An Ivy League Without Early Admissions?

  • Share
  • Read Later
When Harvard announced plans to eliminate its early decision policy on Sept. 12, its dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons said he hoped other institutions would make similar changes in order to "benefit Americans and provide equal opportunity." The big question was: would other schools follow? One school has given its answer. On Tuesday, Princeton University, Harvard's legendary rival, announced that it would also ban early admissions. What have long been thought of as the top two universities in the country are finally in agreement about one thing: they believe that early admissions give an unfair advantage to wealthy students. "I think it will make the admissions process far more fair and equitable," Princeton University's President Shirley M. Tilghman said. "Early decision was advantaging those who were already advantaged."

But will those with fewer advantages be helped by the new policy? It didn't happen at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). In 2002, one year after UNC banned early admissions, the number of fee waivers — which represent the number of students with limited means (a family of four needs to make less than $35,798 to qualify) — actually decreased by 1.2%.

So UNC went even further, introducing the Carolina Covenant in Oct. 2003, a provision allowing students from low-income families to graduate from the university without any debt. Many of the Ivy League schools also have similar programs. That caused fee waiver applications to increase 38.9% from 2004 to 2006. "I believe strongly that early admissions doesn't have an effect on low-income students here," Stephen Farmer, the assistant provost and director of undergraduate admissions at UNC, told TIME. "In the end you still have to have need-based financial aid."

No one is arguing that Harvard and Princeton's intentions are not admirable, but banning early admissions may not be a cure-all for all schools. Yale University, for one, says that banning early admissions just isn't necessary and insists its early admissions process is fair. "I worry because the entire country will read about this and think this is what higher education is up to," says Karen Giannino, the senior associate dean of admissions at Colgate University, who states the university has no intention of changing its admissions policies.

But most schools agree that the need to reach out to low-income families is growing. "We need to reassure low-income students that they have a place at the table," Farmer said. According to the Department of Education's Sept. 2006 report, 1.4 to 2.4 million students of lower- or middle-income status will not receive bachelor's degrees in the current decade, an increase from the projected 1 to 1.6 million in the 1990s.

Can banning early admissions help placate such a growing divide? From UNC's experience, the answer was no.