harvard’s potential to attract top-caliber students. He said, “We looked carefully at trends in Harvard admissions these past years and 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.”


The NY Times picks up the story: Harvard and Princeton Restore Early Admission

"Harvard and Princeton each announced yesterday that they would revive their early-admission programs, allowing high school seniors who apply by next Nov. 15 to get a decision by Dec. 15 without having to promise to attend the college if admitted.

"In September 2006, when both universities decided to eliminate early admissions for those starting college in 2008, Harvard and Princeton said they wanted to start a trend that would help even the playing field between wealthy applicants and those who needed to compare financial-aid offers from different colleges. But only the University of Virginia followed their lead — and it announced last year that it would reinstate early admissions.

“In eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same, and they haven’t,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton’s president. “One consequence is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton.”

Meanwhile, with the economic downturn, a growing number of applicants sought early admission, leading the universities who had abandoned their programs to lose out on some top students.

“The very people we were targeting, people from modest economic backgrounds, were sent into a high state of anxiety and uncertainty by the economy and it reached the point where, this past year, record numbers of people were applying early,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions. “At many high schools it was very common to have 60, 70, 80 percent of the students applying early, and we heard rumors that in some cases, it went up to 100 percent.”
"According to David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, about a quarter of four-year colleges offer early decisions, whether through nonbinding early action or binding early decision.

“Particularly at these institutions with these highly motivated students, the desire for some kind of early decision is not likely to abate,” Mr. Hawkins said. “There is anxiety around the college admissions process, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

"Few colleges — Stanford and Yale among them — offer the kind of single-choice, nonbinding early-action program that Harvard and Princeton will use, in which students may apply early to only one college.

“A single-choice early-action plan lets students tell us we’re their first choice, so we get a start on building the class,” said Janet L. Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission. “At the same time, it allows them to apply to other schools, and for students who need a generous financial aid package, gives them freedom to compare, so it’s a win-win for them.”


Note that "single choice early action" requires that a student apply to no more than one plan early, so it is a signaling device rather than (also) a binding commitment (as binding early decision plans are).

The Globe picks up the story:

"Harvard professor Richard Zeckhauser, coauthor of the book “The Early Admissions Game,’’ said yesterday that the university was bound to back away from the abolition of early admissions when it became clear that competitors were not following suit.

“Having Harvard and Princeton get rid of early admissions and having our principal competitors retain it is the equivalent of unilateral disarmament,’’ Zeckhauser said. “There is too much of a disadvantage of being just one of two or three schools among the elite schools not to offer a program that all the other schools offer.’’

"In the past, students who applied early to Princeton and the University of Virginia were obligated to attend if admitted. Under their renewed early admissions programs, admitted students would no longer be bound to the universities.
"Yale and Stanford also have nonbinding early admissions programs. But early applicants admitted to Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania must promise to attend.

"Some college counselors welcomed Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions, since more students are seeking early admissions options. Nearly a third of the senior class at Newton North High School had applied to a college by Nov. 1, said Brad MacGowan, a college counselor.
“With all the pressure and the uncertainty around college admissions, applying early gives them a little control,’’ said MacGowan. “They like the idea they can let a college know that it is their top choice.’’

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