Early applicants drop 17 percent

By Tim Michaels

Early Action applications to the College fell 17 percent from last year as a combination of circumstances—both predictable and unpredictable—impacted this year’s applicant pool.

Last year 2,903 students applied through the University’s early action program, while only 2,420 filed by this year’s November 1 deadline.

Dean of Admissions Ted O’Neill said a decrease in applications was expected, and the admissions office had anticipated that Yale and Stanford’s decision to switch to the early action program would slice into the University’s numbers.

While the drop may reflect a change in the type of students that apply for Early Action, admissions officials said that the applicant evaluation process will not be dramatically altered.

Despite the drop, the number of students who applied this year is significantly greater than the amount of early applications in 2002, 2001, or 2000.

“We are going to select students in the exact same manner we did last year,” O’Neill said. While admitting that the number of students accepted through Early Action might have decreased, he maintained that it would not impact the yield, or the ratio of early applicants who accept their offer of admission.

MIT, which uses a plan similar to that of Chicago, saw a 22 percent decrease in their early admissions statistics.

“Other schools, such as Harvard, seem to be more directly affected by Yale and Stanford’s change in policy because there are in more direct competition with those schools,” O’Neill said. He added that universities on the East Coast, such as Harvard, are more likely to be affected by the other schools’ change in policy, since the majority of their students are from the East Coast.

Several peer institutions have also experienced significant changes in their admission numbers as well. Harvard’s early applications decreased 47 percent while Yale’s early applications rose 42 percent. Stanford’s numbers also spiked from the switch to a non-binding policy, increasing 62 percent.

Princeton saw a 23 percent decrease in applications.

O’Neill said that about 40 percent of the University’s students are from the Midwest, which slightly insulates it from the early admissions practices at schools on the East Coast. O’Neill added that most of this year’s downturn is from high school students living on the East Coast, presumably who applied early to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.

It is possible that the number of students who decide to matriculate early at Chicago will actually increase due to the new admissions policies at Yale and Stanford. The two schools—which compete with Chicago for some of the brightest college-bound students—have switched from a binding, single-choice program to one of early action.

Under the new arrangement, Yale and Stanford only allow prospective students to apply to one school for early decision. The University, meanwhile, permits students to apply to as many early action schools as they wish.

According to some admissions experts, the University’s admissions policy could attract students with a stronger interest in the school. Professor Richard Zeckhauser, a Harvard professor and co-author of “The Early Admissions Game” points out that many of the students who applied to single-choice early action programs “are trying to maximize their chances of getting in; they are behaving strategically.”

While other schools are tweaking their early admissions policies, the University does not foresee any drastic change in its policy.

O’Neill said the University would only adopt a single-choice early action program if his office started to receive “too many early applications, and wouldn’t be able to dedicate enough time to reading each one.”

The admissions office has only a month to review the thousands of applications, with each application read by several admissions officers.