Campus & Community

A 3.5 percent increase in applications marks Early Action’s last year

4 min read

The number of Early Action applications to Harvard College increased this year by 3.5 percent. While numbers are still preliminary because the processing and reading of applications have not been completed, 4,005 students have applied compared with 3,869 last year. This is the fourth year in a row that about 4,000 students have applied early.

Beginning next year Harvard College will eliminate its early admission program and move to a single application deadline of Jan. 1, the University announced in mid-September. “Over time, it has become increasingly clear that early admission programs across the nation are not serving students well,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “We did our best over the past four years to make Early Action work, but, in the end, we concluded that it would be better to eliminate it altogether.” The change in policy, which builds on Harvard’s efforts over the past several years to expand financial aid and increase openness in admissions, will take effect for students applying in fall 2007 for the freshman class entering in September 2008.

“The college admissions process has become too pressured, too complex, and too vulnerable to public cynicism,” said Harvard interim President Derek Bok. “We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer.”

“Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged,” Bok continued. “Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school.”

Many leaders in higher education have spoken publicly about their concerns regarding early admission programs. Harvard delayed the shift to a single admissions deadline until the fall of 2007, so that other institutions wishing to make a change will have time to adjust their processes in the same admissions cycle. So far, Princeton University and the University of Virginia have eliminated their early admission programs. Harvard will use the next two to three years as a trial period, monitoring the impact of this change to make certain that it does not have a negative impact on student quality.

“I am delighted that President Bok and the Corporation have determined that we are in a position to take this excellent step,” said Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “The frenzy that surrounds college admissions threatens important educational values, and early admission programs are part of the problem. These programs distort the high school experience by forcing both students and colleges to commit prematurely, based only upon the record at the end of the student’s junior year. Moreover, students who are admitted early receive what often appears to be a ‘free pass’ for their second semester, sadly encouraging them to disengage from their academic experience.”

“Under the leadership of Larry Summers, we have worked aggressively over the past several years to expand financial aid, and families with incomes under $60,000 are no longer required to contribute to the cost of a Harvard education,” said Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid. “An early admission program that is less accessible to students from modest economic backgrounds operates at cross-purposes with our goal of finding and admitting the most talented students from across the economic spectrum,” she added.

Harvard intends to use the time and capacity freed up by the move to a single admissions cycle to focus more energetically on outreach and recruiting. The admissions staff will travel more widely to make presentations in key cities and other areas to educate students, families, and college counselors about Harvard and the college admissions process more generally. The University will also work with secondary schools in a renewed effort to make applying to college less complicated and less stressful than it is today.

This year’s Early Action pool is very similar to last year’s in terms of gender, ethnicity, and economic background. So, too, are the applicants’ proposed academic concentrations with the exception of an 18 percent increase in engineers. Geographical origin is also similar except for a 33 percent increase in international citizens. “We are extremely pleased to see that increased international recruitment over the past decade is beginning to pay off,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. “Our faculty, students, alumni/ae, and staff have helped attract another remarkable Early Action pool,” she said.

Early Action meetings began on Nov. 16. Students requesting e-mail notification will learn of the Admissions Committee’s decisions after 5 p.m. Dec. 15, and letters will be mailed the same day.