Early Decision Cuts Suspense for Future Fords
In December, Haverford sent out 102 acceptance letters to future students who applied through the College's early decision program. The program required applicants to have submitted all of their materials and completed their interviews by November 15, 2002.
This year's batch of early decision admittances comprises one-third of the entire class. Traditionally, Haverford has admitted 20 to 30 percent of its first-year class through early decision, where other highly competitive schools admit as many as 60 percent this way. The College has also seen a significant increase in the number of applicants.“There is an increase in the population of college-bound teens, which accounts for some of the applications,” says Delsie Phillips, director of admissions.“I think the publicity in the press about early decision has been an incentive for some to pursue it.”
Eighteen percent of those admitted through early decision this year are students of color, and 83 percent are graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Fifty-four percent scored 700 or higher in their verbal SATs, 44 percent scored 700 or higher on the test's math component, and 59 percent scored 700 or higher on the SAT II writing test.
Haverford's early decision program has been in existence for more than 35 years, and is binding; students who apply make a commitment to attend if admitted and agree to withdraw applications to other schools.“We assume they've made a thorough investigation of possible colleges, and have selected Haverford as their first choice,” says Phillips.“We don't push early decision because we are aware of its potential for abuse among families who want to use it as a strategy for admission rather than an honest commitment to a first-choice college.” The College also offers the same financial aid options to both early decision and regular decision students.
Early decision, which is more popular in East Coast high schools than anywhere else in the country, benefits both the students and the College, according to Phillips.“Students demonstrate their desire to attend Haverford and receive a kinder review in the admission competition,” she says.“They also get a very early answer, making senior year less stressful if they are admitted.” The institution benefits, she says, by“getting a committed group of students whose yield is 100 percent.”
But early decision programs also pose some risk for the students and the colleges.“Students have to be sure about their choice early in the process and must withdraw other applications; they are considered only on the quality of their grades through junior year and, typically, only one SAT try,” says Phillips.“And colleges admit a group of students without knowing how talented the remaining applicants might be.”
During the past 30 years of early decision programs, some critics have questioned colleges' intent in admitting students this way. High school guidance counselors feel that students and parents become too focused on applying early, and that early admission causes the students' grades to slip in the second half of their senior years. The counselors say that students feel pressure to make a fast choice and will be shut out of spring admission if they need more time to think. Some fear that students in need of financial aid will not have access to the best packages if they commit early, and others say that colleges unfairly raise students' hopes by deferring students who have no chance of admission.
“We have been good citizens with our early decision program,” says Phillips, who explains that Haverford does not accept the bulk of its students through this program, encourage early decision for inappropriate students, or offer special incentives for early commitment. The College also defers only those students who have real chances of being accepted in the spring. The financial aid is based on the same formula for all students, and accepted students may be excused from early decision if they are not satisfied with their aid.“We have always emphasized that any admission letter, early or regular, is conditional; the student must complete the senior year satisfactorily,” adds Phillips.