Stanford, Yale drop binding early admissions

With their simultaneous announcements Wednesday to drop early decision admission, Yale and Stanford universities have sparked national scrutiny of the admission policies practiced by other competitive institutions, including the University.

The early decision program, which requires that students enroll if accepted, is implemented by most of the country's selective colleges.

But beginning next year, Yale and Stanford will use only "early action" programs, allowing students to apply during the fall without being bound to enroll if accepted.

Yale and Stanford's new early action programs will restrict its applicants from applying early to other colleges. Such a policy is inconsistent with recent guidelines recommended by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which urges institutions to let students apply to an unlimited number of other colleges under early action.

"We understand this reflects a limit of choice, but we believe the nature of early admission should be a reflection of first choice," said Richard Shaw, Yale's dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid. "By limiting the process, we hope to encourage self-selection."

Shaw said that without such restrictions, admissions officials would likely see a large influx of applicants.

"We wouldn't be able to do as complete a job" in reviewing applications, he added.

Jerome Lucido, director of admissions at the University of North Carolina, said UNC's early action program does not include such limitations.

The school, which announced its plan to replace early decision with early action last April, "wanted to return to a climate of thoughtful choice," Lucido said. "It seems to us that restricting early action would retain the element of strategizing we were seeking to remedy."

According to Lucido, UNC was the first institution of its size and academic reputation to eliminate early decision. After enforcing the policy for three years, admissions officials determined early decision was not contributing to the success of its class, he said. Specifically, early decision applicants weren't "as strong as our regular pool

there were lots of strategists, and we didn't want to contribute to that atmosphere," he added.

Lucido said a lack of racial, ethnic and economic diversity also has been prevalent among early decision applicants in the past.

Shaw said that affluent applicants make up the majority ofYale's early decision pool, which he hopes an early action program can alleviate.

"In the past, early decision applicants have been mainly upper-middle class," Shaw said. "We want to attract a broader range of students."

In an article appearing in The Washington Post, Yale President Richard C. Levin said early decision is less likely to appeal to students who need financial aid.

"I think students seeking aid are sometimes discouraged from applying early, because in a binding program, they don't get to compare the size of the financial-aid options," he said.

But many universities disagree with the notion that early decision is disadvantageous for students.

Spokespersons from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, have issued statements denying a need to change their current admission policies.

"Early decision has served us well," said Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, in the New York Times. "Our data tells us that students who are admitted earlier tend to be happier because they made an early commitment."

But admissions officials from other selective schools, including Harvard University, object to such a conclusion.

"We're fundamentally opposed to early decision," said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions for Harvard College. "It's bad educationally, and it's bad ethically."

Lewis said Harvard never has included early decision in its admittance policy, although it does practice early action. Unlike past years, Harvard will adhere to NACAC guidelines this fall, allowing students to apply to other schools early, she added.

University Admissions Dean John A. Blackburn said the early decision debate has hit home. Although the University currently practices early decision, Yale and Stanford's announcement "puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us," he said. "We will be discussing this much more intently."

Blackburn said an admissions policy committee, composed of students and faculty members from each of the University's colleges, is likely to re-evaluate the use of early decision for next year.

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