As of last Tuesday, the University’s applicant pool may have just become a lot bigger. Given Harvard University’s decision to cancel its early admissions program, schools with rolling admissions, such as the University, are likely to see a tremendous increase in the number of early applicants – especially as other prestigious schools that use “early action” are expected to follow Harvard’s lead. And while Harvard’s decision (supposedly) comes in the name of equality, its effects paired with the probable enactment of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative this fall could soon make things a lot more unequal at the University.
Early action – which allows students to apply to college in the first few months of their senior year of high school and know their admission status by early December – not only allows students to make their decision early on in the admissions season, but also gives colleges a peek at their prospective student pool.
But as Harvard’s interim president Derek Bok commented on the school’s website: “Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged.” This theory couldn’t be more true. Students who are familiar with the ruthless admissions process and who come from families that strongly encourage and support their college application process are more likely to apply early, thus improving their chances of winning a spot at the institution of their dreams.
But Bok’s theory crumbles when the University of Michigan comes into play. There is no question that high school seniors feel pressure to get into a college – any college – early in their senior year. Even the University’s website for prospective students reads: “Freshman applicants are urged to apply as early as possible in the fall of their senior year.” Thus students, especially the type who would apply to Harvard early, are not going to wait until March or April to know what the next four years of their lives will look like. The result will be an influx of applications at the University and other schools with rolling admissions from students who may never have considered attending the school, but who apply so they can sleep at night knowing that at least they got in somewhere already. This rise in quality applications at the University can only mean one thing – a disadvantage for more students.
The reason for this is that University applicants who are actually set on going to this school now have to compete early on with anxious Harvard hopefuls. And as these applicants claim spots – just to pacify their borderline-psychotic worries (and parents) – those who apply later may not be offered a spot.
Unfortunately, schools the size of the University cannot opt to delay their application process in order to create a more fair system like Harvard’s. The University’s rolling admissions process – which reviews applicants in large spurts beginning in the fall and continuing through spring, with all final decisions made by late April – is based on the reasoning that the admissions office simply cannot handle all 25,000-plus applications it receives in a single round. So the University is stuck admitting people early on, without knowing how many are really just waiting for their Ivy League decision.
But while this is ultimately a heavy burden on the University, Harvard has sent a message to the college world that admissions programs at most schools need to be reformed. Unfair and downright scary application procedures – such as early decision, which binds admitted applicants to a university – are just cruel to high school students who may not be receiving the help they need to decode applications.
Really, all that Harvard – and any other forward-thinking institution – wants is to create as diverse and qualified an incoming class as possible. To administrators at that college, achieving this means setting a single application deadline; to administrators at this University, it should mean sticking with an applicant-evaluation system that puts people of all races, genders and backgrounds on level ground. And this practical method of giving leverage to applicants who are not fortunate enough to go to the best high school, or to be born into an affluent family, or who belong to a disadvantaged ethnicity or social class, is exactly what MCRI hopes to destroy come November.
In the world of fair and equal college application processes, schools wouldn’t be burdened by other schools’ application deadlines and every student would enter the college race on equal footing. But until such a world comes about, schools must work together to unify and make fair the admissions processes for the sake of providing the best education to the greatest number of students possible. So for now, the University is going to have to pick up some slack as Harvard and others rid themselves of the early application processes. But if Harvard ever decides to take University President Mary Sue Coleman away from us, then we might just have to go to the mats.
Kennelly can be reached at email@example.com.