Officials at many elite colleges and universities said yesterday [last week] that they would carefully consider how to respond to Harvard University’s decision to eliminate early admissions, though none were yet ready to follow Harvard’s lead.
“This will be a big topic of discussion on all these college campuses,” said Richard L. Nesbitt, director of admission at Williams College. “It is something we will consider. Will we change? I don’t know.”
At Williams, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and many other highly selective institutions, students who apply early must, in return for early acceptance, give an ironclad commitment to attend.
Nesbitt seems more open-minded to change than I would have expected. Perhaps he is being polite and/or cagey. There is almost no chance that Williams will make a change now. It has too much to lose. It also stands the potential of making some non-trivial gains. First, students who, in the past, would have applied early to and gotten accepted by Harvard/Princeton, will now be tempted by early decision at Williams. Isn’t the appeal of having the whole process done by December 15th as great now as it was 25 years ago? Second, those students will need to apply to other schools regular decision, including Williams. Many will be accepted and some will fall in love with Williams. They will end up at Williams because Harvard and Princeton no longer provide an early admissions option.
Will either effect be large? Tough to know. But if even 25 kids, who would have gone to H/P, end up at Williams instead, that would be important to the overall quality of the Williams student body.
Critics argue that this forces low-income students to commit before being able to compare financial aid offerings from that college and others.
What a crock! This debate is really quite dishonest, and it will be fun to puncture many of the misleading arguments made by these “critics.” (Also, if you’re a New York Times reporter looking for someone knowledgeable who thinks that these “critics” are full of crudola, call me! I am highly quotable.)
Anyway, every Harvard kid whose family makes less than $60,000 per year gets a free ride. The family pays nothing. Princeton is even more generous, with no loans in its financial aid package. If you can get into Harvard or Princeton, financial aid is just not that big of a deal.
But that’s not the misleading part. The key issue is:
The reason rich kids have an advantage in early admissions — whether early action or early decision — is because the institutions themselves (places like Harvard, Princeton and Williams) give them that advantage.
These colleges consciously lower the bar for early admissions. If they wanted, they could fairly easily make the standard for early admissions the same as for regular. (Yes, they don’t know what the full pool will look like until January, but the applicant pools at top schools are remarkably constant in make-up from year to year.) But H/P/W choose not to do so. They choose to accept some applicants early who they know would not make the cut in the full pool. They choose to “advantage the advantaged.” See The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite for full details.
Yet it is their choice. Instead of getting rid of early admissions, Harvard could achieve its stated goal by simply letting in fewer applicants, only those applicants who it is certain would be admitted in the spring. That way, no other applicants are disadvantaged by early admissions. It doesn’t affect their chances one way or the other.
But that isn’t what Harvard choose to do because this debate isn’t really (just) about helping poor applicants. There are much more ideological forces at work. Beware of colleges looking out for your best interest.