Breaking down the early decision choice

In addition to early action and regular decision options, applicants will now be able to apply to the University through a binding early decision option

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According to Dean Roberts, many discussions about adding early decision revolved focused on ensuring that qualified students were able to attend the University regardless of ability to pay. Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The University announced a new early decision option for applicants for the 2020-2021 school year May 29. The early decision plan will be implemented in addition to the early action and regular decision options, which are currently in place. 

The early decision option will differ from the current plans in that applicants will receive notification from the University by Dec. 15 as opposed to Jan. 31 or April 1 for early action and regular decision, respectively. 

The early decision is a binding agreement in which students can only apply to one school and targets students who have decided that U.Va. is their first choice. If accepted, applicants are required to withdraw all applications from other schools. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Greg Roberts, the shift towards early decision did not originally stem from the University itself but instead was prompted by high schools with students looking to apply to U.Va.  

“The University began studying early decision last year after hearing from high school students and high school counselors around the state and country and world who requested that we add this option,” Roberts said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. 

Financial aid allotment for early decision will be awarded at the same time as the applicant’s notification of acceptance. This has sparked some criticism, as it could unfairly benefit applicants who are able to commit to a university, regardless of financial aid. The process may also potentially disadvantage applicants whose college choices may be based on financial aid — if they are admitted early decision, they are effectively unable to compare packages from other universities.

“As someone who relies on financial aid to [attend U.Va.], I know I would definitely not apply early decision had I had the chance,” said second-year College student Ester Rekhelman in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Every other school I applied to my senior year I applied either early action or regular decision because I wasn’t in the financial position to commit myself to one school independent of what their financial package to me was.”

At other universities around the country, admissions rates for early decision applicants are typically higher than early action or regular decision rates. For example, the admission rates in the fall of 2017 for Northwestern University were 26.9 percent and 7.2 percent, The College of William and Mary were 51.9 percent and 34.7 percent and  Vanderbilt University were 24 percent and 9.2 percent for early decision and regular decision, respectively. However, according to Roberts, this will not be the case at U.Va., and therefore early decision should not benefit certain applicants over others. U.Va. admitted 26 percent of applicants during the early action process and 21.5 percent during the regular decision process in 2019.

“ED is not designed to offer an advantage in the admission process to those who apply,” Roberts said. “We will review applicants in the same manner and will hold students to the same admission standards regardless of which application plan they chose.”

Students who wish to compare financial aid packages before committing to the University will still have the opportunity to do so through the early action and regular decision plans which are non-binding. 

However, an advantage of the early decision plan that is not offered by early action or regular decision is that its notification date is before most other universities’ regular decision application deadline. Therefore, committed students could potentially save money as they would not have to submit additional applications. 

The University — along with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — are the only public universities that meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need. According to Roberts, many discussions about adding early decision revolved focused on ensuring that qualified students were able to attend the University regardless of ability to pay.

“All discussions that took place considered the potential impact on economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students,” Roberts said. “Since UVA meets 100% of financial need to [all] applicants regardless of the plan they choose, we can make our best aid offer to students with financial need in ED.”

Roberts also noted that if an early decision applicant was accepted and received a financial aid package they deemed to be insufficient, they could be released from their binding agreement to U.Va.

Despite this, critics of early decision still argue that the plan disadvantages students who cannot afford to apply during early decision. In previous years — in which only early action and regular decision were used — many assumed that half of the class would be accepted early action and the other half during regular decision. Now that a third option has been implemented, some speculate that each round will accept only a third of students. Therefore students who are not in a financial position to apply early decision are at a disadvantage as they are financial barred from one-third of the acceptance spaces available. 

“In the article that was released about the switch, it was said that instead of having about half and half of students be early action and regular decision, it will now be split between early decision, early action and regular decision,” Rekhelman said. “In my opinion this does affect low-income students because those spots that they could have applied for through early action are now given to early decision students.”

However, the acceptance distribution in previous was not necessarily an even split between early action and regular decision with 6550 applicants accepted early action and 3237 applicants accepted regular decision in 2019. 

Prior to 2007, U.Va. had an early decision plan but eventually terminated it in order to prevent qualified, low-income applicants from being deterred from the University due to the financial aid package awarded to them. The University then operated on a regular decision-only model until 2011 when implemented the early action plan. 

“Early Decision attracted a less diverse applicant pool in the early round previously,” Roberts said. “This year we will not have two plans, one early and one regular. UVA will offer two early plans as well as a regular plan which means students have great choice when it comes to their application options and students can still apply EA if ED is not for them.”

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