UNC goes to early action admissions

by Sarah Betts | 5/3/02 5:00am

The University of North Carolina chose last week to discontinue its early decision admissions policy, fueling the national debate over a system which some believe gives an extra advantage to well-off applicants.

The early decision process was implemented at UNC three years ago "because we saw so many students and families ready to make their college decision," UNC admissions director Jeremy Lucido said.

Before establishing the program, UNC was aware that early decision policies at other institutions had been criticized for admitting a large percentage of the incoming class at higher rates than regular decision applicants.

"We understood there were problems, so we tried to run a responsible program," Lucido said. "We did not accept a higher percentage of early decision applicants, and we didn't take most of the class early."

UNC found that the early decision process placed too much stress on students and was not equitable.

"It worked, but it didn't seem ultimately in the best interest of the students," Lucido said.

Early decision at UNC, like at many competitive schools, is a binding procedure in which students must commit to enrolling at the university if they are accepted in the fall of their senior year in high school. Students may only apply early decision to one college.

According to Lucido, this disadvantages students applying for financial aid, because they must plan to enroll in a school before they know what their aid award will be. Students who do not have to worry about education costs are thus more likely to apply early.

UNC found that the early decision applicants were more affluent and less diverse than the regular pool. Also, their overall academic credentials were lower.

For students who want to find out early whether they are admitted, UNC will have a non-binding early action program next year.

"This will allow plenty of time for a thoughtful application," Lucido said. "Early action permits students to apply to many colleges. Students will have time to compare aid awards, so they won't have to commit before they know if they can afford it."

Lucido said feedback from high school counselors about UNC's decision has been overwhelmingly supportive, and he said he would like to see other colleges that have early decision programs evaluate how they work.

Harvard is one of only a few other universities nationwide to use early action.

"We don't believe you should trap students in early action," Harvard admissions director Marilyn McGrathLewis said. "It deprives them of the chance to compare financial aid decisions. It only benefits the institution, and we feel that this is wrong."

The early action pool at Harvard is slightly less diverse than the regular pool, Lewis said, though this is changing. Unlike at UNC, she does not feel that these students are less academically qualified.

"We still have a slightly smaller representation of minorities," Lewis said. "It is a different pool. It is extraordinarily strong."

Other Ivies, though, still have binding early decision policies, including Dartmouth. Director of Admissions Maria Laskaris said that while the College is aware of some of the concerns surrounding early decision, it still works for Dartmouth.

"We would like to provide students who know Dartmouth is their first choice with a way to get a decision soon," Laskaris said.

An early action policy would affect the College's planning for incoming classes, according to Laskaris. Early decision provides a commitment from the students that is useful.

"It helps us to plan for the admissions year and build a strong base for the class," Laskaris said.

She said that the early decision pool is less diverse, and that to keep things fair, the College admits only a third of the incoming class in the early decision process. Though students don't know exactly how much aid they will receive before they commit to enroll, Laskanis said there are ways of finding estimates.

"There are programs that are financial aid calculators, so a family could get a sense of what aid would look like, though obviously there are disclaimers," Laskanis said.