After Harvard, Princeton Ends Early Decision

Single deadline to go into effect next year; school cites inequities of program

A week after Harvard became the first Ivy League university to announce the dismantlement of its early admissions program, Princeton University followed suit yesterday, moving to a unitary applicant pool for the Class of 2012.

In announcing the move, Princeton officials echoed Harvard’s words—nearly verbatim.

Harvard’s interim president, Derek C. Bok, said last week that “early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged.” Students from low-income families must wait until the springtime to compare various schools’ financial aid packages, while richer students whose families can afford to pay college tuition in full can take advantage of the early admissions process.

“We agree that early admission ‘advantages the advantaged,’” Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said in a statement yesterday. Princeton officials also said that early admissions programs can cause high-school seniors to make “premature” college choices.

Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said that the school had been considering changes to its early decision program for several years and that Harvard’s announcement facilitated the change.

“It would be difficult to make this decision unilaterally,” Cliatt said. “The fact that Harvard made its announcement was one of the factors we took into account when we were doing our review, and it did affect our decision.”

According to Cliatt, Princeton chose to end early decision after officials met with trustees who were on campus for annual meetings this past weekend.

This year, Princeton accepted nearly 49 percent of its entering class through its early decision program. By contrast, of the students that Harvard accepted to the Class of 2010, 38 percent gained admission in the early round.

Whereas Harvard’s current “single-choice early action” policy allows admitted students to apply elsewhere in the winter and spring, students admitted under Princeton’s “binding early decision” program must sign an agreement pledging that they will not apply elsewhere.

Since the Princeton program’s requirements are more stringent, its switch represents a more “dramatic” step, said Sharon M. Cuseo, an upper-school dean at the Harvard-Westlake School, an independent college prep school in North Hollywood, Calif., with no official ties to Harvard University.

‘ALL THE COMPANY WE CAN GET’

Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, said he is encouraged by Princeton’s move and hopes that more schools will follow Harvard’s lead. But he stressed that potential antitrust violations constrained Harvard from consulting with other schools regarding changes to early admissions programs.

Admissions officers from Harvard, Princeton, and other top schools used to hold annual meetings at which they shared information on their financial aid policies. But the schools agreed to stop the information swaps in 1991, as part of an agreement with U.S. Justice Department antitrust prosecutors.

Even if the schools aren’t in direct contact, Harvard hopes it holds some sway over peer institutions’ practices.

“We’re looking for all the company we can get,” Fitzsimmons said.

Harvard, like Princeton, won’t end its early admissions program until the next academic year—when current high-school juniors are applying.

“The reason we decided to wait a year was that we were hoping that as many other institutions as possible would join us,” Fitzsimmons said.

‘WHEN HARVARD SNEEZES....’

College advisors said they were thrilled with the announcement and they hope yesterday’s move marks the beginning of a general shift among top universities to end early-admissions programs.

“I am surprised at how quickly this happened, but I am not surprised at the snowball effect,” said a college adviser at The Key School in Annapolis, Md., Paul M. Stoneham.

Cuseo, of Harvard-Westlake, said “it’s interesting that [Princeton] didn’t wait to test the waters and see what other people would do.”

Early decision programs increase a school’s yield—the percentage of admitted applicants who choose to enroll there. Yield is often used as a barometer of a school’s attractiveness.

Cuseo said she would not be surprised if Yale University also jumped on the single-deadline bandwagon because they “have the luxury of it not having much of an impact on their yield.”

Yale boasted a yield of 71 percent this past year—far behind Harvard’s front-of-the-pack 80 percent mark but ahead of Princeton’s 69 percent.

Yale officials did not return requests for comment yesterday. Yale President Richard C. Levin said last week that Yale would review its early admission policies.

“The old adage is, ‘When Harvard sneezes, everyone else gets pneumonia,’” Bruce Breimer, director of college relations at the Collegiate School in New York, said last week.

But will schools with lower yields—and more to lose from scrapping their binding early decision programs—catch Harvard and Princeton’s cold?

“The schools that are at the coattails of the Ivies have to have a serious look at what’s going on,” Stoneham said. “The next tier down will be the ones to watch.”

—Staff writer Claire M. Guehenno can be reached at guehenno@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Weintraub can be reached at bweintr@fas.harvard.edu.