Universities Debate Early Admissions Policies
> 9/13/2006 9:49:24 AM

Harvard University's recent announcement that it would eliminate early admissions starting in 2007 raised eyebrows across higher education, with related schools questioning the ultimate effectiveness of a change that could affect as much as half of the incoming student pool. Long an important tool for high school seniors banking on their school of choice, most early admissions programs require a committment to attend if accepted.  Intensely competitive Ivy League colleges typically receive the largest number of early applicants, who begin the process at the start of senior year. Confirmed enrollment at the school of one's choice allows seniors to take further academic risks like enrolling in elective college credit courses.

Colleges tend to accept a significantly larger percentage of their early applicants because those who choose to apply early usually have greater confidence in their academic standing. Due to economic and academic uncertainty, low-income and disproportionately minority students may find themselves reluctant to make such leaps of faith, and despite the fact that their early admissions program was never binding, Harvard argues that this policy shift will help to level the playing field and lead to a larger number of the most desirable and under-represented students: those who are academically qualified but economically disadvantaged. In Harvard interim president Derek Bok's own words:

Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school.

This debate over admissions policies is hardly new. Some believe that early admissions is a neccessary building block for each freshman class, where others  forsee accepted students making a less concerted academic effort for the remainder of senior year. Related articles in The New York Times and TheWashington Post report many in education arguing that Harvard's status as perhaps the best-known, best-funded school in the country allows it to take experimental steps that are impossible for lower-tier universities to consider. Many of these schools rely on early admissions to solidify their incoming class numbers and financial status before the hectic spring admissions process. Still, next year will certainly see critics closely monitoring the effects of Harvard's revised policy.
Those uncertain of their college preferences should forego early admissions in order to better compare the relative benefits of the schools they've considered. Harvard's motives seem noble, as any effort to extend the countless benefits of higher education to students in the lower economic tiers of our socity must be commended. The vast majority of high schoolers obviously have no chance of acceptance to Harvard, but if their changes do in fact result in a freshman class more representative of our population at large, other schools will begin to follow suit. We may have to wait several years for definitive evidence of this shift, but it's already served to intensify an important debate on how to transcend economic limitations to make the college experience available to greater numbers of Americans.

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