Early apps. rise to seven-year high

by Zachary Goldstein | 11/17/03 6:00am

While other top schools such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford changed their early admission policies for the class of 2008, Dartmouth stuck with its long-standing early decision program and saw a moderate increase in the number of early applicants for the third year in a row. Early applications rose just over five percent from last year to a seven-year high of 1,270 early decision candidates.

In a year when early application policy changes have been prominent and applications at most of the nation's top schools have seen moderate to substantial decreases, Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg described Dartmouth's consistency as "evidence that Dartmouth remains a strong first-choice school for a lot of exceptional students."

Harvard tightened its policy this year, reverting to the "single-choice early action" policy that it had employed prior to last year. Unlike last year, students applying early to Harvard's non-binding early action program could not apply early to any other school this year. The re-instituted policy puts Harvard in direct violation of National Association for College Admissions Counseling guidelines requiring schools to allow applicants the right to file multiple early applications, and the change resulted in a 47 percent decline in applications this year from last year's record high.

Likewise, both Yale and Stanford moved to a similar single-choice early action policy. However, the move represented a loosening of their early application policies because both schools had previously utilized a binding early decision program, such as the one used at Dartmouth. As a result of the more lenient policy, Stanford saw a 62 percent increase in early applicants, while Yale received 42 percent more early applications than it did last year.

Furstenberg criticized the decision by some schools to move toward single-choice early action, a move also heavily criticized by NACAC.

"If you really believe in Early Action then it is disingenuous to say to students that they can have only one application," Furstenberg said. "Harvard is using the change as an excuse for their decline, but that's a big drop."

The confusion caused by changing early application restrictions has caused a general decline at many other top colleges in the country that didn't make policy changes.

"The fluctuation in policies has confused high school counselors and students," Furstenberg said.

Princeton saw its applications decrease 23 percent from last year, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology saw a similar 22 percent drop. University of Chicago, which also moved to "single-choice" this year, fell 17 percent, while Columbia fell just one percent. Rounding out the Ivy League, Penn saw a negligible change from last year's numbers, while Cornell and Brown both saw a one percent increase.

In recent years, Early Decision in general has been under fire from parents, students and particularly college counselors. Critics claim that high-school seniors should not be expected to determine a first-choice school by November, and also that the binding nature of early decision limits students from comparing financial aid offers from schools.

This year, 169 students of color applied early to Dartmouth, up 16 percent from last year and comprising 13 percent of the early applicant pool. However, Furstenberg said that "about half of those applying for Early Decision are financial aid candidates."

The College also saw an increase in early international applicants, with 85 students applying from around the globe, constituting seven percent of the early applicant pool.

Legacy candidates remained steady at nine percent of the early applicant pool, with 118 legacy applications.

The academic ability of this year's pool of applicants is also particularly high. SAT scores for the pool are the highest in four years, with a mean verbal score of 685 and a mean math score of 698. Seventy-two percent of the applicants rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Unlike some schools which take up to 50 percent of the incoming class from the early applicant pool, Furstenberg said he expects to accept no more than one-third of the Class of 2008 early. He attributes the steady growth and improved strength of the early applicant pool to "a very steady application of effort."

"Some schools use gimmicks year-to-year to jack up their statistics. We don't do that," Furstenberg said. "The only change we have made was moving to the Common Application last year to improved accessibility and equity. Meanwhile, it seems like more and more students are recognizing the academic quality of Dartmouth."

The increase in applications, especially in a year where so many other top schools are seeing a decline represents "a good early sign," according to Furstenberg.

"When Early Decision is up it tends to be an early barometer of a lot of serious interest in Dartmouth," he said.

Prospective members of the class of 2008 won't have to wait long to find out whether they will be calling Hanover home next year. Furstenberg expects to send out decision letters within a month -- sometime in the second week of December.