Early-Decision Programs (page 2)
In early-decision programs, high school students apply early to their first-choice college and receive an admissions decision by December of their senior year. These programs are binding, meaning that if a student is accepted to a college through the early-decision process, he/she must rescind all applications to other colleges, and sign a contract to attend the college granting early admission. By signing a binding contract, a student forfeits his/her chance to compare financial aid and enrollment packages from other institutions. Students are allowed to have only one early-decision application pending at any time (National Association for College Admission Counseling, 2001).
Early-Decision Versus Early-Action Programs
Early-action is a similar, but non-binding, program. Students who apply through early action receive a response from the college ahead of regular decision applicants, and, in accordance with new guidelines set by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), may apply to other colleges without restriction (NACAC, 2001). The number of both early-decision and early-action applicants has been steadily rising for the last decade (Fallows, 2001). About 270 colleges and universities offer early-decision programs (Loftus, 2002). According to a recent study by NACAC, of colleges surveyed that had either an early-decision or early-action program, 50 percent of institutions responding reported an increase in the number of early-decision applicants; 31 percent reported a decrease; and 19 percent reported no change ("NACAC Study," 2002). Eighty percent of institutions responding to the same survey reported an increase in the number of early-action applicants, and 20 percent reported no change ("NACAC Study," 2002).
Positive Aspects of Early-Decision Programs
The growing popularity of early decision has spurred debate among college administrators, high school counselors, parents, and students about the consequences of the program. Early decision benefits students who are certain which college they want to attend regardless of what financial aid might be available to them from other schools. Being accepted early also eliminates the stress associated with applying to multiple schools and maximizes the amount of time available for students to plan their new lives at a particular college.
Criticisms of Early Decision-Programs
Much of the current literature on early decision focuses on the negative aspects of the program. A major criticism of early decision is that it seems to favor students from upper middle-class backgrounds, especially those who attend private schools or public schools in affluent suburban districts (Toor, 2001). Rachel Toor, a former admissions counselor at Duke University, says:
"The early program decision works together with other factors that reinforce class lines. The people whose parents can pay for elite private high schools, shell out additional thousands for 'independent college counselors,' visit campuses and meet with the 'right people,' and, yes, who know that applying early can give them a boost - they are clearly at an advantage" (Toor, 2001, p. B16).
Many college admissions counselors admit that students who apply early have a better chance of being accepted than students who apply through regular decision (See Loftus, 2002, p. 70). The favorable acceptance statistics across the board for early-decision admissions have influenced many high school students to feel that they have to apply early in order to maximize their chances of getting into a good college. A 2000 study of five years of admissions records from 14 selective colleges by Christopher Avery and colleagues at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government shows that this may be true (as cited in Fallows, 2001). Avery's study found that the competitive value of an early-decision application was equivalent to 100 SAT points more than a regular decision application (as cited in Fallows, 2001). Admission rates for early-decision applicants are higher than for regular-decision applicants. For example, in 2002, Johns Hopkins University admitted 59% of its early-decision applicants compared to 33% of its regular-decision applicants; the University of Pennsylvania admitted 38% of the early pool compared to 16% of the regular pool (Loftus, 2002, p. 70). Thus, students feel pressed to maximize their chances of getting into a school instead of taking the time to research schools and identify one or more offering a good fit. (Gerson, 1998, p.68)
Early decision may also have other negative consequences. Early-decision college applicants who are not accepted via the early-decision program may be greatly disappointed and discouraged. After submitting the application, some students entertain doubts about their choice to apply early and experience anxiety as a result. Some students may also receive deferrals from the early response, putting them in admissions limbo (Gerson, 1998, p. 68).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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