Every year as summer turns into autumn,
high school seniors begin the stressful process of applying to the
nation’s colleges and universities. One of the most difficult
decisions faced by seniors who apply to elite schools is whether to
choose to apply under these institutions’ early-decision and action
programs. Because many of the teenagers applying to colleges are
eager to know if they will be accepted and are willing to try any
method to increase their chances of acceptance, the practices of
early action and early decision are attractive options for many
There is, however, a downside to these practices, most notably
that acceptance through early-decision is contingent upon the
student’s commitment to attend that school in the fall. This limits
student access to other options, long before many applicants have
had sufficient time to thoroughly thoroughly examine schools.
Despite these obvious disadvantages, schools have continued to
promote and practice early decision or early action policies in
their undergraduate admissions programs. In response, the National
Association for College Admission Counseling has decided to launch
a long-overdue study of early decision programs.
Early decision rules offer a choice that, given the
circumstances of college admissions, is inappropriate and unfair.
Choosing a college can be a lengthy process, as high school seniors
weigh the pros and cons of different institutions. For those who
are lucky enough to have selected their college of choice, early
decision can be a mixed blessing. By encouraging early commitment,
colleges limit students in their ability to seek more attractive
financial aid offers from other institutions. This means that
wealthier students who know their parents can foot their tuition
bills, have an inherent advantage in this process because they are
able to make this financial commitment and they often have more
information about the prospective schools.
For those who take their time in selecting a college, other
less-qualified applicants are permitted to apply early and fill
available spots in the freshman class. In this manner, the early
decision process lowers the overall academic quality of a class.
When a student applies for early decision, the university has many
more openings and is more willing to accept students.
Besides the academic consequences of early decision and early
action practices, there are deeper personal and emotional
consequences involved in the process. The senior year of high
school is often a time of tremendous personal growth for students
and a decision made in the fall may not seem as wise come spring.
These programs are often in the best interest of universities
looking to secure the makeup of their student bodies, but ignorant
of the magnitude of the decision these students must make.
Elite universities across the country would be do their
applicants and students a tremendous service by altering their
admissions systems to more closely resemble the University’s
rolling admissions system, which offers students the most
flexibility of any system. As that seems unlikely to occur in the
near future, the NACAC study is desperately needed.