The New York Times reports today that Harvard will end its policy of early admission, in which students may receive a non-binding offer of admission early rather than late in their senior year, for the Class of 2012. The explanation:
Bok's statement is quite odd. If the existing process is unfair, then it can be fixed or scrapped. Is Bok saying that it would be impossible to fix? The problem--that there is a perceived advantage to applying early--would seem to be rectified by lowering the admit rate for the early pool and raising it for those applying at the regular deadline. Determining the financial aid awards at the same early deadline doesn't seem like an insurmountable burden to place on the admissions officers, either.
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.
“We think this will produce a fairer process, because the existing process has been shown to advantage those who are already advantaged,’’ Derek Bok, the interim president of Harvard, said yesterday in an interview.
Mr. Bok said students who were more affluent and sophisticated were the ones most likely to apply for early admission. More than a third of Harvard’s students are accepted through early admission. In addition, he said many early admissions programs require students to lock in without being able to compare financial aid offerings from various colleges.
The statement is particularly odd in the context of Harvard's program, which really isn't unfair in the way being described at all:
Under Harvard’s early admissions program, which is known as early action, students do not have to decide until May 1 whether to accept an admission offer. Even so, many potential applicants did not understand the distinction between Harvard’s program and those that require an upfront commitment and were discouraged from applying, Mr. Bok said.
It seems like a prospective applicant who cannot fathom this distinction is a poor candidate for admission to one of the nation's most highly regarded institutions.
I have never really understood why colleges go through this early admission process. Students, I understand. They want to be relieved of this anxiety sooner rather than later. I presume that college admissions officers value the ability to select the members of each incoming class in multiple stages. The results of the first stage give them the opportunity to modify their selection rules for the remainder of the class to get the characteristics they want. I guess that Harvard's decision just indicates that they don't get much value out of this timing option.