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The Big Question

Q: Is It Time to Put an End to Early Decision?

William Conley, dean of enrollment and academic services at Homewood, who began reading ED applications in 1980.
Photo by John Davis
A: "To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Early Decision's death are greatly exaggerated.

"Sure, Stanford and Yale universities made a big splash recently with their announcements [effective for the next class of freshmen] to drop Early Decision ('ED'--binding first choice, withdraw all other applications) in favor of Early Action ('EA'--get your decision early but still play the field into the spring). Several months earlier, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill decided to drop 'early' options altogether.

"Perhaps the sharpest blow to ED was struck by James Fallows in his Atlantic Monthly (September 2001) cover story,"The Early-Decision Racket." Fallows postulated that the original intent of ED, to allow bright, motivated, and decisive students the option to express interest in a single college choice, has been subverted to the ruthless advantage of the colleges. Bowing to the rating gods, colleges use ED to 'cook their books.' Push more kids to apply early decision and your yield rate goes up (one ED=one enrollee) and your admit rate goes down (fewer students need to be taken in regular decision).

"Well, this 23-year admission veteran does not buy that one-sided argument. As the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. In this case, it is the colleges and the college-bound market doing the dancing.

"Prospective students (and parents), especially those aspiring to the most selective schools, have made a habit of specializing and hurrying things along. Choose one sport, select one musical instrument, and get cracking on getting better than others sooner. So, are these families being cajoled by colleges to accelerate and narrow their choice against their will?

"I don't think so. A recent study showed that 35 percent of college-bound students began their search before junior year and more than 40 percent took an ACT or SAT in their sophomore year. This is to say nothing about the thousands of high schoolers summering on college campuses rather than camping in the woods. In short, there is a demand for Early Decision.

"Early Decision is not going away anytime soon. In fact, Johns Hopkins had an 18 percent increase in ED applications for fall 2003, Princeton posted an 11 percent gain, and Penn reported a 16 percent bump. Oh, and Yale, in its final year of conventional ED, saw ED applications rise 23 percent."

Return to February 2003 Table of Contents

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