Harvard Dumps Early Admissions
Kudos to my alma mater for leading the charge against one of the more unfortunate recent developments in higher education by eliminating its early admissions program for next year's applicant pool:
Interim President Derek C. Bok said that he and the six fellows of the Harvard Corporation, who approved the change yesterday morning, had concluded in recent months that “somebody had to take the lead” in eliminating early admission.
“We feel that if anybody is going to step up and take the lead to try to get rid of something which is really doing more harm than good in high schools across the country, it’s us,” Bok said.
The Corporation, which serves as the University’s executive board, decided to drop the program in large part because of concerns that early admission provides an unfair advantage to applicants from privileged backgrounds, Bok and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in a joint interview yesterday.
Jettisoning early admission, Fitzsimmons said, is “certainly a win for students in the bottom quarter and bottom half of the income distribution.” Students from more affluent families often apply early to express special interest in a particular school, while students from lower socioeconomic levels frequently hold off for the regular admissions process in order to compare colleges’ financial aid offers.
What remains to be seen is whether other schools follow Harvard's lead and do away with this troubling program, which adds unnecessary pressure to already stressed high school seniors and favors those who can afford to commit to a school without a financial aid offer in hand. Apparently, some are suggesting that only Harvard can really afford to do this:
Stanford’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Richard H. Shaw, said 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.”
Let's see how this might work. After all, there are a finite number of applicants, and a finite (if flexible) number of seats at each school. While this change might reduce a school's yield (the percentage of students admitted who choose to attend), this should happen across the board. Beyond that, what is the risk?
Let's say in the current early admissions scheme, Johnny X would apply early to Brown University to maximize his chances of getting in there, even though he might otherwise like to take a shot at Harvard and Yale and Princeton (HYP). If there is no early admissions program, Johnny X will apply to all four schools in the normal process. Might he now get into HYP, and not attend Brown? Sure. But if he does get in, and does attend HYP, he's just bumped some other applicant who would otherwise have gotten into HYP. And that student, who was qualified to attend HYP, will also be well qualified to attend any other school they have been admitted to, perhaps Brown.
So there is some risk. Instead of being able to snag a few of the top .001% of that year's class by the guarantee of early certainty, the school might have to settle for the second .001% of that year's class. In exchange for this sacrifice, the lives of the applicants is made significantly easier, and the playing field is bit more even for those who have to see financial aid offers before they can bind themselves to a particular school. If the colleges really consider the benefits to the students, and not to themselves, I don't see how they can justify any choice but to follow Harvard's lead.