University hopes other institutions will follow suit
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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