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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

A Call to (Early) Action

In late February, Harvard and Princeton made an announcement that certainly turned heads among the Saratoga High junior crowd—both schools would be bringing back Early Action starting with the Class of 2012.

While most seniors and savvy tiger moms are probably familiar with the term already, it is worth explaining again. Many competitive colleges institute Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) programs to attract talented students to their respective institutions. While students are expected to complete their applications at an earlier deadline, they also hear back from their schools in December—a good four months before regular decisions come out.

The early admissions process is a boon for many well-off students, especially like those at Saratoga High. The process of gaining early admission is generally less competitive and statistically easier. Many schools admit 30-40 percent of their classes early, leaving significantly fewer spots for the regular pool of applicants. Furthermore, the promise of early admission significantly relieves stress for those who are lucky enough to earn it.

However, there is a problem with early admissions—it inherently discriminates against poorer students. Most schools insist that students may apply to only one institution (or at most, a few) EA or ED. Furthermore, some early programs are binding: Accepted students must attend that institution.

This poses a serious problem to students who require financial aid. If money is not an issue, applying early is almost certainly a blessing. Unfortunately, many poor students do not enjoy this same advantage.

Most of the economically disadvantaged cannot afford to apply early and are instead automatically relegated to the regular pool. On the one hand, this allows them to compare financial aid offers from a variety of schools without being bound to one institution. On the other hand, it means that they are automatically placed into a more highly competitive pool of applicants. Already disadvantaged on the monetary front, they are again disadvantaged on the admissions front.

This is precisely the rationale that Harvard and Princeton cited when they axed the EA process back in 2007. These schools stood by their belief that one regular decision round of evaluation would not only simplify the convoluted college admissions process, but also level the playing field.

Today, that same egalitarian spirit is missing. Part of the reason that Harvard dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons cited for the change is that the other six Ivy League schools had not followed in Harvard’s footsteps.

Said Fitzsimmons, “We started to hear that more and more people were applying early across the country.” It hardly seems like fair justification to bring back a program that will effectively eliminate fairness in the college admissions process.

Harvard and Princeton have sadly succumbed to the bandwagon effect. If these schools wanted to change their policies based on principles, that would be one thing; but to change it based on what everyone else is doing? That is a pathetic and measly cop-out that both schools should be ashamed of.

Furthermore, this move reeks of greed. Both schools are willing to abandon the concept of equity simply in order to yield more talented students from the early crop.

It is certainly true that Harvard and Princeton were losing out on some potential students to the other Ivies because of their lack of early programs. But the notion that these schools could not attract equally talented students through a normal regular decision program is simply absurd. Both schools are magnets for talent; they do not need early admissions to attain high quality students.

One thing must be conceded. This decision will positively impact the typical Saratoga student. In addition to our quality academics, environment and socioeconomic background, we will be the beneficiaries of yet another advantage. But ask ourselves this question: Are we really the ones who need another leg up?

Juniors, rejoice. This move likely means that a couple more of you will find a home in Cambridge or Princeton the following fall. Just know that it is coming at the expense of talented but economically disadvantaged students without the same resources.

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