Early decision may favor wealthy students

Students admitted through early decision make up a large share of the student body at many schools

The growth in early-decision enrollment highlights a widening gap between wealthier students who can afford to commit to a certain school and lower-income students who must wait to compare their options, Nick Anderson reports for the Washington Post's "Grade Point."

More students are applying to schools through early decision, and these admitted students are also making up a greater share of incoming classes.

The Washington Post reviewed 2015 admissions data for 64 schools as reported through the Common Data Set. According to the analysis, early-decision students made up at least one-third of the total enrolled class at 48 schools and at least half at 16 schools.

For the University of Pennsylvania's class entering in 2015, the admission rate for early applicants was 24%, compared with a 10% admission rate across the entire class, including both early- and regular-admission students.

More students applying, accepting early

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda says students who gain early admission tend to have stronger academic credentials than those admitted later in the cycle, but that more early-decision students than ever are qualifying for need-based financial aid.

"This pool is becoming broader and deeper and more diverse than it's ever been. It's time to start telling that story," Furda says.

However, Charles Deacon, the dean of admissions at Georgetown University, says the system favors more affluent students.

"No matter what anybody tells you, the early pool favors those who are more advantaged," Deacon says. "They're the ones who have been better advised. They know more from their families. There's an advantage, for sure, and that plays itself out particularly at the early level."

Still, some colleges with large shares of early-decision students stress that they bring in many students who need financial aid.

Fly in four: How to help low-income students graduate on time

Among the institutions that the Washington Post analyzed, Davidson College had the greatest share of students admitted through early decision, at nearly 60%. But the college notes that half of the early-decision applicants who were admitted qualified for need-based financial aid, which is almost equivalent to the share of students who receive such aid during the regular admissions period.

While early-decision students make up about half of Emory University's student body, Dean of Admissions John Latting says Emory uses financial aid to attract a diverse group of students. About 20% of students at the university qualify for Pell Grants (Anderson, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 3/31).

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