Reconsidering Early Decision

Suffice it to say, we’ve all been through it before. The pain of applying to college is an unforgettable one, filling an otherwise lazy senior year with anxiety and hope. As application time rolls around for yet another round of prospective Ephs, it is perhaps important to reexamine the college application process that befuddled us a few years ago. Most of us have hosted prefrosh at one time, and thus have been reminded of the horrendous admissions process. Those tender souls are deposited into our able hands to marvel at the brilliant education that Williams can offer them. The vast majority who visit this early in the year have already decided on Williams as their first choice and thus have decided to take advantage of the Early Decision program.
Admittedly, there are many advantages to this system. Early Decision benefits students by reducing the stress and cost of applying to numerous colleges and also aids universities in filling their class quotas. Ideally, it’s a win-win situation.

However, when reviewing the admissions statistics for Williams, one can find a disturbing trend. Of a pool of 507 Early Decision applicants, 197 gained admittance, comprising nearly 40 percent of the freshman class. The other 60 percent is drawn from a far larger applicant pool of nearly 5,000 students.

With such a large proportion of the freshman class continually being admitted through this process, it is imperative that we reexamine Early Decision at Williams as a viable admissions policy.

In the past few years, it has gained notoriety as a strategic gamble to get into college, where high school students seek to avoid the crush of applications at elite schools. Increasing competition has forced applicants into radical strategies, using early admissions as a crucial advantage. This often puts students in disadvantageous positions, locking them into schools that they may not actually like.

Also, Early Decision skews the carefully maintained balance of diversity that all colleges strive to attain. The families that apply for Early Decision are predominantly upper-middle class families that can afford to send their children to a private university with minimal financial aid. This boon comes at the expense of families who would compare financial aid offers in order to find the most fitting school.

Don’t get me wrong: Early Decision helps many talented students get into the schools of their dreams and has many characteristics which are necessary to any successful college system. But quite simply, there are better solutions to the problem. Early Action, adopted first by Harvard University, is an excellent alternative. For the student, it holds all the benefits of Early Decision, but none of the risks. It is a nonbinding agreement that allows maximum flexibility on both ends. This in turn benefits the college. Williams would face a large numerical increase in applications, as well as a more content student body.

The Early Decision process is a dangerous one, and the popularity it is finding among American colleges is frightening. However, Williams now has the chance to stem that tide and lead institutions of learning back to their fundamentals. Our college ought to be one of the first to readopt its admissions policy of old, one where the students come first.