The Ivy Coach Daily

January 19, 2020

Early Decision Policy at Dartmouth

We have debunked the notion that students who need financial aid need to compare financial aid offers in the Regular Decision round time and time again on the pages of our college admissions blog.

The Dartmouth Editorial Board, a group that consists of the editors of America’s oldest and one of its most respected college newspapers, recently penned an editorial entitled “Verbum Ultimum: An Expedient Decision” that we’d like to offer our two cents on. The piece largely focuses on how asking students to make binding commitments to attend Dartmouth in the Early round “warps the application process” because it essentially caters to students from privileged backgrounds. And don’t get us wrong — the Early round is filled with legacies, development cases, and recruited athletes, but lots of students who are not legacies, development cases, or recruited athletes earn admission in the Early round, too. In fact, it’s easier for any student — including low-income students, first-generation college students, underrepresented minorities — to earn admission to Dartmouth in the Early Decision round as compared to the Regular Decision round.

Applicants Don’t Need to Compare Financial Aid Offers

One of the key arguments the editors make against an Early Decision policy is: “students might want to compare the different financial aid packages offered by all of the schools that they might be able to get into.” But, with all due respect to the editors of one of the very best college newspapers in America, this argument doesn’t hold water. Students do not need to “compare financial aid offers.” They can simply plug their numbers into the Net Price Calculator online and they can then have a very good understanding of what kind of aid they should expect to receive — if they’ll indeed receive any aid at all. Besides, our nation’s elite colleges — especially the Ivy League schools — have large financial aid coffers. These schools are extremely generous — more than just about all of America’s colleges in spite of the fact that they don’t offer merit aid. Besides, if a student applies Early, gets in, and the school doesn’t meet the family’s financial need, the student is not actually bound to attend — that’s the exception to the binding Early Decision agreement. It’s written into the agreement in clear and plain language.

Colleges Do Favor Early Decision Policies Because of Rankings

Dartmouth’s editors walk readers through an excellent historical overview of Early Decision policies and they are spot on in their reasoning why schools like Dartmouth favor Early decision policies. As they astutely point out, “Yield rate — the percent of accepted students who attend — is a key statistic in many college rankings, and it’s no secret that a large early decision class helps bump a school up in the U.S. News & World rankings. As such, early applicants get in at a higher rate.” Well said indeed! It’s all about the rankings. But just because it’s all about the rankings doesn’t mean the policy doesn’t also favor all applicants who wish to show their love for a school.

Let’s Get the Word Out Applying Early is in Everyone’s Interest

And as much as we agree with the editors’ reasoning on yield data and rankings, they are wrong to conclude that an Early Decision policy should be nixed because it “prioritizes financial means and an amorphous concept of ’commitment’ over real merit.” If the argument is that Early Decision favors the privileged, perhaps we should instead be focused on how to get the word out that underprivileged students have a big-time advantage in the Early round, too. Why not focus on getting the word out rather than calling for an elimination of the policy?

Early Decision is for First-Generation College Students, Fourth-Generation Legacies, and More

The editors write, “Dartmouth’s peer universities have already turned away from early decision. It’s time that Dartmouth does the same.” But isn’t Columbia University a peer university to Dartmouth? Isn’t Brown University? Cornell University? University of Pennsylvania? Duke University? Northwestern University? Johns Hopkins University? These schools all have Early Decision policies. And they have these policies for a reason: to help students who love Dartmouth from all backgrounds — rich or poor, black or white, first-generation college student or fourth-generation legacy — show their love to the school they most wish to attend in exchange for improved odds of admission.

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