The End of Early Decision; At least for Harvard

Today Harvard University announced it has ended early decision acceptance. For anyone not familiar with ’early decision,’ certain highly selective universities and colleges allow students to apply early (applications are due by November 1st), before the normal spring deadlines. If accepted, students find out in December [and stop doing current high school homework].

HMG applauds Harvard in its decision to end early acceptance practices and finally put an end to the prisoner’s dilemma that has resulted in most selective institutions coming out against the practice – but no one not doing anything about it. Way to go! The reason HMG is against the early decision practice is because it puts unnecessary pressure on families and students: Do I apply early only in order to increase my probability of acceptance? Does my family risk receiving less financial aid (many schools do not allow you to apply elsewhere if accepted)? Many a great student has ended up at a school that is not the best fit for them“ simply because they have felt the pressure to apply early, in order to increase their chances of getting into a more highly ranked school. In case you live on Mars“ a highly ranked school is a very subjective metric that means little more than a school with a big endowment and a high tuition.

However, let’s keep something in perspective: while this was a great day for the integrity of highly selective schools, for the majority of the United States’ 15 million college students (many of whom attend schools admitting every applicant), this decision barely merits a yawn.

As for contemporaries of the big Crimson, Harvard hopes its decision will result in a ’domino effect’ of dropped early acceptance policies across the country. Unfortunately, many schools receive far greater benefits from this practice than does Harvard, subsequently being less inclined to bear the associated admissions/ranking risk.

Below we have included some statistics highlighting the large variation in acceptance rates between early and regular decision at Harvard for the class of 2008. We have also put all this into a ’big picture’ perspective:

Early Action: 906 students accepted out of about 4000“ a 23% acceptance rate

Regular Decision: Of nearly 20,000 applicants, 2029 accepted – a 9.7% acceptance rate

In 2006 ~80% of the students accepted at Harvard decided to enroll

Overall, this decision affects ~.001% of college students


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