Harvard and Princeton’s announcement this past Thursday that they will be re-instituting Single-Choice Early Action programs for the Class of 2016, after they announced the elimination of similar programs in 2006, came as no surprise in the world of competitive college admissions. And neither did their PR spin.
For years, Harvard had a Single-Choice Early Action program and Princeton had a binding Early Decision program. Yet in 2006, the Harvard and Princeton administrations chose to eliminate these programs and instead only offer admission through a single Regular Decision pool. Their chief motivation? They claimed it was to increase the diversity of their student body.
Said Harvard President Derek Bok three years ago, “Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged. Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school.”
Said Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, “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 hope very much that our decision will encourage other colleges and universities to join in eliminating early admission programs.”
Now four years later, Harvard and Princeton are re-instituting Early policies and, interestingly, university administrators are citing the very reasons they used to eliminate the programs in 2006 as they are to reinstate them in 2011. Said Princeton’s Tilghman upon reinstating the program, “By reinstating an early program, we hope we can achieve two goals: provide opportunities for early application for students who know that Princeton is their first choice, while at the same time sustaining and even enhancing the progress we have made in recent years in diversifying our applicant pool and admitting the strongest possible class.”
Charlie Sheen’s longtime publicist recently resigned in light of his client’s rampage in the press. Is it possible he has resurfaced as the spin doctor for Harvard and Princeton? The truth of the matter is that Harvard and Princeton are reinstating their early programs because other colleges did not follow suit by eliminating their own early programs. Harvard and Princeton were thus left at a competitive disadvantage and while their applicant numbers and admission statistics continued to rise, they likely could have risen even higher if they had not eliminated their Early policies in the first place.
For all the applicants who want to use their early card and maybe even end the process in December, no doubt many of them applied Early Action to Yale or Stanford, or Early Decision to another school. It has long been said that Early Decision or in Yale’s case, SCEA (Single-Choice Early Action), attracts the best and the brightest – certainly the most motivated because these applicants are finished with their applications by November 1st. For all we know, the applicant pool at both of these schools may have been weaker than in the years when Early Action and Early Decision were in existence at Harvard and Princeton.
Said Dartmouth Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Maria Laskaris in an article in “The Dartmouth,” “We all saw a jump in applications when the schools eliminated their early programs several years ago because a group of students who would have applied early to either Harvard or Princeton didn’t have an early option and so they applied regular decision to a broader cross-section of schools. So I think [the recent announcement] would certainly depress some of the growth in the applicant pool that all the schools would see.”
And therein lies the truth.