By the time you read this, high school seniors have learned if they were accepted at the schools they applied to (“The Decision That Hurts Your Chances of Getting Into Harvard,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29). What they don’t know is that they have been used as pawns.
I say that because of the importance since 1983 of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking issue. Although schools take great pride in being selective, they’re actually more concerned about yield. That’s the percentage of students offered admission who actually attend. Selectivity and yield are related, but they are not synonymous. The former is the percentage of students that a college rejects. Yield is the percentage of students who accept a college. No college or university wants to be rejected after they say yes. By publicizing early-decision, which is binding, schools shield themselves from that possibility. (Early-action also is to the advantage of schools, but it is not binding.)
The downside to early-decision is that once locked in, high school seniors who need financial aid – and they are growing in numbers – don’t have the freedom to explore opportunities. As a result, the most affluent students from the most exclusive schools are the ones most rewarded. The odds of being accepted at a marquee-name school are high enough without making them even higher through early-decision. But as long as admissions officers live or die by rankings in U.S. News & World Report, with yield being a heavily weighted factor,
the game will continue,
Yet it’s hard to change the mindset of high school seniors. They know what the data show. For example, Dartmouth expects students admitted through early-decision next fall to comprise nearly half of its freshman class. With that in mind, few applicants are willing to apply through regular-decision. I don’t blame them under the circumstances. But I think they need to be aware of the financial downsides.
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