February 5, 2001

Early Admissions: Ivies Alter Policies, Outlook

Print More

The first step of the nerve-racking and highly competitive Ivy League admissions process is over, and the results are in. This year, early decision (E.D.) applications are up in all eight of the Ivy League institutions.

One of the major elements of Cornell’s E.D. process changed when it decided to deny some early applicants outright.

The University had previously either accepted or deferred all of its early decision applicants to the regular decision pool. Most of the Ivy Leagues reject from a quarter to a third of their early applicants.

Admissions officers decided to incorporate that element into their early admissions process by denying some students who they knew “will not be competitive in the regular decision pool,” said Doris Davis, associate provost of admissions and enrollment.

“Rather than defer these applicants to the regular decision pool and deny them in April, Cornell and many other schools believe that it is more fair to the student to deny the applicant early,” Davis said.

Unlike many of the other Ivies, including the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Harvard and Columbia, Cornell has always been proud of the fact that it has never accepted more than one third of its incoming freshman class early decision.

Many universities have been criticized for accepting such a high percentage of their freshman classes before considering the regular decision applicants, since “underrepresented students do not apply early decision in as large numbers as other students do,” according to Wendy Schaerer, Cornell’s interim director of admissions.

“When you have Ivy schools that fill 50 to 60 percent of the class through an early process, then this sends the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message that E.D. is the ‘better way’ to apply to a school,” Davis said.

In the Nov. 29 issue of Columbia’s student newspaper, the Daily Spectator, a student wrote an opinion piece titled “Early Decision is Discriminatory,” in which she criticized Columbia’s policy.

“As Columbia admits more students from the early decision pool, its ‘need blind’ admissions policy is undermined,” the student wrote.

“There isn’t a lot of geographic, racial or socio-economic diversity within most E.D. applicant pools,” Davis said. “And so, to ensure that the entering class is diverse … we need to be mindful of the number of students who are admitted E.D.,” she continued.

Most schools reported that their minority admissions had gone up modestly this year.

Dartmouth reported an increase from 47 to 61 minority students receiving early spots in the incoming class out of a pool of 1,135. At the University of Pennsylvania, numbers of Latino early applicants rose from 59 to 74, while African American applicants remained steady at 69, out of 2,833 applicants.

Out of all the Ivies, Dartmouth’s philosophy most closely resembles Cornell’s.

Dartmouth’s student newspaper, The Dartmouth, reported that the college accepted about one third of its Class of 2005 early, rather than the 40, 50 or 60 percent of its peer institutions because it is trying to decrease the pressure on high school seniors to pick an elite university and apply to it early decision.

However, “more and more students are applying early decision,” Davis said, and there is a statistical advantage to applying early.

Yale University had the highest percentage increase in E.D. applications, at 17 percent, while Princeton’s and the University of Pennsylvania’s increased by 11 percent. Cornell saw a seven percent increase this year.

This increase in applications meant a decrease in the percentage of early applicants accepted to their school of choice, but the actual number of accepted students stayed about the same for most schools.

For instance, Yale’s acceptance percentage dropped from 36 to 29 percent, but the number of accepted students only dropped by 21, from 547 to 526.

All of the Ivy League universities accept a larger percentage of the early applicant pool than of their regular applicant pools, which makes it tempting to apply early to the especially selective Ivy Leagues.

“The trend of Ivy schools regarding E.D. applicants is difficult to predict,” Davis said.

“It will be interesting and important to monitor this in years to come,” she concluded.

Archived article by Maggie Frank