Dec 16, 2009

Feeding the Early Application Frenzy

In case you missed it, the New York Times college blog, The Choice, has begun a running tally of early decision and early action statistics. Initially only covering east coast “name” institutions, the blog is expanding its geographic reach by posting application numbers from individuals or institutions with access to admissions data.

For anyone unfamiliar with the system, many colleges offer students the opportunity to submit early applications for possible admission notification before the holidays or the first of the New Year. These programs usually fall into two general categories. Early Decision (ED) is binding and commits the student to attend the institution to which he or she applied. Early Action (EA) is a nonbinding decision that allows a student to keep options open by not necessarily making a commitment to attend if accepted. There are variations on the theme, but this is the basic difference between the two forms of early application.

While framed as a “service” to readers, the NYT running tally serves little purpose other than to ratchet up anxiety among students and families continuing to wade through the college admissions process. Judging from the numbers provided, students still completing regular admission applications face significant uphill battles for remaining seats at those colleges already nailing down large numbers of early applicants. A Dartmouth graduate, Jacques Steinberg reports that under the best of circumstances only 60 percent of Dartmouth's incoming class remains “up for grabs” as a result of recent binding offers of admission. Over 30 percent of the available seats at Duke, Amherst, Northwestern, and Wesleyan are already committed, and only about 60 percent remain unfilled at Middlebury and Williams, according to numbers reported by the Times.

Unfortunately, the tally also feeds into a desire to appear increasingly “exclusive” among colleges and universities seeking to climb up the US News and World Report ranking. Reporting the number of acceptances versus total number of applications received—this early in the game—appears to provide some institutions with a sense of superiority they hope to convey to future applicants. Credit to Yale University for unabashedly admitting that nonbinding early applications decreased by 5.2 percent this year and making no public apologies for why that might be the case (hint: Score Choice).

One reader took clear exception to the Times article, suggesting that “[w]riting about this isn’t an act of analysis, it’s the indulgence of an obsessive hobby.” He goes on to say, “…we treat the admissions process with all the critical thought of someone praying over a handful of lottery tickets.”

In the meantime, the running tally of early admissions figures reads more like a thread from College Confidential than anything remotely approaching a "demystification" of the college admissions process. As one reader commented, “This blog should do better.”

1 comment:

  1. Well written. Thank you for sharing this.