Cornell is “very seriously” considering a shake-up of its early decision admissions program, according to Provost Biddy Martin.
Universities across the nation are reconsidering such programs in light of recent decisions by Harvard University and Princeton University to end their early admissions programs starting next fall.
“I think Harvard, and now Princeton, have taken important steps that have the potential to ensure greater equity among applicants and prospective applicants,” Martin said.
Critics of early decision, which allows college applicants to submit an application in November and to receive a decision by December in exchange for a binding agreement to attend if accepted, have said that the practice puts students from poorer families at a disadvantage by taking away their ability to compare financial aid packages.
“In other words, students who need to compare financial aid awards in order to decide where to enroll often do not apply Early Decision,” said Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions. “It also is true, however that a student admitted Early Decision can be released from [their] agreement if the financial aid does not allow the student and his/her parents to afford a Cornell education.”
Davis added that “almost all” schools with early decision adopt such a provision in their policies.
Possibilities to change the program were being considered before Harvard and Princeton’s announcements, according to Martin.
“We have been studying and discussing the effects of early decision for some time at Cornell,” she said. “Among other things, our admissions office has run focus groups of high school students in the New York City area to hear their thoughts and experiences with early decision.”
About 33.4 percent of the Cornell Class of 2010, or 1,083 students out of the 3,238 that matriculated, applied early, according to the admissions website. By contrast, Harvard admitted 813 students via its non-binding early action program, comprising about 38 percent of its 2,124 admissions; Princeton admitted 49 percent of its class early this year.
Alex Miglis ’10, one of those admitted early, attended Manhasset High School on Long Island, N.Y., and commented that college applicants there took early decision for granted.
“I definitely felt pressure from within my high school to apply early because that was just what everyone did,” he said. “That being said, I never felt like Cornell—or any school—put pressure on applicants to apply early. It was never a matter of ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to get in unless I apply early.’ ”
Outside of Cornell, responses across the Ivy League to Harvard and Princeton’s decisions have been generally dismissive of ending early admissions.
“We think it is right that Harvard and Princeton have put the emphasis in their announcements on what would be best and most fair for students," Jeff Breznell, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale told the Yale Daily News. "At the same time, we want to be thoughtful and careful about evaluating such a major change, to see whether it would in fact produce the desired results and whether it might have any unintended consequences."
Officials from Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, and Penn have all said that their respective institutions currently have no plans to make changes to their early admissions programs.
Before making any changes to its program, Cornell needs to consider the consequences carefully, Miglis said.
“I love Cornell but in my senior year I was determined to have the pressure of getting into college lifted as early in the year as possible. Had Cornell eliminated Early Decision immediately after accepting the Class of 2009, I probably would have applied to several schools Early Action and then applied to Cornell regular decision – depending on how much time I felt like putting into another application.”
Both Martin and Davis said that the University would not act to change its policy under pressure from its peer institutions. Rather, they said, Cornell would come to its own decision.
“It is important … that each individual university make its own decision,” Martin said. “Doris Davis … and I will be meeting again soon to talk about what makes sense for Cornell.”