Harvard to End Early Admissions:
The New York Times has the story here. The introduction:
Harvard University, breaking with a major trend in college admissions, says it will eliminate its early admissions program next year, with university officials arguing that such programs put low-income and minority applicants at a distinct disadvantage in the competition to get into selective universities.

Harvard will be the first of the nation's prestigious universities to do away completely with early admissions, in which high school seniors try to bolster their chances at competitive schools by applying in the fall and learning whether they have been admitted in December, months before other students.
jgshapiro (mail):
I don't quite get this. It would make sense for Harvard to end early decision, where a student has to commit to attending a university if admitted early. But Harvard does not have an early decision program. Harvard's program is early action, where there is no commitment made by the student. The student is free to wait until spring to see what financial aid they can get before making a decision, even though they know they got into Harvard much earlier than they know what kind of financial aid they are going to get.

Harvard seems to say that students are confused about the difference between early decision and early action, so it is ending the latter. But Harvard has its pick of students. Why would Harvard want to admit a student who cannot grasp this difference? That's not a question of being a minority or being disadvantaged, just of being dense.
9.12.2006 6:08am
Jeremy T:
Why doesn't Harvard just go ahead and ban white males from campus? Seems a lot simpler than monkeying around with admissions timelines.
9.12.2006 9:23am
Ragerz (mail):

Thanks for sharing your ignorant remarks. It is so wonderful to be enlightened by those who have no idea what they are talking about, but still feel the need to share their uninformed opinion.

And you are calling other people dense? Go figure.
9.12.2006 9:29am
tefta2 (mail):
This will give Harvard more spaces in the freshman class to admit as many of the 15,000 fully funded students the Saudi's are sending our way? Saudi sheiks already own a large chunk of Harvard, so it'll be interesting to see what the next freshman class looks like.
9.12.2006 9:52am
REL (mail):
Perhaps if you were less dense, you could have explained why jgshapiro's remarks are ignorant instead of of simply name calling.
9.12.2006 9:56am
M (mail):
Jeremy- how does this in any way hurt "white males"? If they are in fact better applicants they should still do fine in regular admissions. I think you're being a bit silly here. Also, jgshapiro's description of Harvard's plan seems right from the article, so it is a bit odd. I wonder if Harvard is doing this because they don't think it will hurt them at all but will also push others to make a similar change.
9.12.2006 10:04am
If you are interested in making yourself un-ignorant I suggest skimming the following book: The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite

Generally, I do not think it my obligation to educate someone after pointing out that they clearly do not know what they are talking about.
9.12.2006 10:10am
Anonymous coward:
I congratulate Harvard for taking this bold step. The primary evil done by "early" programs is the creation of enormous pressure on high school students (and their families) to speed up their college-selection process so that they are able to participate in some school's "early" program. Students are compelled to make decisions far too soon, and lose the opportunity to consider other options. Harvard's attempt to undo this vicious cycle by using 'early action' (i.e. non-binding decision) did not alleviate the problem, and so they've made this announcement. As a result, within a couple of years most schools will end their own 'early' programs since the perceived advantages will no longer outweigh the costs of eliminating other options. Students will be better off, and (once the system regains equilibrium) everyone will be admitted to most of the same schools they'd have been admitted to under the current system, but without the handcuffs. Less stress for students, more freedom to select best options for families - a huge advance. Thank you, Harvard.
9.12.2006 10:23am
liberty (mail) (www):
This is absurd. Minorities have no less ability to take advantage of early admissions than anyone else. The whole point of early admissions (and early decision) is that you are promising to attend if accepted (in the case of early decision at least) and so this is an extra weight added to your application. Hence you have a better chance of getting in. If the school is your top choice, you are happy to make this promise and happy to decide as early as possible. You only do one early admissions, and you apply regular to your back up choices. Minorities can do all of this as easily as anyone else - and can plan what loans and grants they will be able to get together if accepted, and apply for scholarships as early as allowed as well. If accepted they can discuss the financial aid situation further with the school. If there is a problem with the financial aid situation with early admissions, I would be happy to see Harvard deal with that - but not eradicate the whole early admissions option.

If the concern instead is that minorites are less likely to be able to figure out the whole early admissions process, as the book linked above suggests - "The authors present a devastating portrait of elite college admissions and early admissions in particular as an elaborate and complicated game [where the winners] tend to be privileged students who have access to highly skilled counselors with information pipelines to elite college admissions offices." - then I have to laugh.

There is nothing complicated about applying early. Next will they remove the racist entrant exams, standardized tests, application process and grading system? After all, minorities tend to worse on those at times and clearly affirmative action isn't enough!

They are not treating the problem, they are avoiding it. If the problem is a cycle of poverty and bad schools, they are made worse by the public education system (rather than vouchers) and by programs like affirmative action which - like schools that graduate kids who can't read - just push people ahead rather than make sure they are educated. Harvard is playing into this and removing "obstacles" which are actually part of the process of selecting good students, not racist or unfair elitism.
9.12.2006 10:48am
Mikeyes (mail):
The chief advantage of early decision/action programs was that it gave the student a slightly better chance of getting into an elite school if he or she was willing to go along with the strictures imposed. When my son was applying several years ago, a significant percentage of his class (Rice in this case) were admitted under these programs. This gave those students with school and parental support a leg up on students that were not cognizant of the "gaming" that went on with early admissions. So those diamonds in the rough (e.g. poor or lower middle class intelligent students whose parents did not attend college) were often too late for consideration.

I think Harvard figured out that it was not to their advantage to let in a significant percentage of freshmen on the early decision/action program (how many would turn down Harvard, especially if their parents could afford it?) only to find that there was no room for some of the other students that they would prefer. This move is being done for their sake as much as it is for the prospective students.

Overall, it is probably a good thing. High school seniors will not appreciate it since it prolongs the agony, but it may make for a more interesting class for Harvard. Other schools might keep the early decision/action programs just to poach a few outstanding students from Harvard ;'}
9.12.2006 10:49am
davod (mail):
Tefta2 has it about right.
9.12.2006 11:10am
GMUSL 3L (mail):

was there actually anybody who wasn't aware that you have better chances of getting in somewhere in return for applying early? Not in my mind. Any student who was so clueless as to be unaware of that widespread piece of common knowledge doesn't deserve to get into ANY college.
9.12.2006 11:10am
Ragerz (mail):

Common knowledge among the people YOU associate with. Which is exactly the point. It disadvantages those who do not associate with people with this particular piece of "common knowledge." It gives an advantage to people like you why harming those who do not know the ins and outs of college. By the way, last time I checked, common was not equivalent to "universal."

So, let me get this. If someone is ignorant of a particular fact that you happen to be aware of because it is "common knowledge" among the people you associate but is not "common knowledge" among the people that person associates with, they don't even deserve to have any college education, regardless of intelligence or other indicia of merit? Wow. Aren't we a little savage.

Count me as one of those proud to be considered by you as "undeserving" of any college. I did not know about early action, how to apply for scholarships or anything else of that nature. I was on my own, with inadequate guidance from parents, peers, or the school system. I learned about this stuff only after it was too late.

As far as I am concerned someone who thinks that what is "common knowledge" based on their experiences is also "common knowledge" for everyone else doesn't deserve to go to ANY college. Much less law school. Because, upon even a little reflection, that is simply moronic. At least you only got into George Mason Law with its pathetic 37th place ranking. There is some justice in that, oh mighty one who has taken it upon himself to decide who is "deserving" to go to "any college."
9.12.2006 11:32am
liberty (mail) (www):

As you point out, it gives students a better chance of getting in to such an elite school as Harvard.

Wouldn't that be good for minority students? Doesn't it make more sense to simply make sure that minority students know about early admissions, rather than take away this useful tool that helps borderline students get in to such a good school?
9.12.2006 11:33am
liberty (mail) (www):
Common knowledge among the people YOU associate with. Which is exactly the point. It disadvantages those who do not associate with people with this particular piece of "common knowledge."

Why doesn't Harvard just reach out to highschools, offer more scholarships and get the word out about early admissions, instead of killing the program? Then those disadvantaged students could use the early admissions tool to their advantage. Harvard has the power to get the word out, as do non-profit groups and others interested in helping disadvataged students. Its just information - any student that can get online can get this information. All libraries have computers.

Anyone can get online and go to the Harvard website. The problem is the poor public schools that don't encourage students to apply to places like Harvard and who push them out the door with barely half an education if they are lucky.

The answer is not to throw out useful tools that help both students and the school, the answer is fix the education system so that minorities are not disadvantaged.
9.12.2006 11:39am
curious (mail):
When did it become common wisdom (fact?) that early action was an easier way to get in the door?

The buzz in the early 90s, IIRC, was that it was much harder to get in early action than it was regular decision (As apparently born out by the fact that many people who got rejected EA were admitted RD). Again IIRC, the explanation was that it was a higher "caliber" of applicant in the EA pool, as opposed to the "what the hell, I'll add a 10th application to my list" applicants applicants in the RD pool. So Harvard was more skittish about admitting too many early (since EA overpredicted how strong the overall pool would be) and would only admit the absolute obvious admits.

One possible explanation: EA may have been a recent addition in the early 90s, so Harvard may not have yet figured out its yield calculations, or have had stable enough data to rely on in making predictions at EA time about what the RD pool would look like.
9.12.2006 11:41am
I always thought that some of the criticisms of the early decision process is that the acceptance decision comes early but students still need to wait for an aid decision and that might put middle class and poor students at a disadvantage compared to students who can take the risk that they would not get any aid and still be able to pay.
9.12.2006 11:43am
liberty (mail) (www):
"As apparently born out by the fact that many people who got rejected EA were admitted RD"

That doesn't prove anything, it depends on the percentage of applicants in each pool admitted.

Its true that some say that it is harder in a sense to get accepted ED, but you are automatically put into the RD pool if you don't get accepted, so you have two chances, so it still raises your chances of getting in.
9.12.2006 11:45am
curious (mail):
Liberty -- I think you're talking about "harder" in a superficially numerical sense. I mean, harder for an identical applicant to gain admission, not harder in terms of which pool has a higher admit rate (which, again operating on 15-year-old recollections here, I think was always the EA pool)

If Applicant gets admitted under Process A, but does not get admitted under Process B, then I think Process B is "harder" in the relevant sense being discussed here. Because you have to be a better candidate to get admitted. There are probably wrinkles around the edges of that explanation, but I think in broad strokes it's right. No?
9.12.2006 11:54am
Stephen F. (mail) (www):
I was on my own, with inadequate guidance from parents, peers, or the school system. I learned about this stuff only after it was too late.

I didn't have much guidance from parents or counselor re: early action, either. I did, however, get a little curious when I was looking over applications that said "Check one: early action, regular action." That curiosity prompted me to read the accompanying booklet. But I guess to Harvard's mind, minorities are incapable of similar reasoning.
9.12.2006 11:56am
liberty (mail) (www):
"but I think in broad strokes it's right. No?"

Not necessarily. There are a lot of borderline cases and if you try twice you may get admitted the second time not because your application is relatively better the second time (those you are competing against are worse) but simply because you had two chances and both times you had some percentage chance of being accepted.

For example, in ED you are graded a "B" and out of the total pool, all "A" candidates are accepted and 20% of "B" candidates, because they have a certain number of candidates and a certain number of spots. You were unlucky enough that you were not one of those 20%. You are pushed to RD. In regular decision, again you are graded a "B" but in regular admissions, all "A" candidates are accepted and only 10% of "B" candidates, however this time you are lucky, you are one of the 10%.
9.12.2006 11:59am
curious (mail):
To make slightly clearer the connection I'm getting at: if the theory is that some group of candidates out there is disadvantaging themselves by not knowing about EA, you have to say, why? It seems like one answer being given is: because it's easier for Applicant Johnny to get in EA than it is for Applicant Johnny to get in RD.

And if that's not right -- if in general there was a substantial pool of Applicant Johnnies who didn't get in EA but did get in RD, and no (purely hypothetical, not demonstrable) pool of Applicant Suzies who didn't get in RD but did get in EA --then it doesn't seem like the above is a good reason to say that people who don't know about EA are being disadvantaged in terms of *admissions*. They may be disadvantaged in other ways (peace of mind being very very high among them) but not in terms of admissions.

Anyway, really am curious about what the conventional wisdom is. Is it now that it's easier for an identical candidate to get in EA? And am I crazy, or is that a change from the conventional wisdom 15-20 years ago, for anyone else who remembers?
9.12.2006 12:00pm
curious (mail):
sorry, crossing posts.

interesting point. it depends on a theory of admissions which is totally lottery-like within broad pools of applicants. there's got to be some truth to the instinct that there is irreducible randomness in the way that applicants are admitted and rejected.

But to the extent the element of randdomness mostly explicable by the quirky things the supervising review board happens to cotton to (which is truly random), it wouldn't tend to be truly random in result (once you take the supervising review board's irrational tendencies into account).

I guess what I'm saying in a really longwinded way is, you wouldn't expect *dramatically* different results in who gets admitted and who gets rejected if you run the same pool of applicants through the process twice. Maybe somewhat on the margins.

interestingly, as i think about it, i think that yourtheory would remain consistent with the idea that EA is more competitive than RD, but also would also suggest a reason why knowing about EA is an advantage in the net results game.

anyway, still am curious about what the CW is these days. I should stop procrastinating now.
9.12.2006 12:10pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
My girlfriend teaches in Bushwick and sometimes I drop her off at work. Right next to her school there is a public library. With high-speed internet access. The school too has high speed internet access. If you live in Bushwick, (you are probably black or Dominican), and you plan on applying to Harvard, then nothing stops you from going to If you don't do it, then, as someone already said, maybe college isn't for you in the first place.
9.12.2006 12:18pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"If you don't do it, then, as someone already said, maybe college isn't for you in the first place."

Even if you blame the school for not informing and encouraging students to do that, the answer is not to get rid of early admissions - the answer is to improve the school system with competition. Harvard can't do that, but if they want to help they should set up a program that gets the word out to public high schools, encouraging disadvantaged students to apply early.
9.12.2006 12:28pm
steven lubet (mail):
affluent families frequently spend weeks, sometimes even entire summers, visiting campuses where their children "might" want to apply. of course, that allows them to make an earlier decision about a first choice school. without this advantage of leisure time and money, however, less affluent families often wait until acceptances arrive, and then visit campuses. thus, they are disadvantaged by early admissions because they are not in a financial position to make early choices.

given harvard's premier position, i suppose that a campus visit isn't necessary to make it the first choice, so the above applies with less force. but harvard should still be applauded for acting as a leader.
9.12.2006 12:28pm
I'm a little surprised at the pissy tone of some of these postings. Yes, it's certainly possible for minority (or more accurately, first generation college applicants) to find out information about Harvard's admission policy and many do (especially in big cities like NYC, LA, etc.). But do you really think it's anywhere near as easy to do this as it is for some kid at St. Paul's whose parents are paying 20K for a college admissions advisor? I teach at an very selective liberal arts college and trust me, there are a lot of the latter. The idea that the playing field is anywhere near even is just absurd. If you really think that then you need to spend some time on a college admissions committee and I promise you that you will change your mind.
9.12.2006 1:06pm
curious (mail):
Yeah, to Chukuang's point -- IF in fact there is an admissions advantage to EA application, it's just silly to pretend that privileged rich kids at the right private schools or in the right public school districts aren't getting it. Yes, the perfectly self-motivated automaton who doesn't have access to the same peer wisdom or the same college counseling may be able to figure it out with the right amount of research.

But, c'mon, get real. I can speak only for myself, but without repeated kicks in the ass by guidance counselor and being surrounded by hypermotivated freakjob peers, god knows if I would even have gotten around to submitting my apps by *now*, 15 years on.
9.12.2006 1:32pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
What precisely is the problem with wealthy parents using their resources to secure advanced position for their children? After all, isn't that a large part of why we want financial security? So that our kids may have good and happy lives? As an abstraction, and its efficacy aside, I have no problem with an attempt by the colleges to level the playing field in terms of *opportunity.* But there is nothing inherently evil or wrong about inequality, an upper hand honestly obtained.

I don't know whether Harvard's decision is wise, whether it will prove to be effective, or whether it was made in good faith. But as a broader matter, let's not sink to the level of Soviet Russia. Just because someone lives in shit does not mean that everyone else should too.
9.12.2006 1:45pm
jgshapiro (mail):

Anyone with your argumentative skills should not be admitted to Harvard either.

Let me spell this out for you in terms simple enough for even you to understand. The question is not whether the prospective student knows about early admission or whether that information is common knowledge, but whether they can understand the difference between early decision and early action. It is the failure to understand that distinction, coupled with the effects of assuming that early action = early decision and that early decision precluded weighing scholarship options, that Harvard cited as its reason for terminating its early action program.

Despite grade inflation, Harvard is a highly competitive environment that includes the best high school students in the nation. If a student cannot grasp the simple distinction between EA and ED, they would likely be devoured at Harvard and should not be admitted in the first place. Much of the purpose of the admissions process is to screen students who are not likely to succeed were they to be admitted.

As for the difference between EA and ED, or even the availability of EA, I agree with Liberty that Harvard could just invest more resources in educating people about what EA is, rather than just eliminating it. I don't see how reducing choices - particularly if EA is harder to be admitted under than RD - makes the system fairer for disadantaged applicants.
9.12.2006 2:46pm
This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The critique of early action, to the best of my knowledge, is that students have a slightly higher chance of admission in the "early action" program and this disadvantages groups who are not as familiar with the details of the process.

However, even if one accepts the premise, this is an argument in favor of tightening early action standards so it is harder to be accepted early action than regular admissions, not an argument for throwing out the whole program.

There are clearly some students (at least a small group) who are so outstanding they will be unquestionably admitted. I see no reason to force these students to wait until April to hear.
9.12.2006 3:00pm
Mikeyes (mail):
Children of families that have upper 10% incomes, or whose parents are professional (I include teachers in this example), or whose families place great value on education, especially higher education, are going to be aware of the advantages of early admission. Those in that category are a huge percentage of those who apply to Harvard and other top 50 schools.

A high school senior who does not fit that rubric but has the intellectual and personal qualities that would be attractive to the Harvard admissions committee may not be aware of the advantages of this pathway, but if they are that outstanding, you would think that their teachers would notice that early admission is available and know the statistics. I suspect that black women named Fernadez with IQs of 175 who are from Idaho are fairly rare (that is a facetious example) but they do exist. Such students may not be able to find this information on their own - I know that I was not aware (this from a pre-historic time when Catholics only went to Catholic colleges - except for the Buckleys and Kennedys) due to being in a Catholic ghetto - but the teachers should be capable of discovering this knowledge since they are college graduates and their profession is geared towards helping students.

My question is: if you exclude the students mentioned in the opening paragraph, how many are left? And if these students are outstanding, what are the teachers doing about it? (A corellary is how prepared are these students to take on a Harvard and how motivated would they be to want to leave the state when they have a full ride at the state university?)

I suspect that the numbers are small.

I have some friends (non-Asian minority, not college educated) whose daughter scored a 35 on the ACT. She wants to go to a school that is within driving distance of home and does not want to go to a big name school since she wants to teach. I have no doubt she could get into a top school and do well after she got over the homesickness. She has no interest in applying (believe me, her parents, her teachers and I have tried.) I suspect there are a substantial number of students like her out there.

If anyone has statistics on these demographics I would appreciate knowing them.
9.12.2006 3:03pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
There is another side to this. I suspect very strongly that there are more applicants per spot in the regular admission process than in the early process. I suppose Harvard's decision here reveals as much. Even if getting rid of the early action program somewhat dilutes this ratio for the winter/spring admissions process, one can suspect that there is still a higher total number of applicants. Throw in a good PC sounding excuse, and you now have more money from applications and some good inclusive-sounding publicity.
9.12.2006 3:05pm
I suspect this has a bit more to do with Harvard's own interests than might be immediately apparent.

My understanding of the flaws with Early Decision is not that it exposes a particular information deficit — anyone applying to elite schools who doesn't know much about them will do some reading just to find out which schools are the elite ones, and they will come across the information.

The real issue is financial. If you can pay for Harvard, you are a lot more likely to commit to going there than if you can't. Now Harvard provides pretty solid financial aid, but are you really going to trust that? If you know someone who went to Harvard, probably. If you don't, it is less likely.

These biases toward the wealthy and well-connected are not directly racial, but they are still problematic, and will likely be reflected in the racial make-up of the school.

Early Action, which Harvard had, would seem to have fewer of these problems, but would also seem to lack certain advantages. Colleges use binding decision to boost the percentage of people accepted who matriculate, which is reported to U.S. News. With Early Action, Harvard doesn't have that advantage, but still has many of the disadvantages.

As a result, Early Action basically becomes just a courtesy to students that lacks any real benefit to the institution. It is no wonder Harvard has decided to end the program.
9.12.2006 3:42pm
What precisely is the problem with wealthy parents using their resources to secure advanced position for their children? After all, isn't that a large part of why we want financial security? So that our kids may have good and happy lives? As an abstraction, and its efficacy aside, I have no problem with an attempt by the colleges to level the playing field in terms of *opportunity.* But there is nothing inherently evil or wrong about inequality, an upper hand honestly obtained.

I certainly agree with all of this. But if Harvard (or any other school) wants the most intellectually promising students, not the students whose parents are best able to secure their future through means like college admissions advisers (which are fine to use but don't demonstrate that the kid himself is smart), then it makes sense for them to implement an admissions policy that selects for intellect rather than wealth. I certainly don't think any laws should be passed to "even the playing field," but if Harvard thinks reducing the advantages enjoyed by rich applicants gets a more intellectually solid group of students, then they have every right to do so (and it's probably not a bad thing).
9.12.2006 3:58pm
Dart Board:
Since Harvard has early action, not early decision, they are doing this just to make the rest of the Ivy League squirm. Rest assured though, that the recruited athletes (approximately 200 per year) will have their slots locked up in November as always.
9.12.2006 4:02pm
James Ellis (mail):
I am not sure that anybody really knows who will end up benefiting here, but at first blush this does not look like it will have the result Harvard wants--which appears to be some undefined leveling of the playing field at the expense of so-called "privileged" students. But, at the same time, Harvard suggests that most, if not all, of these applicants would be accepted anyways, as the standards for EA are identical to those for regular decision. These thoughts pull in opposite directions. If both are true, then we are really talking about divesting these privileged students of the option value (as opposed to the ultimate enrollment value, or however you would denominate it) of the early admission decision. But be forewarned, divested of this option value, these high performing and high rolling kids are sure to impose significant costs on Harvard, other selective schools that follow its lead, and the system as a whole.

Some highly qualified, non-Harvard-loyal and risk averse applicants will simply elect to seek early admission elsewhere. Harvard's rivals will certainly take the opportunity to recruit these individuals heavily. Meanwhile, some "privileged" kids with Harvard ties, or who attend schools with them, may be less likely to make a final decision without hearing from Harvard. So some less "privileged" students may be more susceptible to seeking Early Decision elsewhere, thus removing themselves from the Harvard pool.

If other schools follow Harvard's lead, then the playing field may get a little too level for comfort. High performing privileged kids without guaranteed offers of admission will blanket the market with applications. Who wouldn't? The marginal cost, $50-100 or so, is hardly a deterrent. It is cheap, compared to the risk and ultimate enrollment (if not option) value. There will be an even more thriving market for consultants and coaches who shop special contacts or expertise--as they are selling their services into a more uncertain market, with more people in it. And, according to Harvard at least, these incremental people are more privileged than the rest of the pool, on the whole. And they have better grades and higher test scores. I am not convinced that this will inure to the benefit of the underprivileged applicant who may be deterred by each incremental $100 and who has less access to expensive consultants.

Also, there are sure to be complications for admissions offices if this practice becomes widespread. Schools like Harvard typically get over a third of their incoming classes from Early Action or Early Decision. Now, all of these applicants will be in the regular pile, together with hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants who would have been accepted early at other highly selective institutions. So, faced with the same number of available spaces, there will be many more high performers to sift through. Meanwhile, the national ranking folks seem to value "yield" very highly. Will offers be made to students who come from backgrounds where it is more probable that their decisions will be highly influenced by financial aid packages? Will students who are children of alumni, or who live close by, get even a greater advantage than they enjoy today, due to the perceived (and historically proven) higher probability that they will accept? Who knows? It seems logical that if a school like Stanford eliminated an ED/EA program but wanted to maintain a high yield, it would really hurt kids from Boston whose parents went to Harvard, especially if their school had not sent students to Stanford before. It might also hurt students who live far away and would not be able to make the same financial aid package go as far.

I also wonder what will happen to the wait-listing procedure if others followed Harvard. It seems likely that the wait lists will expand during the next few years, as schools wait and see how this now process plays out, all the while jockeying to preserve the ever-important yield. Thus, there is going to be more, not less, mayhem in the weeks following the admissions decisions.

And this is supposed to relieve pressure on high school seniors? Now, you have a student who could have been admitted through an early action process in December and relaxed for eight months, who instead has had to apply to dozens of additional schools and who may have to accept somewhere else while he or she sweats through the summer waiting for the wait list call to come in.

Clearly, institutions like Harvard, by maintaining EA or ED programs, confer a very real benefit on other similarly selective institutions. Applicant pools are streamlined and yields maximized. It is hard to tell how this will all play out, but it does not seem at all obvious to me that Harvard has stricken some victorious blow for the underprivileged here.
9.12.2006 5:01pm
lucia (mail) (www):
For what it's worth, eliminating early action may free up personel who currently spend time negotiating financial aid packages with aggressive highly motivated families whose children apply to several schools under early action and then phone repeatedly from December to April to negotiate financial aid.

My understanding is some parents prod their children to apply to quite a few schools, including some they do not wish to attend, because knowing your kid has been admitted to several good schools gains them bargaining power during negotiations. Parents also present schools with the competing aid packages. (I believe the WSJ recommended this strategy. And, for the record, I don't disapprove of the parents. But the strategy exists.)

Freeing up the Havard personels' time may permit them to implement programs to help educate disadvantaged students, their teachers and guidance counselors about the admission process. Freeing up money may also permit Harvard to use some of the money which can be used to attract students who are less knowledgable about the current system.

Of course, the tactic might not work, but I suspect it's worth a try. If it doesn't work, they can always change back.
9.12.2006 5:49pm
cfw (mail):
Ending early action and pushing back admissions decisions tends to force the student to take a meaningful set of courses senior year, do meaningful extra activities, etc.

The later bloomer has an easier time showing upward trend in performance. The "gamer" as more time to expose him/her self as a sham.

The problem with Harvard is why it does not expand internationally into about ten Harvards, each with an endowment of about $2 billion.

It is shameful for them to sit on a huge pot of money and refuse to expand.

The problem of dilution of talent at the faculty and student level must be viewed as a management challenge, not an excuse for inaction.

It is a non-profit in anme only, and can and should be required (like Buffett and Gates) to do more than simply invest capital profitably.

Same goes for Yale and other schools with out-sized endowments.
9.12.2006 5:54pm
Justin (mail):
I wonder how much financial and merit based aid the typical person accepted early decision gets vis a vis the typical person accepted regular decision (hint, hint).

Besides that, I assume that people with more time and preparation are on aggregate both most likely to be upper and upper middle class and be aware of and prepared to take advantage of the early decision/early action process (this one's easy to evaluate - is Harvard's early applicant pool more white than their regular applicant pool, weighted by the appropriate caveats?)
9.12.2006 6:47pm
Justin (mail):
cfw, when I was applying to law school there were rumors that Harvard and Yale were each considering just doing away with tuition, fwiw.
9.12.2006 6:50pm
curious (mail):
i'm still wondering why any of this matters if EA still creates no advantage other than peace of mind.
9.12.2006 6:59pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Some claim EA makes it no easier to be admitted; other say it does. Even if it doesn't make it easier to be admitted, that's not the same as creating no advantage.

EA can confer advantages in negotiating financial aid.

Early decision, in principle removes the advantages for negotiating financial aid, since the student is supposed to withdraw all other applications.

Though the caveat is, the students agree to withdraw their other applications provided the student received "sufficient" financial aid. As a practical matter, I'm not sure who decides how much aid is "sufficient". I'm also not sure how the universities verify students have withdrawn their applications to other schools. Anyway, likely as not, relatively wealthy parents are able to hire people who know the answers to these questions and gain advantages relative to people who don't know the answers. (These answers will certainly not be posted on a University's web page!)

The importance of being able to negotiating financial aid is non-trivial for both students and universities. At one point, the Federal government filed an anti-trust suit to prevent Ivy league schools from sharing financial aid offers to individual students with each other because of concerns about price fixing on the part of the school.

I'm not sure what happened with that or how it affected other aspects of the admission process.
9.12.2006 7:35pm
ED C'04 (mail):
Isn't the simplest (and, perhaps, less self-righteous, and perhaps, Kaldor-Hicks Efficient//Pareto-Improving) solution simply to say, "Hey! We're not going to take advantage of the fact that an ED student is in a less-than-optimal position to bargain with US, the Financial Aid Office, so let's go wild on them if we even should choose to listen to their plea for adjustments!!" ?

Admission at nearly all Ivies is need blind (sans Brown). With the endowments that the Ivies have, is the ED EA problem really something Harvard struggles with or is this something they want other universities (with lower endowments) to pursue? Are they implying that because of their previous policies they were voluntarily less willing to bargain with accepted students because the school was in a relatively better bargaining position than someone who had bound themselves to going? This has not been my experience at other schools.

I went to Penn where, needless to say the endowment, while gigantic, paled in comparison with Harvard's (3b v. 9??). Nevertheless, I applied ED, jumped for joy, and received a FinAid package that was inadequate. I was uncomfortable in that position and worried about getting to go to my dream school. However, once I stipulated that, "look, if this is what I'm going to get, I assure you that I will not be able to attend in the fall", they adjusted figures and I was able to attend. Is that REALLY uncommon? It wasn't at Penn among my social group. I would be shocked if this is something Harvard does not do.

So I ask: is this really a problem? I know that universities operate on budgets that are very important to the trustees, et. al, but do not FinAid budgets allot for adjustments in FinAid and, if a student really DOES need extra FinAid and can provide evidence for the same, does it REALLY happen that Harvard or Princeton or UPenn or Columbia, et. al, simply dismiss that issue because the student is in a weaker bargaining position??
9.13.2006 12:44am
lucia (mail) (www): let's go wild on them if we even should choose to listen to their plea for adjustments!!" ?

Maybe, but listening to their pleas presupposes the 17 year old highschool student knows enough to call!

So I ask: is this really a problem?

I don't know if it's actually a problem. I can think of how it could happen.

Economically disadvantaged students vary. Depending on where one lives, who one knows and other factors, a 17 year old unsophisticated high school student whose parents do not have college degrees, who may not speak English well, who doesn't have college educated acquaintances and whose school may have an inadequate overworked guidance counseler might plausibly not know to pick up the phone and explain that they will not matriculate because the financial aid package is inadequate.

So, they do not take the make the first step required to negotiate!

Maybe this has an effect on average. Maybe it doesn't.
It's possible the universities have data and find that a of economically disadvantaged ED students disproportionatately don't know it's worth picking up the phone to make the the first call to negotiate.

Harvard may have decided they would like their student body to include a larger fraction of these students, and they've decided to do that by ending Early Action.

It may increase the number of economically disadvantaged students; it may not. But, from Harvard's point of view, what bad thing is going to happen by ending early action?
9.13.2006 10:33am
cfw (mail):
"cfw, when I was applying to law school there were rumors that Harvard and Yale were each considering just doing away with tuition, fwiw."

I think the student and his or her family should have some "skin in the game."

They should looks at years of college like $10-40,000 cars, and be able to distinguish a "mustang" from a "bmw."

Otherwise, the quality of education at a place like MIT or Carnegie Mellon never gets realistically compared to 4 years at NYU or Wash U. It is certainly possible to go to a place like NYU for 4 years and come out well qualified to assist in management of a Starbucks (and not much else).

Payors for colleges need to kick around those realities, with some of their own money on the table.

If college at $40,000+ per year is such a great investment, parents and undergrads should be willing to pay what their finances reasonably allow, and not get free passes, even if Harvard throws off say $2 billion of investment income in an average year.

I assume if Harvard were a charity it would need to spend 5% of its endowment each year to maintain its non-profit status (like the Gates/Buffet Foundation).

How Harvard could manage to spend that say $1 billion per year without more geographic diversification (and expansion) escapes me.

I suspect the private colleges must have some sort of special dispensation that allows them to build out-sized endowments and still qualify as charities.

The IRS/Congress can and should wean places like Harvard, and force them to be more active in spending money (not just on investments), or cut back on the tax relief places like Harvard enjoy.
9.13.2006 2:04pm
curious (mail):
lucia -- what's the advantage an EA admit has over a RD admit in negotiating financial aid?

still lost on how all this matters. even though i tend to be the kind of person who favors "level the playing field" arguments.
9.13.2006 2:51pm
lucia (mail) (www):

Did I write RD?

The advantage of EA over ED is this:
With EA (early admission) you learn you are admitted, but don't need to commit to the school. You can wait to hear from other schools, collect a bunch of acceptances and begin to negotiate financial aid packages with the schools knowing you have some fallback schools.

With ED, "early decision", you learn you are admitted, but you are supposed to commit to the school and withdraw applications from all other schools once admitted by ED.

So, in principle, you can't ever get to the point where you are negotiating with the schools knowing you can go to another school. This is a weaker negotiating position.

I don't know how ED works in practice because you only agree to withdraw your applications to other schools after you obtain an "acceptable" financial aid package. I don't know who decides what's "acceptable". Also, I don't know how the schools discover that you have not withdrawn your applications to other schools or precisely what happens if the school insists the financial aid package is "acceptable" and they discover you have not withdrawn your other applications.

Still, EA as described by the schools, confers and advantage.
9.13.2006 6:39pm
I am perhaps inappropriately amused at how many people here first thought 'oh no! now minorities will go to Harvard!'

There is a huge range of incomes between 'able to pay $50K a year out of pocket' and 'too poor and stupid to be able to read so screw 'em anyway.' The kids affected by EA &ED might be at good high schools, taking AP classes, pulling 1500+ on the SAT, and still have parents that make $40K a year. Indeed, that child is probably more qualified than many a prep school brat, but has a harder time getting in only because he can't sign away his negotiating power. This seems like the sort of kid that we should encourage to go onto an elite school, not throw up obstacles in his path.

ED is really problematic. EA less so, but it still does push the college preparation back into the junior year; a public high school with few kids heading to the Ivies just won't have their act together early enough to help out the bright public school kid. Things like being advised when to take the SATs, or getting help for the college essay, and the like.

Given that studies have shown that applying early is worth about 100 S.A.T. points, it seems that the academic quality of Harvard's students will actually go up because there will be more admits from bright hardworking moderate income kids instead. I doubt the effect will be huge, but to the extent it puts pressure on the other Ivies to get rid of ED programs, it's a good mood.

But it's hardly a libertarian attitude to put an obstacle in the way of a hardworking but less financially gifted kid who is a superior student so a less talented privileged and coached child can get in. Everyone must compete against everyone else, not just the rich kids' pool.
9.14.2006 3:06pm
curious (mail):
lucia -- sorry, i don't think i was clear. the question is how EA confers a meaningful admissions advantage over RD. because that's the change harvard has made -- eliminated EA, leaving only RD -- allegedly on the theory that only rich kids knew about EA and that it gave them an admissions advantage. if EA confers no advantage over RD, then what's the big deal?

comparison of EA to ED is interesting, but that's a school-to-school comparison, not a comparison of harvard pre-change and harvard post-change. right?
9.14.2006 4:20pm
curious (mail):
and, cala -- i'd be amazed if those studies showed that advantage from applying Early **Action**. it makes all the sense in the world that you'd get that kind of advantage applying early *decision*, since you're trading an easier pool (ED pool) for a binding commitment.

But, again, in my experience of 15 years ago (at least, based on common wisdom plus anecdotal experience of ppl rejecetd EA who got in RD), quite the opposite was true. It was HARDER to get in EA than RD.

So, once agin . . . what's the big whoop? (Although this has slipped so far down the page that this is probably the last comment the post will see. Ah well. The question goes unanswered....)
9.14.2006 4:23pm
lucia (mail) (www):
The negotiating advantage of EA vs RD is time.

Time to phone, nag, explain, collect data to support your case; time to weigh and balance choices gives a person a negotiating advantage relative to lack of time. Time to submit applications to additional schools to see if that helps the negotiating position.

Does this time actually confer advantages? I don't know. However, it seems plausible. Harvard thinks EA is conferring some sort of advantage to wealthier student; they may have internal data that suggest their view.

As to your question: "what's the big deal?" No-- but I don't think people who are saying "Fine by me if they get rid of EA" are the ones making a big deal.

Harvard has made a change. It's Harvard's place to decide. Few seem to be suggest the decision might harm anyone.

So why is Harvard's decision making some grumpy? What's the big deal?
9.15.2006 2:52pm
curious (mail):
Oh, good gracious, there's a **clear** harm to the loss of EA. It's absolutely fantastic to have a college acceptance in your pocket as of early January or whenever. Makes your senior spring like 100000x better. The harm is crystal clear to me, and it's a real one.

My unfounded suspicion is that the decision has little to nothing to do with any actual disadvantage (in terms of chances of ending up at harvard) that is inflicted on any identifiable social group. And everything to do with (1) eliminating the pressure on kids in their jr. years + slowing down the madness and pre-professionalization more generally, and (2) relaxing the burden on the admissions office.

Because I just totally don't buy the disadvantage argument. And I'm someone who's generally sympathetic to such concerns.
9.15.2006 3:40pm
lucia (mail) (www):
You've got it all backwards! ;-)

It's crystal clear (to me) the harm of worrying all senior year was created by EA. The application period is the main trigger to begin intensive worrying. Once you apply you, your friends, your family and everyone know the applications are "out there".

Prior to EA, high school students didn't start applying until later, so they didn't start worrying until several months later. If you count all students, including those who are rejected during EA and ended up in the RD pool, EA just makes the total time period of torture longer.

If EA is abolished, the worry period will revert to the much shorter worry period that existed prior to the onset of this madness.
9.15.2006 5:48pm
curious (mail):
all probably true, lucia.

on the whole i do think the totally carefree senior spring is worth the tradeoff. but, yeah, you're porbably right that eliminating EA (if followed by other schools) will ease some of those other burdens.
9.16.2006 1:21pm