(November 18, 2002) Hear the audio version

This month Stanford and Yale took a bold step forward in the college admissions game by abandoning their Early Decision programs, which require students who apply in November and are accepted in December to attend those universities. Beginning next year, students applying early to Stanford and Yale will still find out in December if they’ve been admitted, but they’ll be allowed to apply to other colleges, and won’t have to decide which school they will attend until May.

Any parent of a college-bound high school senior knows all too well the tremendous pressures these kids are facing. Early Decision offers students who know – or who think they know – precisely which college is right for them the chance to apply early, find out early, and coast the rest of senior year – if they get in. Savvy students and their parents, as well as college counselors at privileged high schools also figured out a few years ago that applying Early Decision gave a student better odds, sometimes much better odds, of admission. So what’s wrong with that? Not everyone has in-the-know parents or counselors, and many, perhaps even most applicants need to compare financial aid offers. The policy is, in a word, unfair.

Early Decision helps colleges increase their yield rates, or percentage of admitted students who enroll. That makes them look better in those all-important rankings. But it also has increased the panic rates among students, some as young as 16 who feel compelled to make decisions they should not be asked to make yet. Junior year is stressful enough without having it be the last year of grades that count for college admissions. Students denied admission in Early Decision are understandably devastated, then must turn around and scurry to meet other application deadlines. And why are elite colleges encouraging senior slump to start before Christmas? Let these kids grow up – learn a little more in school and about themselves and what their goals are for the next four years. They’ll make better choices, and make better college students wherever they decide to go.

So I applaud the decision by Stanford and Yale, and hope other schools soon follow their lead. And this Stanford grad thanks the University of California for never bowing to Early Decision in the first place.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

P.S. Nevertheless, my daughter Jennifer applied Early Decision to New York University last week. She is sure that’s where she wants to go to college, and she, uh, has in-the-know parents. As I said, it’s unfair, but she’d be stupid not to go for it knowing what she knows.