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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Harvard alters early action requirement

After an unprecedented 25 percent increase in early applications this year, Harvard recently announced that it will re-institute its previous early action policy disallowing students to apply early to other schools in addition to Harvard.

The one-school early action program had been characteristic of Harvard until it was changed last year to bring the school into accordance with this year's guidelines set forth by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, which required schools to allow applicants the right to file multiple early applications.

"It puts us against them at the moment," Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis said, referring to the NACAC. "But they have said they are reconsidering their policy, and we hope they learn from ours and other experiences. We don't want to be non-compliant."

McGrath Lewis said that she was concerned about the "mixed message" that the NACAC-compliant policy was sending. She said students who applied early and been accepted to Harvard's non-binding early program and to a binding early decision program such as Dartmouth's, were stuck in a position where they were given no choice, even though they had received acceptance from both schools.

This year Princeton and Brown had already refused to change their one-school, binding early decision programs, placing them in conflict with the new NACAC guidelines. Later in the year Yale and Stanford announced that they would be switching to non-binding early action programs such as Harvard's, where applicants are not allowed to apply to any other schools. Consequently, Harvard will be the fifth school joining the coalition in violation of NACAC guidelines. Dartmouth remains in accordance.

"The impetus of the change came from [college] counselors, under pressure from parents and students, for a well-defined, uniform policy for early admissions," said Mark Canon, deputy executive director of NACAC, describing the NACAC policy change earlier this year.

According to Harvard, of the 7,500 early applications received this year, approximately 15 percent were accepted. Of those accepted students, 88 -- roughly one in 13 -- withdrew their application because of an acceptance to another binding early decision program, resulting in a slight decrease in early yield from previous years.

"Our return to a single early application policy is far better for students," Harvard President Lawrence Summers said in an April 10 press release. "It is more closely aligned with the original intent of early admission programs, which are designed for students with a clear and well-considered interest in a particular college or university. This kind of program was never intended to put extra pressure on students by moving the deadline for multiple applications into the early fall."

However, even though Harvard has decided to revert to the one-school early application process, McGrath Lewis asserts that it has no intention to alter the non-binding early action program or consider changing to a binding early decision program.

"We are absolutely committed to choice," McGrath Lewis said. "We want to take advantage of the changes that occur in students' preferences in their senior year. We only want people to come to Harvard if this is the place they want to be."