Eliminating Early Admission Programs

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvard, Princeton, and UVa’s elimination of Early Admission programs. I think it’s a good idea but I don’t quite see the connection between doing so and the stated purpose of giving disadvantaged students more access to the colleges. By itself, eliminating E programs won’t be any more advantageous to kids in underserved schools than keeping it. They don’t avhe access to information the way advantaged kids do and there’s no reason to think that letting everyone apply at the same time will make any different. So the “it’ll give minority students a better chance” in the admission process seems slightly disingenuous to me.
Of course, Harvard can do what it wants and will still get and accept the classes it wants. It can afford to try this out to see what will happen and also take the moral high ground when it cloaks its decisions in equity issues. I’m not saying this isn’t the real thing on their part, but how will the admission picture actually change? (And I notice that after PU and UVa the momentum has definitely slowed down.)
There are very good reasons to eliminate E programs that make sense but don’t have as much rhetorical or symbolic power; however, the seem like the right thing to me. First, keeping to a later deadline honors educational calendars and keeps the marketing wolves at bay a little longer as they try to pick off students. By not having to worry about applying earlier and earlier, students can (in theory) focus on their educations a little longer. If everyone hears more or less at the same time, there’s no feeling of being left behind or seeing peers slack off while you have to work longer. There’s more time, too, to explore and discover schools that might not otherise be on the radar because kids feel they HAVE to apply somewhere early in the mistaken believe they won’t get in anywhere otherwise. With everyone at the same starting point, everyone’s being looked at under similar conditions.
Legacies, development cases, athletes, and so on will still get special looks; I doubt that Harvard’s class is going to change very much. Again, they can do what they want and be confident of getting the class they usually get. It’s going to be tougher for other schools with less drawing power to eliminate E programs because they’re good ways to provide a base of a class. They tend to be better off, strongly supportive of the school, and relatively easy to accept (although not necessarily the brightest of the eventual class, contrary to what most colleges will say).
So what about those minority students? There’s no automatic advantage to them in the abolition of E programs. And colleges should not use the time simply to recruit more, as Karl Furstenburg of Dartmouth says in his letter to counselors. I propose a more radical idea for colleges and universities who are willing to consider eliminating E prrograms: cultivating ties with schools outside the normal circle of contacts in ways that go beyond recruitment alone. The resource and manpower currently used to maintain E programs might be used to put admission people into underserved schools for a week or so (or even a full day) to work with students and counselors. They would talk with freshmen and sophomores about the importance of college, and with juniors and seniors about how to approach the process. They could talk with parents about the same things, especially about financial aid opportunities. They could help overloaded counselors for a few days by talking with some of the most promising kids. They could do all these things not simply for their home school but for college in general. There would be some implicit advertising, of course, but the message would be about college itself, not a particualr college.
The weeks of reading and discussing E program applicatns could thus become real outreach programs, not just last-minute recruiting of seniors, for whom the battle may already be lsot. If long-term relationship between students and various colleges develop, that’s all to the good.
Follow-up can happen each year as well, keeping track of the progress of the students who particiapted in the program, and each year perhaps a few more schools could be “adoped.” If colleges focused on schools in their own backyards, there might be an energizing effect on the local school system. If administrators were involved tehy might be able to help their students see the goals in concrete form: students could visit the schools from which their new advisors come and see firrsthand what they might expect if they do well. Instead of dealing with abstractions, they would see realities that might make a difference in how they conduct their academic and personal lives. Give students a goal that seems achieveable and it might happen.
I believe the money can be found to do even modest programs like this if schools abandon E programs, and a commitment in general on the part of the college as a whole as well as its admission office would nnot only be good for disadvantaged students but for the colleges as well. THey might be able to accept students with better grades and curricula that were begun in freshman year instead of waiting for the damage to be done and trying to excuse it.
I see a great deal to work with as we think about eliminating E programs, and it can provide a good opportunity to look at the admission process as a whole.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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