Princeton and Early Decision

Princeton has eliminated its Early Decision program (photo credit: Alfred Hutter).

When things are going well, many organizations choose to maintain the status quo. Why change what works? Yet some organizations choose to make changes even when things are going well in the hope they’ll be even better in the future. It seems that Princeton University’s admissions office is firmly in the second camp. You see, this year has marked a banner year in admissions for Princeton. As reports Cass Cliatt for News@Princeton in a piece entitled “Princeton sets third consecutive applications record,” in November 2006, Princeton received 2,276 applications for Early Decision and in December admitted 597 candidates. Early Decision applications were up 2% from last year. The students who were accepted under Princeton’s Early Decision program comprise 48% of the 1,245 students of Princeton’s Class of 2011. In Princeton’s Regular Decision pool, another 16,615 students submitted applications to the institution. Regular Decision applications were up 9% from last year. Of these applicants, Princeton will admit only 648 students, including some applicants who were deferred in the Early Decision round. So, in light of the university’s banner year, why would the admissions office eliminate the school’s Early Decision program? Why would they make such a drastic change when things seem to be going swimmingly?

Why Princeton Eliminated Early Decision

That’s an easy one. Princeton is — admirably we might add — trying to level the playing field. Princeton recognizes that its Early Decision pool is not nearly as diverse as its Regular Decision pool. After all, many low-income students, first-generation college students, and underrepresented minority students are remiss to apply under a school’s binding Early Decision program. And why? Because they are often under the impression that they need to compare financial aid offers and if they’re only applying to one school, they have no basis for comparison. Additionally, Princeton administrators believe that eliminating Early Decision will make the college admissions process less stressful. After all, students will not need to make a binding commitment to the school by November 1st. They’ll have more time to weigh their options. So Princeton, in an effort to create a more egalitarian system, eliminated Early Decision for the fall of 2008 in what will essentially be an experiment in the spirit of fostering equity.

Princeton Has Been Forthright About Its Motives to Eliminate Early Decision

And Princeton has been forthright about its motives. In the past, Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman has expressed that Early Decision disadvantaged students who were not aware of its advantages, highlighted by the significantly higher admission rate in Early Decision as compared to Regular Decision. In a recent letter posted on News@Princeton, President Tilghman stated, “We agree that early admission ‘advantages the advantaged.’ Although we have worked hard in recent years to increase the diversity of our early decision applicants, we have concluded that adopting a single admission process is necessary to ensure equity for all applicants. We believe that elimination of early admission programs can reduce some of the frenzy, complexity and inequity in a process that even under the best of circumstances is inevitably stressful for students and their families.”

We Suspect Princeton Will Instate an Early Action Policy in the Years to Come

Only time will tell whether or not Princeton officials will reinstate some form of Early admissions. In the meantime, the application process for the fall of 2008 (for the Class of 2012) should be very interesting to see play out. It’s our guess that in a year or maybe two, Princeton will offer an Early Action option. After all, if Princeton truly doesn’t want to “advantage the advantaged,” they will not revert back to Early Decision, but Early Action makes sense both for Princeton and for its applicant pool. While Princeton may be eliminating Early Decision in the spirit of equity, our nation’s elite colleges, including Princeton, are also businesses. And when Princeton’s competitors secure great students in the Early round and Princeton only offers Regular Decision, Princeton will find itself at a competitive disadvantage. It’s why we believe Early Action is in the cards for Princeton. It’s a compromise between their goal to create a more equitable system and their goal to attract the most competitive applicants to the university.


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