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Who's Next?

In many ways, Princeton's decision to get rid of its binding early decision program is a lot more monumental than Harvard's similiar decision a week ago.

For one, with Princeton in the ring, it seems increasingly hard for Stanford and Yale not to follow. If Derek Bok has labeled such programs as “advantaging the advantaged” and Shirley Tilghman claims that regular admission policies are the only “fair and equitable” thing to do, how could Harvard and Princeton’s only true peers show face if they didn’t follow suit?

After all, both schools are considered to be more desirable than Princeton by common admits, and both schools depend less heavily upon their early admissions program than Princeton. In fact, both schools, unlike Princeton, currently only have a non-binding early action program. So it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to getting rid of their programs, as opposed to the large plunge that Princeton is taking.

Over the past week, there had been some discussion (here and elsewhere) that Harvard’s decision might help schools that keep their early decision programs to “win” students that otherwise would have gotten into Harvard. But if Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford all don't accept early applications any more, I can see such an environment changing the popular opinion that early decision is the way to go.

And if you add in a couple of other top universities and liberal arts colleges, the tables will be changed forever. No top student will apply early to a binding program as they will hold out to see if they get into one of the “big four”.

If this indeed happens, I don't see how it will be a boon for Cornell's early decision applicant pool. Rather, the university would probably just end up getting less-qualified students applying, and forcing itself to rely less on the early admits as a result. In such a situation, any university that competes for the top students would see that the greatest benefits of early decision have been lost, and they might as well adopt the noble cause of a "fair and equitable" playing field for their applicants.

So competition is an interesting thing. Perhaps, sooner than we may expect it, Cornell admins will see no point in early decision. The University is so large that it will have enrollment management problems no matter what, and if is concerned concerned about not being able to afford all of the financial aid (which is a very real concern for the university, and a major point of the upcoming capital campaign) it's not like you can't tell how rich an applicant is from looking at her zip code anyway...

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on September 18, 2006 (#)

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