We all know Princeton and Harvard are competitive and prestigious. When they announced they would reinstate the early admissions system last week, they only promulgated a sense of elitism.
These universities were the first two Ivies to introduce automatic need based financial aid, making the schools more accessible to families otherwise unable to afford tuition, and had also both eliminated early admissions options in 2006. Both these policy changes marked positive steps towards making the schools accessible to excellent students from a range of cultural and financial backgrounds. Their announcement to bring early admissions back this past Thursday was a step in the wrong direction. Besides the fact that the exclusive culture that early admissions promulgates is unhealthy, the reasons given for the regression are weak if not absurd.
On the Princeton website, President Shirley M. Tilgham comments, “In eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same and they haven’t. One consequence is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton.” Meanwhile, Princeton accepted 1,313 applicants out of 26,247 last year. That’s 8.8 percent of applications, according to News at Princeton. Princeton hardly needs to encourage and accommodate more applications.
But the weakest part of the schools’ justification isn’t the attempt to attract students determined to apply early, it’s that they returned to the old system because other universities haven’t followed suit. They gave in to peer pressure. The culture of college admissions is bizarre enough as is; early admissions only reinforces — and in fact, generates — the very problems already present in the college admissions process.
The problem with Harvard and Princeton reinstating early action is the ridiculous message it sends and the culture it creates. The ultra-competitiveness of these schools is not at stake — it’s getting worse. Early admissions urges 17 year-olds to strategize about where to apply early, instills the ideology that one university will be significantly different from another comparable university and encourages students to constantly rank options instead of considering them equally.
Further, many students aren’t raised on the notion that Ivy League universities are tangible. Many high schools don’t offer support or expect students to apply to elite universities. On the other side, many students are raised with constant pressure and the expectation to attend one or two specific schools. On either side of the spectrum, the thought that half of the freshman class could be filled before your application even arrives can be terrifying. Ultimately the math seems to look something like the more early applicants, the lower the chance of acceptance for regular admissions students.
This kind of strategizing is manipulative, and leaves out many students who want to try their luck at multiple universities. If Harvard and Princeton had a difficult time getting students to attend, perhaps the move could be more easily justified. But in fact, early admission at these universities just heightens the already obscene competitiveness of college admissions. It’s undemocratic.
This change implies a large step backwards towards an elitist culture of education. Smart, qualified students who come from backgrounds where universities, much less Ivy League universities, are not in the common vernacular are also less likely to be indoctrinated with the hyper-strategic mentality for college applications and the idea that the difference between one elite institution could be so different from another. The truth is, whether you go to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Northwestern, MIT or Cornell, you are going to get a good education and you will be socially recognized for it.
The last thing we need is universities telling us that if we want to get into a college, we must determine that one is our “first-choice,” lest our applications be overlooked or taken less seriously. Whether or not this is actually true (universities across the country unanimously claim it’s not), it is nonetheless the implicit message sent to prospective students. This isn’t to say that individual universities don’t have unique features, or that a student can’t be better suited to one school than another. But, the mentality of constantly ranking one over the other often yields unrealistic perceptions.
Harvard and Princeton’s move four years ago to do away with early decision and their progressive grant-based automatic financial aid program sent a much more promising message — that it may be incredibly difficult to get into Harvard and Princeton, but each application starts equal. These competitive universities don’t need to make admission easier, but it should be equally hard for all applicants. If all universities dropped early admissions, perhaps these institutions could remain elite, and slightly less elitist.
Ruby Perlmutter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Sun Arts and Entertainment Editor. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Having Said That appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.