No switch to early action despite peer changes

As it does every year, the College’s deadline for this year’s early decision application passed on Nov. 15. Despite a growing national trend towards the elimination of the early decision process, including recent decisions by Yale and Stanford to switch to early action programs, there has been no discussion at the College about a change in the policy.

At this time, it is too early for the admissions office to have any compiled statistics of the early decision applicants. “There is no way to have an early indication. We just wait and see,” Dick Nesbitt, director of admissions said. As of Thursday, he said it appeared that the number of early decision applications was only slightly below last year’s returns on that corresponding day.

The office of admissions expects to receive between 450 and 500 early decision applications this year, a range consistent with previous years’ totals. For the class of 2005, the latest information available on the admissions website, 465 students applied early decision.

Since Yale and Stanford announced earlier this month that next year they would drop their early decision programs for next fall, the discussion around the early decision process has increased. Harvard and Georgetown already have early action policies, which allow applicants to apply early without requiring them to attend if accepted.

While the college application process for this year is already underway, this change from early decision to early action could be a trend in the future. If other colleges do change their policies, the College may have to reevaluate its early decision policy, but for the moment there are no plans to change the structure.

Stressing the long history of the program, Nesbitt said, “Williams has had the same policy for years and years and will as long as we are mindful not to cause a disadvantage for some students.”

One concern of the early decision process is that since the program is binding, students cannot compare financial aid packages from different schools. This occasionally limits students’ options for applying early due to financial constraints and a desire to receive the best aid package.

In response to such concerns, the admissions office only fills about a third of the class with early decision candidates. About 10 to 15 percent of the applicants are rejected, and the rest that are not admitted early are deferred for reconsideration during the regular decision process.

Nesbitt stated that one of the problems with the early decision process is that colleges often fill half of their class with early decision applicants. “This sends a clear message to students that their best chance of getting in was applying early,” he said.

The admissions office has noticed there is a lower number of African American students and Latino students that apply early decision as opposed to regular decision.

In an attempt to change this trend, the admissions office has increased the number of students brought to campus for the Multi-Cultural Center’s (MCC) weekends in the fall. This year the College organized two such previews, and drew 100 prospective students during the first weekend of October and 125 during the first weekend of November. Three years ago, the College held one weekend visit in conjunction with the MCC and 70 students attended.

The College hopes that fall weekends give students the opportunity to visit before the spring, allowing them to make a decision sooner. “We are very hopeful that this will translate into a healthy number of students of color applying to Williams,” Nesbitt said.

As explained by Nesbitt, students are receiving the message that applying early decision increases your chances of being accepted. As the validity of such a statement is questionable, this assumption worries high school counselors and colleges.

“I think that early decision is a good option for students who really know a school is right for them, but the pressure to apply early has caused students to over-use this option,” Emily Gorin ’05 said.

Many proponents of early action programs claim that applying early decision forces students to make less strategic decisions and causes an increased amount of anxiety.

The College’s admissions officials agree that this could be a drawback of early decision; rather than shift to early action, however, the College simply advises all prospective freshmen to apply early decision only if they are confident that Williams is a good match for them.

For students who know that Williams is for them, early decision allows these students to avoid much of the stress and work associated with the regular decision timeline. The advantage for the College, according to Nesbitt, is that admissions has “a portion of the class signed, sealed, and delivered,” creating a foundation to build on in the spring.

Although some colleges that compete with Williams for students are changing their policies, a shifting paradigm will have little effect on admissions at the College. Williams may see an increase in regular applications since early action programs allow students to apply to other schools, and yield numbers, or the amount of students matriculating at the College, may decline as a result. According to Nesbitt, admission officers will have to take such a trend into consideration when determining the number of students to accept.

In reference to the change in admissions policy at some colleges and universities, James Kolesar, director of public affairs said, “Frankly, it isn’t that dramatic of a decision. It is an interesting change but not a significant change.”

Change in admissions policy could come slowly as few institutions are currently willing to risk giving up their market share of qualified students. In keeping with that concern, College officials have no plans to abandon the early decision program.