February 1, 2016
Forty-seven percent of the Class of 2019 self-identified as students of color, but in the early decision pool — which makes up more than half of the overall class — only 40 percent self-identified.
The early decision round of college admissions has been criticized for attracting a less diverse range of students, but this argument is becoming less and less valid as the difference in regular versus early decision, in recent years, has become less noticeable.
In general, Penn has seen an increase in the size of its early decision pool. Since 2009, the number of students applying ED has grown by over 58 percent, and there has also been an increase in minority students — for the Class of 2020, 44 percent of ED students self-identify as minorities. But other aspects of diversity have been slow to catch up. The percentage of first-generation college students accepted has remained at just under 10 percent for two years now.
Critics of the ED round believe that underprivileged students are not applying early because they must commit to a school before seeing their financial aid package.
Brian Taylor, the director of college counseling practice Ivy Coach, acknowledges that more underprivileged students may not be applying early because of this but notes that it is a misconception, since many universities, including Penn, have now made financial aid calculators easily accessible on their websites.
“Yes, fewer underprivileged applicants apply in the early round,” Taylor said. “And often for the wrong reasons — because they want to compare higher financial aid packages when, in fact, you can find that information out without even applying to colleges.”
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda cites a lack of resources as an additional reason more underprivileged students may not be applying to Penn during the ED round.
“There’s a full group that just doesn’t know about it,” he said. “Sometimes students might not apply early decision because they don’t know about it or they don’t have the counseling and that resource.”
Furda added that Penn is trying to address this issue by working with more counselors for underprivileged students and with community-basedorganizations.
The number could also seem disproportionately low because some first-generation students apply through QuestBridge, which allows students to choose 12 schools to apply to, all 12 of which are guaranteed to meet their full financial need. Even though these students have to start their application process early, they aren’t counted in the ED pool.
Furda said it’s more important to focus on the increased diversity of the overall entering class, which he said has increased with the University’s drive to reach out to underprivileged and underrepresented groups of students.
“The positive side here is whether it’s early decision or regular decision, there’s a great effort to make sure that students who come from traditionally under resourced backgrounds are thinking about places like Penn,” Furda said.
Taylor agrees that the diversity of Penn’s early decision round is getting better.
“It’s still somewhat of an issue, but it is not as drastic as some people may think,” Taylor said.