Will others follow Harvard's
Wednesday, September 13,
By RUTH PADAWER and LESLIE BRODY
Harvard University hopes its decision
Tuesday to abandon its early admissions program will prompt
other colleges to do likewise, reforming a brutal application
process that has become more cutthroat each year.
"Early admissions programs tend to advantage the
advantaged," said Harvard interim President Derek Bok.
"Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent
high schools often apply early to increase their chances of
admission, while minority students and students from rural
areas, other countries and high schools with fewer resources
Not everyone welcomes the change.
"This will cause more anxiety, not less," said Robert Shaw,
a partner at Ivy Success, which has steered many North Jersey
students into the nation's elite schools. "Students will now
have to work harder, because colleges like Harvard will be
able to factor in their performance from the first half of
senior year. They will have to stand out even more, relative
to the entire pool of applicants. Tired admission officers may
have more jaded eyes after reading all those applications in a
month and a half. Before, these students were competing
against 800 to 2,000 kids. Now they're competing against
Harvard won't make the change until fall of 2007 for the
2008-09 school year, to give other colleges time to follow
suit. Meanwhile, kids nationwide will have to rethink their
strategy for getting into Harvard and, possibly, other Ivy
Princeton , ranked No. 1 by the college-tracking U.S. News
& World Report, has said it will stick with its early
admissions option -- for now.
"We find this to be very interesting news," said Cass
Cliatt, a spokeswoman for Princeton , which requires early
decision applicants to enroll if accepted. "We have said
previously that it would be a challenge for an institution to
make a policy change in isolation, but if we see our peers
moving to a policy of a single-admission date, we could be
comfortable making a similar change."
John Beckman, spokesman for New York University , was
"Harvard's decision was audacious," he said. "Every
selective university like ourselves is going to think long and
hard on it. Certainly we haven't made any decisions yet."
Rutgers declined to comment on the announcement. Yale and
Brown said they don't expect to follow Harvard's lead.
Advantage for some
Though early admission programs differ by school, they
generally allow students to apply no later than Nov. 1 and
receive a decision by mid-December. In exchange, most colleges
require students to promise to enroll. At Harvard, early
action students do not have to make quick, binding decisions.
Low-income students tend to avoid early admission
applications, either because they're less well-advised overall
or because they think they won't be able to back out if
another school makes a better financial offer.
Though initially designed to simplify the process for
bright students with a clear favorite choice, early admission
has evolved over the past 10 years into an essential strategy
for those in the know. Advocates say early notice eliminates
student stress and allows colleges to lock in committed,
Critics of early admission -- and there are many -- say the
process favors wealthy kids, those savvy enough to play the
game well or rich enough to hire college coaches to help them.
They contend that early decision applicants don't take the
time to select a college that best matches their academic
interests. And they say it has fostered a frenzied,
distasteful game of mutual manipulation: Students jockey to
increase their chances, while colleges use binding early
admissions to beef up the percentage of accepted students who
enroll, which makes the schools appear more desirable.
Even admissions officers are dismayed by the intense
pressure generated by early admissions.
Marille Jones, dean of admissions at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, posted a blog on Dec. 11, 2005 -- the
Weekend of the Big Wait, when early admission decisions are
mailed -- lamenting her own daughter's angst about early
decision. The girl, a high school senior, opted not to apply
early anywhere, then agonized that she would be left in the
dust because of it. All but five of the 94 seniors in her
class had applied somewhere early.
"I am just horrified by the pressures inherent to the
admissions process everywhere -- horrified as a mother and a
dean," Jones wrote.
Others came first
Harvard's decision Tuesday follows a similar announcement
last May by the University of Delaware to drop its early
decision program, beginning in the 2007-08 school year, citing
the same reasons Harvard did. University of North Carolina
dropped its early application program in 2002.
Most guidance counselors have long disliked early
application programs, believing they exacerbate an already
tense process. Though September is not half over, some
counselors are getting calls from parents of seniors who are
worried that their children haven't filed college applications
"These poor kids are crazed," said Rona Meyers, head of
guidance at Northern Highlands Regional High School in
Allendale. "They're thrown into this rushed procedure, where
they have to get everything in by Nov. 1 and have all their
test scores done, and they can't test later to see if they
might do better."
Outside the Bergen County Academy for the Advancement of
Science and Technology -- always flush with Harvard applicants
-- word spread about Tuesday's announcement.
"If they're worried about pressure, it's too late!" said
Jenna Grossano, a junior from Hasbrouck Heights laboring over
physics homework. Still, she said, "Anything they can do to
help people who don't have the $40,000 a year it takes to go
there, do it." Harvard will try out its new program for
two or three years. If it appears to reduce the quality of
students, Harvard will return to early admissions.