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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Universities bring back early action: a blessing for all students?

Harvard and Princeton will reinstate their single choice early action program starting with the graduating high school class of 2012. Four years ago, the two universities dispensed with early action on the premise that their policies put low-income families at a disadvantage.

SHS students should benefit from this reversal because of their relative affluence. For many students here, early action reduces the stress of college applications and has nearly no drawbacks; however, for American education at large, the reintroduction of early action at Harvard and Princeton is not such a one-sided victory.

When Harvard ended early action in 2006, the then-university president, Derek Bok, said that “minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high school with fewer resources” often did not apply to early action and were set at a disadvantage, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Students from less-privileged backgrounds were sometimes unaware of the early action policy and its implications. By eliminating early admissions, Harvard hoped to level the playing field for these students.

Although this goal was both admirable and rational, Harvard and Princeton could not maintain the new policy without cooperation from other prestigious universities. Some students who would likely have applied early to Harvard and Princeton chose to take advantage of early action programs at Yale and Stanford instead.

The main factor leading Harvard to reinstate early action was the realization that talented students were being drawn increasingly to competing universities. If other top-tier universities had dispensed with the option of applying early, Harvard would not have suffered a disadvantage in recruitment and would have had little reason to revert to the system it abandoned four years ago.

Harvard had no choice, nor did Princeton. They were losing too many high-achieving students.
Their unilateral commitment to a single round of admissions also hurt the entire college admissions milieu.

When Harvard and Princeton did away with early admissions, more students applied to other top-tier universities. As a result, acceptance rates in the early round decreased.
The low rate of acceptance in early admissions engendered a general increase in applications during the regular season, leading to what college consultant Michele Hernandez called an “admissions frenzy.”

Hernandez wrote that many students, “facing an early round rejection, panicked and applied to 20 to 30 colleges, clogging the system.” Again, acceptance rates plummeted. Competition among high school students and the pressure on admissions offices increased.

Should other top-tier universities have followed suit when Harvard and Princeton abandoned early action? From the perspective of the university, early action helps immensely with the admissions process. In fact, both Yale and Stanford regularly admit over 30 percent of their incoming freshman classes through early action.

Nevertheless, multilateral agreement to end early action would have been a laudable step toward achieving greater equality in the college admissions process. As a bonus, a consistent policy among these universities would have prevented the aforementioned “admissions frenzy,” a result of the fact that the early option was discarded by a few, but not all, of the top universities.

To a certain extent, I am grateful that Harvard and Princeton brought early admissions back. Early action is a blessing for high school students who are aware of its existence and its benefits: It offers an opportunity for applicants to reduce stress through early acceptance. I plan to take advantage of this option, and the new policy for these two universities widens the scope of possibilities.

Nevertheless, for the less-privileged students across the nation, something was lost: The already unfair college admissions system lost an opportunity to increase its commitment to admitting a broader range of students.

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