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Should colleges end early admissions?

Some schools have already eliminated their early-admission programs.

Last year, we eliminated early admissions—a key step in creating a more level playing field for all applicants and reforming an admissions process that has spun out of control in recent years.

The students who apply early are more likely to be affluent, savvy about the process, and attend high schools with resources to help them assemble their college applications.

Early-admission rates at selective colleges are often higher than during the regular admissions cycle, so the system gives an additional leg up to applicants who already have an advantage in the process.

Furthermore, since many colleges require students who apply early to commit to attending that school if admitted, applying early means that applicants cannot compare financial-aid offers from different schools. This puts low-income students at a disadvantage.

There are also huge inequities among high schools in the amount of support that guidance counselors are able to give students who are applying to college. Some high schools are facing such severe economic challenges that they've eliminated college counseling entirely. Given this environment, anything we can do to simplify the application process ends up helping both counselors and students.

Too many students rush to apply for early admission before they have determined which college is the best match for them. Ending early admissions will help restore some sanity to a process that seems more pressured every year.

William Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions, Harvard College

Early-admission programs, when used properly, have advantages for both students and colleges.

For high school students who are certain of their first-choice college, applying early tells colleges how much they want to attend a particular school. This kind of enthusiasm can help distinguish an applicant.

Furthermore, being admitted early—decisions are mailed by early February—to one's first-choice college can make for a less anxiety-ridden and more productive senior year.

These days, it's not unusual for students to apply to a dozen or more colleges. That means a larger applicant pool at many schools with, consequently, a smaller percentage being admitted and more being wait-listed. Abolishing the option of applying early to just one school would mean there would be even more students applying to a large number of colleges.

This would cause admission rates to drop even further. Having no sure way to gauge applicant interest, colleges would become more cautious with initial offers of admission, and place more students on the wait list. More students might have to wait well into the summer to learn if they're admitted.

At many small colleges, knowing early who some of the students will be helps admissions officers round out the class so it has a balance of men and women, and racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity.

If used properly, early admission programs are fair and efficient for students and colleges alike.

Parker Beverage
Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, Colby College