UVA dumps early decision

UVA has dumped its early decision admission program in the wake of similar decisions by Harvard and Princeton universities, the school announced yesterday. The program, which accounts for 30 percent of accepted students, was eliminated in an attempt to provide greater accessibility to low-income students.

"The opportunity of early decision," said UVA President John T. Casteen III Monday, "has come somehow to be the property of our most advantaged applicants rather than the common property of all applicants."

Harvard's been getting all the credit for the dump-Early-Decision movement, but attentive readers of the Atlantic recall that it was James Fallows' September 2001 piece, "The Early-Decision Racket," that really got the movement rolling. The university has considered dropping the early decision program for several years but was hesitant to do it unilaterally, according to UVA Dean of Admissions Jack Blackburn.

"Six months ago, I didn't think any college would do this," Blackburn says. "If Harvard had not made the change, we probably wouldn't have done it either, but it's an important statement, and others will follow."

UVA's early decision program allowed students to apply in November as long as they agreed to attend the university if accepted. Now, all students applying to enter the university in the fall of 2008 will submit regular applications by the January 2, 2008 deadline. Although 172 people in this year's first-year class come from low-income backgrounds, only one was accepted through early decision.

"It has become more and more clear that low-income students just don't apply for early programs," Blackburn says.

One of the advantages of eliminating the early decision program is that more time will be available for recruiting students from diverse backgrounds in November and while students are still in the application phase. In February 2004, the university started a financial aid program called AccessUVa to make UVA more affordable and to reduce or eliminate student debt.

"Of the 948 students admitted last year through the early descision program, fewer than 20 applied for financial aid," Blackburn says. "The results of early decision are inconsistent with the goals of AccessUVa."

Blackburn does not anticipate any changes to the evaluation system currently in place.

"We are committed to the system under which each application is read by at least two different people before we make a decision," Blackburn says.

Over the past decade, UVA has averaged more than 2,300 early-decision applicatoins per year, raising concern that additional staff may be required to read applications under the more compressed schedule this year.

Each year the university receives a growing number of applications thanks to high school growth and UVA's increasingly popularity. However, Blackburn predicts that the new admissions program will draw even more applications.

"This program, we hope, will attract more low-income students," Blackburn says. "It's a symbol that we're serious about providing access to UVA."

3 comments

I'm glad to see these high-profile institutions doing away with their early admissions programs. Low-income students were clearly at a disadvantage in that regard. Now I just hope that more colleges and universities follow suit in the near future.

How exactly does this disadvantage low-income households? Seems to me this is a witch-hunt, because all they appear to be doing is getting rid of programs, rather than finding some underlying cause. Could it just be that students who are not low income actually pay attention to these programs and use them as they are intended?

Students from low income households need to be able to compare financial aid packages. In fact, this is true for many middle class students. Also, schools have no incentive to attract admitted students once those students have committed to a particular school. Not to mention that many high school students coast through the last year of high school after receiving early admission. It is way past time to get rid of early admisssions.