Yale, Stanford To End Early Decision Policy

Change could have domino effect, Harvard may poach early candidates

In policy changes that will transform college admissions, Yale and Stanford Universities independently announced yesterday that they are eliminating their Early Decision programs in favor of nonbinding Early Action starting with next fall’s admissions cycle.

The changes mean that Princeton is the last of the nation’s four most selective schools—Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford—to stick with Early Decision.

Harvard has never required its early admission candidates to commit to enroll.

Yale President Richard C. Levin and Stanford President John L. Hennessy cited similar reasons for abandoning Early Decision—arguing that the policy puts too much pressure on high school students to make a decision too early in their senior year.

“We have been deeply concerned about the tremendous pressures that talented young people face as they apply to colleges like Stanford,” Hennessy said. “This new policy offers those who have set their hearts on attending Stanford the opportunity to apply early in their senior year, without the additional pressure of having to commit before they are ready.”

Levin said Early Action makes the process more flexible for students.

“Early Decision programs help colleges more than applicants,” he said. “It is our hope to take pressure off students in the early cycle and restore a measure of reasoned choice to college admissions.”

Levin said last December that he thought Early Decision should be abolished, but that Yale’s ability to compete for students would be compromised if it unilaterally ended its binding admissions.

Stanford gave no public indication that it was considering eliminating Early Decision. Its Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid Robin Mamlet said the university delayed its announcement until after this year’s Nov. 1 Early Admission deadline to avoid confusion.

Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, who has criticized Early Decision in the past, praised Yale for giving applicants more options.

“Yale’s move to nonbinding early admissions is good news for college-bound seniors and the college admissions process,” he said. “Eliminating binding Early Decision makes the process less pressured and more open and fairer for more students.”

Ripple Effect

Admissions officials disagreed whether yesterday’s decisions would lead to an exodus from Early Decision.

Martin Wilder, a vice president at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), said the decisions might push other schools to follow suit.

“It might well result in some institutions moving in a similar direction to discontinue the binding piece of early decision,” he said.

James M. Fallows ’70, whose 2001 Atlantic Monthly article “The Early Decision Racket” sparked much of the controversy over Early Decision, said he believed that the “trend of history” was moving against binding admissions.