Harvard, other top schools drop early admissions

After Harvard University decided to abandon its early admissions program, two more respected institutions followed suit, causing many to question the future of the U.S. college application process.

Harvard announced on Sept. 12 that, beginning next year, it will move to a single application deadline of Jan. 1. Weeks later, Princeton University and the University of Virginia also announced the dissolution their own early admissions programs.

The schools will cut programs that give high school seniors who apply in the fall notification of acceptance by mid-December. After next year, both Harvard and Princeton universities will evaluate students in the same pool and notify all accepted applicants in the spring.

The changes at University of Virginia will affect those high school seniors applying for the 2008-2009 academic year.

Motives for change

All three universities believe the elimination of early admissions will benefit low income students who rarely apply for early decision.

But the question remains whether or not this is the best way to level the playing field. The debate centers on whether or not this change will help improve the application process.

Critics of early admissions argue the programs undermine campus diversity because poor and minority students are less likely to use them. Supporters say the programs reduce anxiety by allowing applicants to finish the process

early in the year.

John Longbrake, senior director for communications at Harvard University, said that the decision was made because the frenzy over admissions had increased significantly in the past several years.

“There have been discussions at Harvard in the past about eliminating early admissions,” he said. “It is part of an overall look at increasing accessibility to Harvard.”

For over 30 years, Harvard has offered an “early action” application deadline. This program allows high school seniors to apply early and learn of their acceptance by mid-December, giving them time to apply elsewhere in the spring if not.

Princeton, on the other hand, used early decision in which fall applicants must commit to attend if accepted.

Cass Cliatt, an official representative for Princeton University, said the decision was based on two factors.

“Students from more disadvantaged backgrounds often come from schools without the college preparation resources to position them to apply early,” Cliatt said. “And low income students are often discouraged from applying early because they won’t have the opportunity to compare financial aid packages.”

Will UM follow suit?

Edward M. Gillis, dean of admissions at the University of Miami, said the university feels there is no need to do away with its early admissions programs.

“We are pretty comfortable with what we have,” Gillis said.

UM offers three choices to high school students.

Early decision applicants are notified of their acceptance by mid-December. If accepted, the applicant is obligated to enroll at UM and withdraw his or her applications to other schools.

The early action program also provides early notification of acceptance, but is more flexible than early decision because students are not bound to attend UM if accepted. Students applying for regular decision are notified by April 15.

Regarding early admissions programs benefiting any group in particular, such as children or relatives of alumni, Gillis said the university is “pretty consistent” in evaluating an applicant’s merits.

The most important criteria considered include high

school record, ACT or SAT test scored, the college counselor evaluation form and the applicant’s essay.

Gillis said Harvard’s decision might not be a good one after all.

“I don’t understand exactly what they are trying to do other than take more time to read applications,” he said.

Lauren V. Lopez, a junior, applied early decision to UM during her senior year of high school. She said she does not see a reason why UM should eliminate its early admissions programs.

“If anyone wants to apply early, let them do it,” she said. “Like other students, the underprivileged will have the same opportunities.”

Yaneiza Echezarraga, who transferred to UM as a sophomore, said decisions like Harvard and Princeton’s offer a greater perspective on college admissions.

“With early action you give an advantage not only to wealthier students, but to students who consider the school their first choice even when they might not be the best candidates for the university,” she said.

Cliatt said that by eliminating barriers in admissions the application process can become more equitable.

“We hope this is only the beginning and that other schools move in the same direction,” she said.

Fanny Olmo may be contacted at f.olmo@umiami.edu.