November 12, 2002

Yale, Stanford Initiate Early Action Policies

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Last Wednesday, Yale president Richard Levin announced that their university will adopt a nonbinding early action policy beginning with the class of 2008. Stanford University followed suit, as president John Hennessy announced a shift from early decision to early action the same day.

The announcement came nearly a year after Levin initiated a national debate over admissions policies when he proposed that all of the Ivy League colleges consider abandoning the use of early decision in a Dec. 13, 2001 article in The New York Times.

“We have reached the decisions independently but we came to the decisions with many similar considerations,” said Marcela Muniz, Stanford’s assistant dean for undergraduate admissions.

“We have been in discussions for a year here at Stanford but had not yet planned to go public. However, when Yale made their decision and we were asked for a response, we felt strongly that we wanted to make our intentions clear to the public,” Muniz added.

Under the new policies, applicants applying to either Yale or Stanford by early action can apply early only to that school but will not be forced to attend the school if accepted. This change will allow applicants time to hear from other schools via the regular admissions route. Students will still have to make a decision about where to apply early but the unbinding nature of early action aims to take some of the pressure off of high school seniors.

“Early action gives students an opportunity to take a shot at Yale but it doesn’t ask them to commit to Yale. Hopefully this change will take some of the madness and pressure off of high school students to commit to a binding program,” said Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid.

Last year, Yale admitted approximately 40 percent of its freshman class through early decision and Stanford admitted 34 percent of its freshman class early.

The original intent of the early decision process was to allow students with a clear first choice to save the time and energy of applying to multiple schools and to match institutions with the students who have decided that a certain institution is their first choice and that they would be happiest there.

“For some students an early decision is fine and appropriate and that’s great, but other students in recent years have felt pressured into making an early choice because so many of their classmates are doing it,” Shaw said.

In addition, studies have shown that early decision applicants are more likely to be students who do not require financial aid. Students who show financial need are more likely to want to shop around to learn how much aid they will be offered at a number of institutions before they decide on one.

“We want to enable more students to consider our new early admission program and we feel that allowing more time will enable more students who might have otherwise waited to hear about aid packages to apply early,” Muniz said.

Students who could not have applied to a binding early decision program for financial reasons will now have the luxury of waiting to hear from other institutions after they have heard from Stanford or Yale.

Yale’s president Levin said that the decision to go with early action was the first step toward encouraging the elimination of all early admissions programs, according to an article in The Yale Daily News.

However, the decision was Yale-specific.

“Yale acted unilaterally. We will try to be compelling when given the opportunity but every institution has to make its own decision about admission policies,” Shaw said. “Some institutions are perfectly happy where they are.”

Like Cornell, which maintains a binding early decision admissions policy in which, “early decision applicants stand a better chance of gaining admissions,” according to the Undergraduate Admissions Office website. Cornell admits fewer students through early decision than other Ivies, however, limiting the number to about 30 percent, compared to 45 percent at Penn and over 50 percent at Harvard.

“I would be very surprised if places like Cornell or UPenn moved to early action. If Cornell had an early action policy many top applicants who wanted to have a safety school might apply to Cornell early action and then wait to hear from Harvard or Yale during regular decision,” said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of industrial and labor relations and former vice president for academic programs, planning and budgeting. “We’re not going to see very many other schools copy Yale and Stanford’s decisions.”

Although many institutions claim that an applicant’s chance of admission does not depend upon when the applicant applies, some like Cornell, now acknowledge that they give preference to early decision applicants. The deadline for early decision was Nov. 1.

When asked what kind of advice he would give to a high school senior applying to college, Shaw replied, “I would tell them to pay attention to the specific institution’s regulations around early decision or early action. It’s pretty confusing right now.”

Archived article by Adrianne Kroepsch