Reenacting Early Action

Starting this fall, students will again have the option of applying to the College under a nonbinding early-action program.

In 2006, the College decided to eliminate early action for applicants as of the fall of 2007 and move to a single January 1 deadline. Administrators voiced concerns that early action favored students from affluent families and communities; then-president Derek Bok said students of lesser means tended to wait for the January deadline to apply, so that in April they could compare financial-aid offers from all schools that accepted them.

Although Princeton and the University of Virginia made similar changes, no other prominent institutions followed suit. Meanwhile, the number of applications to selective schools continued to swell, making admissions ever more competitive and increasing applicants’ interest in an early option (and swamping admissions offices with thousands more files to review by the single spring deadline). Last November, Virginia announced it would reinstate early-action admissions beginning this fall. And after analyzing trends during the four intervening admissions cycles, Harvard said it had found that students from families across the income spectrum were showing greater interest in early admissions given the uncertain economy and competitive conditions. 

“Many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low-income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard,” said Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Michael D. Smith. Princeton announced a similar policy change the same day: “In eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same, and they haven’t,” President Shirley M. Tilghman noted. “One consequence is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton.”

Under the restored early-action option, students who apply to Harvard College by November 1 will receive a decision and financial-aid information by December 15. Students who apply by the regular deadline of January 1 are notified on April 1; the deadline for all students to declare their intent to attend is May 1.

(Meanwhile, on March 30, the College announced that it had offered admission to 2,158 applicants to the class of 2015, out of 34,950, for an acceptance rate of 6.2 percent.)

  • Term bill. In conjunction with the announcement, the College released the tuition, room, and board costs for the 2011-2012 academic year: a total of $52,560, an increase of 3.6 percent from $50,724 this year. Undergraduate financial aid will increase 1 percent, to $160 million. (Since 2008, the College has borne the full cost for undergraduates from families with incomes of $60,000 or less; from that level to $120,000, the annual cost scales up from 1 percent to 10 percent of family income, and remains at that upper level for those with incomes up to $180,000.)

Peer institutions have announced diverse tuition and financial-aid strategies for next year. Princeton—citing the economy and its own strong endowment and fundraising results—will raise undergraduate costs 1 percent (its lowest increase in 45 years), to $50,689. Yale, on the other hand, raised its term bill 5.8 percent, to $52,700, while boosting its financial-aid budget 8 percent (to $117 million) and redirecting that aid: students from families with incomes of $65,000 or less (formerly $60,000) will now receive full scholarships, while those with incomes from $130,000 to $200,000 will now pay an average of 15 percent of their income (up from 12 percent previously); those in the cohort between these ranges pay about 10 percent of income. 

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