One Step, No Mess

Times are getting tougher, at least for Harvard applicants. This week, the admissions office announced that the rate of admission to Harvard has decreased to the all-time low of 10.9 percent of the applicants, a figure that has valedictorians from across the country shaking in their boots. Nine out of ten applicants get rejected from our esteemed University each year, and times are getting even worse, according to the admissions office.

But just how much harder is it to get into Harvard? The admissions office has no official statistics on trends in average SAT score or GPA of the applicant pool, so there is no way of knowing for sure. But there is one important reason why Harvard's admissions process may be considered the most competitive, despite a second place ranking in the U.S. News and World Report.

Early application is the culprit. This year, Harvard accepted well over half of the Class of 2004 in December. As a result, there were precious few spots left open for deferred students and regular applicants. To give some numbers, there were over 16,000 applicants vying for around 900 spots in this year's regular applicant pool, giving regular decision yield of about five percent, not the ten percent average for overall acceptances.

There are some important consequences of this new policy, most importantly: Apply early if you want to get into Harvard.

Now, the admissions office argues that there is no difference in difficulty between the two pools. They say that the early applicant pool is self-selecting, and it therefore makes up for its smaller size with higher quality. But the problem with this argument is that with Harvard's new early action policy, there should be very little difference between the two rounds.


Harvard now allows students to apply early to Harvard as well as any other early action schools, meaning that as long as the application is not binding, an applicant may apply to Harvard in addition to several other universities. As a result, the primary purpose of early decision--declaring that Harvard is the applicant's first choice--has been almost completely lost. So, early applications have continued to rise to almost 6,000 applications, reflecting this policy change. To the admissions office's credit, the percentage accepted early has also declined proportionally to 18.9 percent, but this figure is high above the regular decision yield of around 5 percent.

Granted, the regular pool of applicants is probably weaker than the early pool, but can the difference really account for the almost 15 percent difference in acceptance? That's highly doubtful. But, who would blame the admissions office for accepting more students early? Despite Harvard's unusually high acceptance yield, assessing how many students to admit is one of the most difficult tasks the admissions office faces. Of course they would want to fill as many spots as possible with students who they were fairly sure would enroll in the college.

The result of this slight bias in favor of the early pool has been that students have been applying early in record numbers, forcing high school seniors to commit to schools before they truly have a chance to make as educated a decision as possible with regard to picking the right college. And with more of the decisions being made early on in senior year, students are losing the chance to show improvement during their last year in high school.

For all of these reasons, Harvard and all of the other schools in the country should abandon the early decision process; it puts an unfair burden on applicants, and it penalizes those students who decide to wait to apply in the spring. So let's make life easier for everyone: One round of applications, no muss and no fuss.

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