More students applying, accepting early

One school reports a 40% application increase in one year

High school seniors are increasingly accepting early admission offers from colleges and universities, reports Carla Rivera for the Los Angeles Times.

About 460 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer early admission or decision options, an increase of about 7% in the last five years, according to the College Board. The number of early applications that schools receive is growing as well, according to National Association for College Admission and Counseling (NACAC) surveys. Pomona College, for example, reported a 40% increase from 2013 to 2014 and Stanford University reported a 24% increase over the last three years—to an institutional record high of 7,297.

The trend benefits colleges, because early applicants are more likely to enroll if accepted, according to NACAC's surveys. It also helps admissions officers with the careful calculus they do later in the admissions period in order to hit their academic, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity goals.

"If we identify those students we'd like to bring into the entering class early, we've eliminated uncertainty later on, whereas in the regular admission's process, we're competing with other wonderful schools out there," says Seth Allen, Pomona's VP and dean of admissions and financial aid.

The pool of students is typically motivated, organized, and academically strong—partly because late bloomers, who rely on senior-year grades to strengthen their GPA, are not included. The applicants generally begin the process before their senior fall classes begin, writing personal essays and filling out forms.

May not work for all students

But because students must start preparing so early, it favors individuals from well-off high schools where counseling services are stronger, argues Timothy Brunold, admission director of University of California, which does not offer early programs.

As more early applications roll in each year, more students are also being deferred to the regular admission process. That may leave them with little time to apply to other schools, say some experts.

Those private admissions records may not stay private much longer

Critics of the process say students' interests may change significantly senior year and they may not take the time to fully examine where they apply early. A student's perfect match in October may not be her perfect match by spring.

"The senior year of high school is a time of incredible exploration and maturing of students. How can they be truly well-served by deciding in November or December?" says Brunold, adding, "We don't think students should be rushing into choosing a college."

Others say that boards of trustees may pressure admissions officers to strive for high levels of early applicants, using it as a success measure and means to influence demand and college rankings (Rivera, Los Angeles Times, 2/19).

The takeaway: More students are applying early admission or decision to colleges and universities, giving schools a better early picture of their incoming freshman class—but some experts warn the process gives students from well-off high schools an advantage.

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