Early decision is not for everyone
Admissions statistics at the College support a recent allegation in The Washington Post that financial considerations may discourage certain students -- particularly minorities and those from less affluent backgrounds -- from the early application process.
An article in the Post last month by Jay Mathews said applicants' financial status is a factor which deters them from applying early. "Early application, an increasingly popular strategy among suburban students, is a game that is not being played at most of the nation's urban high schools," the article stated.
Dartmouth's admissions numbers appear to support this claim. For the 1996-97 school year, 40.4 percent of the student body received need-based scholarships, while only 34.4 percent of candidates admitted under the early decision program in the Class of 2001 were given scholarship assistance.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg said the discrepancy could be the result of a less diverse applicant pool for early decision relative to the general admissions process.
"The early decision pool is not as diverse as the overall pool," he said. "Families that are concerned about financing an expensive college education are less likely to make the commitment."
Many applicants hesitate to apply early because they want to compare financial offers from different colleges.
Nancy McLaughlin '01 said she would have made the early commitment to Dartmouth if she had not needed financial assistance. But she decided against applying under the early decision option, because she "wanted to have a lot of options open."
Furstenberg said the College tries to remind applicants that admissions at Dartmouth are need-blind. He said early admits receive "very competitive" financial aid awards, and the College grants them the same monetary offer in the fall as it would in the spring.
"The problem is they won't have anything to compare it to, so they have to take it on faith," Furstenberg said.
Students in need of financial assistance also do not aim for the Nov. 1 early deadline because of logistical problems.
Applicants who begin looking at colleges at the beginning of their junior year of high school are the ones who usually apply early. Such students have school guidance programs which tend to push them forward in the college process, and they have more time to visit schools and greater means to support travel.
Those students "tend to come from more affluent communities," Furstenberg said.
Minorities are another large admissions contingent who generally does not aim for the early deadline. The College tries to counteract this fact with its recruiting programs, according to Director of Admissions Maria Laskaris.
Officials and alumni travel every Fall and Spring term to college fairs, telling high school students about the early admission process.
Groups including the Black Alumni Association and the Native American Alumni Association also reach out to students who are as young as seventh and eighth graders.
Laskaris said such "early intervention" informs students about taking certain courses in the lower grade levels so they reach the more advanced high school courses necessary for acceptance to the College.
Recruiters also let students know about SAT dates and other important steps in the college admissions process.
However, the early admissions program does not deter all students who need financial assistance.
Eric Ogden '01 said he and his family estimated the amount the College would offer him before he applied early decision, because his family completed a worksheet from the financial aid office. Ogden said that his family's estimate ended up being only about $250 different from the amount he received.
Laskaris said the worksheet, which also appears on the College's World Wide Web site, gives a "good estimate" of the package the student will receive, but "nothing is official until it is calculated by our office."
In some instances, students who are admitted early feel they are not granted enough aid, and can negotiate with the financial aid office.
If an agreement is not reached, students can apply to other schools, Laskaris said. However, the College no longer guarantees them spots in the incoming class and can reevaluate their applications along with the applications of those who met the regular Jan. 1 deadline.
Furstenberg said he does not see a big problem with the discrepancy in financial status between November and January applicants, because the College has "never devoted a large percentage of our classes to early decision."
He said Dartmouth usually accepts about one-third of the incoming freshman class early, as compared to about 50 percent at Harvard University and Princeton University.
"We're aware that there are these differences and therefore don't commit to a large percentage of the class early decision," Furstenberg said.