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Sept. 16, 2006

Harvard ends early action with class of 2012

by Julia Mazerov, Online Entertainment Editor and Clement Yang, Online Blair Connections Editor
Harvard University announced Sept. 12 that it will discontinue its non-binding early action program for applicants in the fall of 2007. School officials believe the switch will "level the playing field" by reducing the disadvantages faced by low-income students and minorities, according to a Sept. 13 "Chicago Tribune" article. Harvard will be the first of the nation's universities to completely eliminate all early admission procedures from its application process.

Early action and early decision are two types of early admission procedures implemented at almost all institutions of higher education. Early admission procedures allow the applicant to send in an application by Nov. 1, and applicants are notified of the results four months earlier than students who apply during the regular admissions period. Early decision is a binding commitment to enroll at that institution, which means that if the applicant is accepted, he or she must withdraw all other applications and enroll at that school. Career counseling center assistant Cathy Henderson-Stein cited the downfalls of this system, stating, "With early decision, the student does not get a financial aid package, so identifying the source of funds [to pay for college] is very difficult and it's not as consumer friendly."

In contrast, early action, which was just abolished by Harvard for the next year, is a non-binding commitment and the student may reject the offer of admission if accepted. In addition, the student still has until May to choose a university.

Although Harvard said its decision would relieve inequities caused by financial difficulty in the application pool, Henderson-Stein disagreed. Henderson-Stein felt that Harvard's early action program did not put minority and low-income students at a disadvantage at all. "Early action is a terrific option for students…it allows them to make a decision before Christmas while still having plenty of time to look for a scholarship," she said.

Some members of the Blair community are also wary of Harvard's decision, especially juniors who will be the first class to apply to Harvard without having the option of early action. "Harvard is near one of my top choices," said junior Dawn Brimmer. "I'm now going to have to apply to a whole lot more schools."

Senior Jeff Tseng feels that early action, even though it is nonbinding, still puts minorities and low-income students at a disadvantage. "Minorities and poor people don't receive the same preparation as the rich when it comes to applying for college," he said. "The rich people know about all the things you need to do and how you need to take classes and get your SATs done early so you can apply early, but [the financially disadvantaged] people are like, 'Huh?'" He also believes that applying under early action is a tedious and stressful process. "Teachers want you to tell them a month before so that they can write recommendations, so really you have to get all your stuff together right when school starts," said Tseng. "It's much easier to get everything done at once than dealing with a hundred different deadlines."

Students applying in the fall of 2007 will have a common application deadline of Jan. 1, 2008. Harvard has urged other elite universities to follow its lead by setting an example for other schools.

Yet several top universities are skeptical of Harvard's decision, and plan to continue with their early admissions policies. Dartmouth dean of admissions Karl Furstenberg stated in a Sept. 14 Dartmouth Online article, "I give Harvard some credit for making a decision that they think is right. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, but I don't see any evidence now that other schools will likely change their plans."

Though Henderson-Stein supports early action policies, she believes that Harvard's switch may have a good overall effect on universities by increasing economic diversity. "Time will tell if this will be a good thing," she said.



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  • Samir Paul (View Email) on September 16, 2006 at 11:54 AM
    While Dartmouth may not change its policies, I think it's quite likely the similarly competitive schools (Princeton, Yale, Stanford, etc.) will follow Harvard in giving EA the boot. Check out this quote from The Crimson, Harvard's student paper: ---------- Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said that Harvard’s decision could influence Princeton administrators when they undertake their annual review of the school’s admissions policy this fall. “We’ve said before that it would be a challenge for any institution to make that sort of a change in isolation,” she said yesterday. “If we do see our peers moving toward a single admissions date, Princeton could be very comfortable making a similar change.” ---------- Still, though, it's true that this may not be possible for all schools: ---------- But Stanford’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Richard H. Shaw, said Monday that many colleges could be hesitant to follow in Harvard’s footsteps. “I applaud them for this—that’s a pretty gutsy move,” said Shaw, who previously served as Yale’s admissions chief. “But it’s possible that only Harvard could do it. A lot of other institutions would really have to be considerate about a change like this, since they don’t quite have the attraction that Harvard does.” When Yale adopted a nonbinding early admission policy in 2002, the school’s president, Richard C. Levin, said “I personally would prefer to eliminate all the early admissions programs, but realistically we cannot do that.” ---------- And just to clarify, Harvard has included a provision allowing a switch back to the Single-Choice Early Action program after a three-year trial period in case "student quality" drops markedly. We'll see. Samir Paul Blair 2006 Harvard 2010
  • Saul Kinter on September 16, 2006 at 6:32 PM
    Well, unlike her capricious Ivy sisters, Princeton's early decision program has remained unchanged for quite a while now. The Daily Princetonian, Princeton's student paper, quotes Dean of Admissions Janet Rapelye:

    "I literally can't predict what we're going to do, or maybe we won't do anything. We don't have a plan in place."

    Reppin',

    Saul Kinter

    PS. I did notice a small mistake in Samir's post: "similarly competitive" should be replaced with "superior" in at least Princeton's case, based on recently published research.
  • black and insulted ('07) (View Email) on September 16, 2006 at 10:35 PM
    This is absolutely ridiculous.

    I love Harvard's "we care about equity" sentiment, but the logic here just isn't working. As almost any university would say, early action applicants have no advantage over regular decision applicants except that they get a response earlier. Most universities accept a higher percentage of early action (and decision) applicants, not because they are giving them an advantage, but because those applying early action tend to be the better applicants. This idea that anyone -- minority, financially disadvantaged, female, etc, etc -- would be affected negatively by regular decision is thus faulty and I am shocked that Harvard of all universities would be propagating this kind of nonsense.

    I find Jeff's characterization that "[the financially disadvantaged] people are like, 'Huh?'" quite insulting. Financially disadvantaged does not equal dumb, especially when we're talking about applicants to Harvard, one of the world's premier universities. Students can go to their local library and use a computer for free to look up information about college applications. I don't think having black skin has ever prevented someone from picking up a phone and calling a university. How do you think these minority and financially disadvantaged students find out about the regular decision deadline in the first place? Hmm...

    Sorry, Harvard, but cheap shots at the intelligence of your potential applicants does not garner much respect from me.
  • chelsea zhang on September 17, 2006 at 8:33 PM
    To black and insulted: you have just reason to be indignant. The reason behind Harvard's decision is not that minorities/poor people are less knowledgeable; consider a different reason.

    Let's put aside early action for now. From my experience, early decision programs put poor students at a disadvantage because they force the students to accept inflexible financial aid packages. As a result, poor students tend to apply regular decision so they can compare and negotiate their aid packages. Early decision applicants usually have better chances of making it into their schools--they get two chances in the admissions process, and they are viewed as having a genuine interest in the schools to which they apply.

    Poor students suffer. Minority students are disproportionately poor. Thus, early decision programs are often harmful for minorities. Agreed?

    Now, Harvard has an early action program, which is nonbinding, so abolishing it might make little sense initially. But look at Samir's post: Princeton (an early decision school) will consider doing the same. More schools may hop on the bandwagon. Maybe Harvard is doing this less to improve minorities' chances at Harvard and more to improve minorities' chances at early decision schools. We'll just have to see how effective a precedent it can set.
  • Chris Consolino on September 18, 2006 at 4:29 PM
    I applaud those Harvard Yankees for eliminating their early admissions procedure. For one, I agree with Chelsea and “black and insulted” with regard to less well-off applicants and early decision so I’ll just skip that point altogether.

    My main beef with early admissions programs is slightly different. Early admissions programs were created to allow students the advantage of applying to their clear first choice schools without having to bother with other applications. Unfortunately, students have been seduced by the prospects of higher acceptance rates for early decision pools. Some, seeking to gain admission to the best school possible and not the best personal fit – far more important, mind you – are rushing to decide on a single ‘top’ school during the first month of high school. (Keep in mind that ‘top school’ is a very relative term.) As a result of these hasty high-schoolers, the entire early admissions procedure fails to achieve its original purpose: less tedious paper work for a decided few.

    While students will continue to send out applications by the dozens, literally, to all the ‘top universities,’ at the very least without early decision, they will be forced to consider less-exalted back ups that just might be the best personal fit.

    Finally, just a little shout-out to my 17th century homies up north, Princeton ranked first overall but fourth in “selectivity.” I think it was some Massachusetts school that took first.

    Christopher Consolino
    Blair 2006
    The College of William and Mary 2010
  • Jeff on September 18, 2006 at 7:43 PM
    "Students can go to their local library and use a computer for free to look up information about college applications."

    but obviously, they don't
  • Diana Frey (View Email) on September 18, 2006 at 9:40 PM
    well written julia
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