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Why Yale is Keeping Early Admissions

Y: Last fall, Harvard and Princeton announced they will end early college admissions. Harvard’s dean of admissions said early admission “advantages the advantaged.” Why has Yale decided to keep it?

L: First, we don’t believe that eliminating early admissions would change the socioeconomic diversity of the class. It is true that the percentage awarded financial aid is lower in the early pool—37 percent versus 48 percent. But we are only choosing half the class in the early round. We shape the class in the second round, and to the extent we are concerned that we are not providing enough opportunity for students from low-income families in the first round, we can compensate in the second round. So early admissions need not affect the overall demographics of the class.


“We have been working on making Yale more affordable.”

Second, our program of non-binding early action is very popular with high school students and their principals and college placement counselors. It solves the major problems inherent in the system we had before.

Y: By “non-binding” you’re referring to the fact that early applicants don’t have to promise to go to Yale? With “early action,” students can apply early to only one school, but they don’t have to commit to it up front. Yale used to have “early decision,” in which students who applied early had to commit early.

L: Yes. We moved to non-binding early action in 2002 primarily to ease the pressure on high school students. By letting applicants delay their own final decisions until May 1, we gave students an additional six months to make up their minds. This was helpful to everyone, and especially helpful to students from low-income families, who can now apply early without fear of being locked in to a single school’s offer of financial aid. Since we have gone to non-binding early action, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of financial aid students who apply early. And, more generally, over the last several years we have been working on making Yale better known to students from low-income families and more affordable. These efforts will continue.

Y: Yale aligned with Harvard on some of that. In 2005 Harvard eliminated the parental contribution to college costs for families earning below $40,000. Yale eliminated it for families earning below $45,000.

L: And after that, we saw the  percentage of students on financial aid increase from about 40 percent to something over 42 percent in the current classes.

Y: But by keeping early admissions, you keep a system in which the early pool, which is wealthier, has a higher acceptance rate—approximately 18 percent last year versus 8 percent for the regular pool.

L: The quality of the early pool is higher on average. Many of the best high schools encourage their best students to apply early.

Y: In 2002, you told the alumni magazine you would like to see early admissions eliminated everywhere.

L: I emphasized that every school would have to eliminate early admissions to achieve the desired result. But this is very unlikely to happen. If Yale were to eliminate early admissions now, it is most likely that we would end up with a system where the top three or five schools had no early program, and just about everybody else did. That wouldn’t solve many problems and would create some new ones.


“What Harvard has done by eliminating early action gives applicants fewer options.”

And I have learned some things since 2002. When we sent our admissions officers out recruiting this year, we said, “Find out what placement counselors and school principals think we should do about early action.” Opinions were divided, but a great many thought Yale should keep its early action program and not follow Harvard and Princeton.

Why did these counselors and principals think this? For many reasons, but here’s one. Let’s say you are a counselor in a high school with a lot of outstanding, well-prepared students. If none of the top schools had an early admissions program, the very best students would likely apply to three or four of the top schools each, and possibly to one or two others in the next tier of schools. They would tend to collect multiple offers, causing students who ranked slightly lower to be placed on waiting lists or rejected—not just at the top schools, but even at schools in the next tier down. This wouldn’t be a very desirable outcome.

A more fundamental lesson is this: changing deadlines and decision dates will rearrange the stresses associated with the admissions processes, but it won’t eliminate them.

Finally, by contrast to their divided opinion on eliminating early action, the same counselors and principals were in '02-'03 virtually unanimous in their support of Yale eliminating binding early decision. Our switch to non-binding early action gave applicants more options. What Harvard has done by eliminating early action gives applicants fewer options.

Y: Will keeping early action help Yale, because Yale will get those choice early applicants?

L: It is hard to predict what will happen. We may see some early applicants next year who, previously, would have applied early to Princeton or Harvard. But presumably they will also apply to one or both of those schools in the second round. Remember, the objective, in the end, is not having the most applicants. The objective is getting the best possible class—a very diverse, extremely talented group of young people who have the capacity to make the most of Yale’s resources and to make a difference in their communities, the nation, and the world.    the end


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