December 3, 2018

Early Decision Unfairly Favors Wealthy Applicants

The binding Early Decision admission plan unfairly disadvantages students who need to take financial aid into consideration when making their college decisions.

As the holiday season draws near, some high school seniors may be growing jittery as they await decisions from colleges. Those who applied early decision (ED) to a school might be especially anxious.  

Students who apply ED are able to submit their application materials and receive their admissions decision earlier. The catch is that if they are admitted, they must attend. While institutions like the University of Pennsylvania have had an ED program since as early as the 1990s, UChicago has only offered ED options for applicants to the Class of 2021 and later.  

This year, the College offered four first-year application options: Early Action, Early Decision I, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision. The Maroon Editorial Board believes that UChicago’s decision to start offering ED plans is misguided since it gives an unfair advantage to wealthier applicants. 

There are many incentives for a university to offer ED options. ED helps a university boost its yield rate, the percentage of admitted students who actually end up enrolling in that university. The yield rate for the Class of 2021 was up a whole six points from the Class of 2020’s. A higher yield rate means that a school won’t need to accept as many students to reach its class size, decreasing acceptance rates and boosting a school’s prestige and sometimes its place in college rankings.  

University administrators have recently expressed a desire to shape UChicago to be more like other elite institutions, with Dean John Boyer boasting that UChicago is becoming much more competitive with Penn, Columbia, Brown, and some other Ivy+ institutions. Many of those peers have relied on ED plans for years.  

But while ED may benefit an institution’s reputation, it unfairly benefits wealthier applicants.  

Because admitted applicants only learn of their financial aid packages after receiving their admissions decision, those whose ability to attend UChicago is contingent on receiving enough financial aid may be discouraged from applying ED, lest they renege on their promise to attend. 

Granted, the agreement each ED applicant signs states that “Should a student who applies for financial aid not be offered an award that makes attendance possible, the student may decline the offer of admission and be released from the Early Decision commitment.” But such a caveat still makes ED an unappealing option for those unwilling to go back on their word. 

So ED may be a feasible option for low-income students on paper, but less feasible in reality. A Jack Kent Cooke Foundation study found that 29 percent of high-achieving students from families making more than $250,000 a year applied ED for the 2013–14 school year, compared with only 16 percent of high-achieving students from families with incomes less than $50,000. 

Indeed, the College admissions website discourages those for whom financial aid may be a concern from applying through the ED II plan. It notes: “if you... would like to compare admissions offers and financial aid packages from multiple colleges before making a final decision, you should consider applying through the Regular Decision plan.” 

Concerningly, the acceptance rate is higher for students who apply early than for those who don’t: for the Class of 2022, the overall acceptance rate was 7.2 percent, but the acceptance rate for regular decision applicants was just 4 percent.  

UChicago students should not be rewarded with a greater chance of acceptance simply because they come from wealth.  

UChicago would be better served if it stopped offering ED plans and switched its policies back to what it offered to the Class of 2020 and earlier. It ought to return to only having a nonbinding early action admissions program in addition to its regular decision program, which is already the policy at some other elite institutions, such as MIT and Georgetown.  

If the admissions office truly cares about welcoming “students from all backgrounds,” then it needs to take steps to ensure that the poorest applicant has the same chance of being accepted to UChicago as the richest. ED has no place in an application system that seeks to evaluate candidates on their merit. 

-The Maroon Editorial Board