Last week, the Admissions Office revealed that the number of early action applicants to Harvard rose this year by 31.9 percent, to 3,944. While the reasons for the change are not straightforward, the news itself can only be good for Harvard.
The tremendous increase in applicants to the early action program, in which admission decisions are mailed early, comes after Yale and Princeton switched to early decision programs, which require students to commit to attending schools upon admission. Brown University, the only other Ivy League school still using an early action system, experienced a 10 percent increase in applications. Yale saw early applications drop 25 percent this year.
This situation might look like a pure substitution of early action for early decision, but it's not. The University of Pennsylvania's early applications were up by 25 percent, even though it has only an early decision program. So the systems themselves cannot be the entire cause.
We think Harvard's ever-burgeoning reputation combined with Yale and Princeton's decision were responsible for the rise in early applications. Since Harvard requires no commitment, students lose nothing by trying for an early acceptance to--we'll tie our colors to the mast here--the best school in the nation.
Early action applications have become steadily more popular because of this "bird in the hand" possibility. There is the implicit assumption that an early applicant views the chosen college as a first choice, but nothing is set in stone until the May before matriculation.
When matriculation time comes, however, Harvard always reaps splendid results. Acceptances of admission have been hovered around 75 percent for years, far outstripping any other Ivy League institutions. In early action, the yield has been 90 percent. This phenomenon is the main reason why Harvard can afford to run an early action program--most students who apply really do want to come here.
We hope Harvard will buck the trend by keeping its early action program intact, since the program provides such a large pool of applicants. As we all know, large application pools guarantee magnificent classes of Harvardians for generations to come.