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Harvard Reverses Itself-Will Allow Early Applications

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In 2006, Harvard University decided to stop offing early admissions–for Harvard that meant they would no longer offer non-binding Early Action. According to the Harvard University Gazette, the reason for the change was this: “The college admissions process has become too pressured, too complex, and too vulnerable to public cynicism,” said Harvard interim President Derek Bok. “We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer.”

At the time, it was widely believed that other universities would follow suit to help even the playing field.  I myself was sure that Yale would follow Harvard and renounce early admissions since President Levin had stated back in 2001 that he wanted to see the practice ended. The NY Times quoted President Levin:

The president of Yale University said yesterday that he would like to abandon the frenzied process of early-decision admissions, and that he had approached the presidents of other selective colleges to discuss the possibility of coordinated action.

”If we all got rid of it, it would be a good thing,” Yale’s president, Richard C. Levin, said during an interview yesterday. ”It pushes the pressure of thinking about college back into the junior year of high school, and the only one who benefits is the admissions officers.”

But they didn’t all get rid of their early programs– in the Ivy League only Princeton followed Harvard’s lead. Yale held onto its Single Choice Early Action and the rest (Cornell, Columbia, Brown, Penn and Dartmouth) continued to offer Early Decision. Stanford offered Single Choice Early Action and Georgetown offered Restricted Early Action. The University of Virginia did end their Early Decision program.

Now it was recently announced that all three of these universities–Harvard, Princeton and UVA– have decided to reinstate their early application programs. In 2006, Harvard said that this was an experiment and the university would revisit the question and review the data regarding one decision deadline for all. Both Harvard and Princeton will adopt Single Choice Early Action and U VA will offer Early Action.

One thing you can be pretty sure of– the colleges make these decisions with their own best interests in mind, not necessarily the student’s. Early Decision, Early Action, Restricted Early Action and Single Choice Early Action still remain controversial but they seem to be here to stay. (For complete definitions of these terms, scroll back to my Oct. 14 blog)

Janet Rosier

4 Responses

  1. Janet Rosier says:

    Thanks for sharing your son’s experience. You are exactly right- you take a chance if you apply early decision and also require need based aid. Harvard tried to get rid of this but not enough other colleges followed their example. At least with Harvard and Princeton, they will offer Single Choice Early Action so that students are not committed and can compare other offers.

  2. PR Maven says:

    I think there are plusses and minuses to the practice. It’s a great advantage when a student is positive about the choice — it not only boosts their chances a bit through higher Early Decision acceptance rates, but also eliminates the anxiety of the long wait to hear back. My son took advantage of that option, was accepted and was able to enjoy his senior year of high school worry-free. On the other hand, it can also complicate things when it comes to matters of financial assistance. It can be difficult to make that kind of commitment when you don’t know what kind of aid you’ll receive.

  3. Janet Rosier says:

    Hi Jane,
    Thanks for commenting.You illustrate the two sides of the “early’ coin. Your son had a very positive experience with Early Decision–he was the textbook case. He had looked at several colleges and he knew what he wanted when he saw it. He was also a good fit for the college he chose, so it was beneficial to your son, your family and the university. And what a relief to have it all over by December!

    And your student had the opposite experience. Her dream college was out of reach and she compromised her chances at other colleges because it was Single Choice Early Action. What a shame, but sometimes students aren’t ready to listen to good counsel. Single Choice Early Action is very restrictive– you have to read the fine print and follow it exactly. I am much less of a fan of SCEA than regular EA.

  4. Jane says:

    Good discussion topic and I look forward to reading other’s responses.
    No pressure was ever put on my son to apply early decision, but when he fell in love with a school on a visit, he knew that was it. He never resented having to get everything done early and was glad to let this school know how much he wanted to go there. It worked out, he got in and he was very happy to have ended the application process. (His parents were pretty happy to have saved on the high cost of application fees.)
    On the other hand, my experience with Single Choice Early Action ,with a student I was counseling, was a nightmare. It was a real reach for her and the restrictiveness of it and her unrealistic hope that she would get in, kept her from completing more applications during that very critical fall period.
    Most students seem to appreciate Early Action. They like to hear from schools early and if it works out, know that they are in someplace, making the arduous wait more bearable. I’m still trying to figure out if the Early Action option is appropriate for students needing financial aid and would like to get others opinions on this.