Harvard Ending Early Admissions Process

Harvard University has decided to stop offering its "early action" round of applications. The university fears that the system gives wealthy students an advantage in the admissions process.

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Harvard University is ending its early admissions program and moving to one deadline. Critics said the school's early admissions discriminated against high school students from poorer families and also ratcheted up the pressure on students.

NPR education editor Steve Drummond has been following the story.

Steve, good morning.

STEVE DRUMMOND: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we know what they're not going, no more early admissions. What are they going to do?

DRUMMOND: Beginning with the students applying for the fall of 2008 in fall 2007 of their senior year of high school, one admissions deadline: January 1st. Students will apply by January 1; they'll find out in April whether they've gotten in or not.

INSKEEP: How does that affect huge competition for slots at a university like Harvard?

DRUMMOND: Yeah, right now Harvard admits about 30 percent of its students on early admissions program. It enables the top colleges to lock in students early. It also helps their rating in these popular college rankings guides.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about why colleges do that early admissions. Is it for the benefit of the college? Is it for the benefit of the students? What's this about?

DRUMMOND: Well, you can argue that it's a little bit of both. It increases their yield rate, the percentage of students who are accepted to a school that actually go there. And for the students, it also enables them to know very early on whether they've gotten in or not, whether they've gotten their first choice or not, or whether they need to go back and try another school.

INSKEEP: So why not do it?

DRUMMOND: Well, there's a lot of concern that only the most affluent families sort of know about the process. They go to the better high schools where there are better counselors to guide you through the process. And lots of poor students can't afford to make early decision agreements because they need to wait much later in the year to find out how much financial aid they're going to get. They need to weigh competing offers between schools, and you can't do that with early admissions - or at least, with most early admissions. Harvard's wasn't a binding agreement.

INSKEEP: Hmm. I want to ask you about this. You mentioned the phrase yield rate, which is a statistic people use to rank colleges, you said. And you go in a magazine, you'll find that ranking. If Harvard does away with early admissions, ends up with a lower yield rate statistic, does that mean Harvard is going to end up not being one of the top rated schools in America all of a sudden?

DRUMMOND: I think that's doubtful, Steve. And I think that's one of the reasons Harvard can probably afford to do this and hope that other colleges will follow suit. The interim president, Derek Bok, says that one of the things they're hoping is that other colleges will follow suit.

INSKEEP: Other colleges that feel more vulnerable on this point, you mean?

DRUMMOND: Could be. I mean Harvard is a leader naturally, and I think it's quite likely that by taking the first step other universities will match it.

INSKEEP: How significant is this step?

DRUMMOND: Well, for the elite sort of competitive four-year colleges, this is a big deal for students racing to get into those. But I think it's worth remembering that there are 15 million college kids out there; a lot of them go to state colleges or community colleges, where virtually everybody gets in. And for those students, I don't think this will have much of an affect at all.

INSKEEP: You said interim president. This is a guy who replaced Larry Summers, the very controversial Harvard president.

DRUMMOND: Yes. And the Search Committee I guess is still looking for a new president. But for now, Derek Bok is a former Harvard president, back now on an interim level. He's written a book - several books very concerned about this issue of equity and about who gets in and who doesn't.

INSKEEP: And so he's now making a move.

DRUMMOND: Right.

INSKEEP: NPR education editor Steve Drummond, thanks very much.

DRUMMOND: You're welcome, Steve.

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Nine Things You Need to Know About Early Action

Harvard's decision to eliminate early action for the Class of 2012 adds one more twist to an already confusing process. If other schools follow suit and phase out early admissions programs, the college application process could change radically. Here are nine things you need to know about applying early in the wake of the Harvard announcement, courtesy of three experts in higher education.

Jack Maguire is the former Dean of Admissions at Boston College and founded Maguire Associates, a consulting firm which advises higher-education clients on marketing to prospective students.

Jonathan Reider is the director of college counseling at San Francisco's University High School and a former senior associate director of admissions at Stanford University.

Chris Avery is the Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and co-author of The Early Admissions Game. In his current research, he studies college application patterns and enrollment choices of high school students.

1. Harvard's decision may eventually simplify the admissions process, but for now, you need to be familiar with five options.

Depending on where you apply, you'll probably have at least two options from this menu: regular decision, early decision, single-choice early action, multiple-choice early action, and rolling admissions.

Regular and rolling admissions are the least complex. With regular admissions, you can apply to as many schools as you'd like, and weigh various financial-aid packages before making a final decision. But you may not find out whether you're accepted until April, and at many schools, the acceptance rate for regular admission applicants is lower than for early applicants.

With early decision, you apply in the fall and find out in December if you're admitted. The decision is binding; if admitted, you must withdraw all your other applications.

Early action has two variations: single-choice and multiple-choice. With both variations, you apply early and find out your decision in December, but the decision is nonbinding. You are allowed to also apply to schools through regular decision, and compare financial-aid packages.

2. Next year's class of high school seniors can no longer apply to Harvard for early action.

The new policy takes effect for next year's applicants to Harvard. However, some Ivy Leagues have not followed Harvard's lead. Yale, for instance, has decided to keep its early action option.

3. Some students benefit from early decision; others don't.

At selective schools, the acceptance rate for early applicants is almost always higher than for the pool of regular applicants. "If you know exactly where you want to go," says Chris Avery, "It will help your admissions chances to apply early."

But early decision presents what Jack Maguire calls a "catch-22" for students who need financial aid: "If you apply early you might have a higher chance of getting in versus if you apply late you might have a higher chance of getting money."

4. Harvard can afford to abolish early action, but not every school can.

Harvard's yield is the highest in the country. Almost 80 percent of the students admitted to Harvard's Class of 2006 decided to enroll, so the school doesn't have to worry that ending early action will have any impact on the profile of its student body.

"A kid has to be very thoughtful about turning Harvard down," Reider says.

5. Applying early isn't good for a high school student's stress level (not to mention their parents'.)

Instead of digging into their senior year classes, early applicants may end up spending way too much time focusing on their application.

6. Early application can come back to haunt you in freshman year.

Many early admittees slack off the second they get their December acceptance. That may sound good to high schoolers, but what colleges have found is that many of these kids have gaps in their senior year education as a result.

"Both college and high school faculty are concerned that seniors aren't working hard enough," says Maguire. Harvard's decision will mean that their applicants will have to work throughout the spring in order to be accepted in April.

7. Harvard's decision won't have dire consequences for legacy applicants.

Harvard's "not going to forget about legacy and development cases. They're not going to revolutionize the process," Reider says. Nor should overachievers worry. If you're the head of your class and president of the Drama Club and scored a 1600 on the SATs, there's no reason to think this decision will affect your chances.

"The top kids — the wicked smart kids who were getting in early — are still going to get in regular later," says Reider. "What's going to change is a little bit at the end of the process, you're going to have more spaces to fill."

8. Athletes who dream of representing the Crimson needn't worry, either.

If you're trying to become the next Harvard quarterback, the end of early action won't affect you one way or the other. Harvard is part of Division 1, which recruits athletes independent of the early decision timetable.

9. In the coming weeks, at least a few other schools are likely to follow in Harvard's footsteps.

Yale and Stanford are two possible copycats, Reider says. When Harvard announced it was changing from multiple early-action to single early-action, the two schools each followed suit. And other selective schools have a habit of following Ivy League initiatives as well.

Bonus Tip: Don't think about cheating the system if you are applying early decision.

No matter how sneaky you are, your high school counselor must send your transcripts out. And a counselor will not send out more than one transcript if you've applied early decision or single-choice early action. But what if you somehow manage to outfox your overworked counselor? Then you could be in big trouble — if the schools find out, they'll all reject you.

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