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Harvard to Discontinue Early-Admissions Process

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Top tier colleges around the country are considering their next moves now that Harvard says it is ending early admissions. Harvard said it wanted to take a little pressure out of the pressure-packed application process. Education experts believe that if other schools follow suit, Harvard's move could help poor and minority applicants.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: Harvard's early admission program is one of the more student-friendly since it's not binding on students. But officials say they still came to the conclusion that the process ends up doing more harm than good. It not only fuels the college application frenzy for all high school students, but Harvard officials say it also tends to favor affluent kids who may be more savvy and strategic and don't need to worry about financial aid.

Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons says having one deadline for all students will level the playing field.

Mr. WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS (Dean of Admissions, Harvard University): This is a clear message to everybody, rich and poor, that, you know, Harvard is open to you. And that we're not playing games, you know, we don't have any, you know, trick program early. It's going to be a free and open competition for everybody.

Unidentified Woman: Cause I was ready to do my homework before you came.

Unidentified Woman #2: No, Amy came along.

GIRL: Yeah. It really was…

Unidentified Woman: At Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, an elite private school in Cambridge just down the river from Harvard, nearly three-quarters of student apply early, somewhere. But as Director of College Counseling David Clark puts it, it's often for the wrong reason.

Mr. DAVID CLARK (Director of College Counseling, Buckingham, Browne and Nichols): This whole thing pushing up to where we have students, who in October are coming in and saying, I'm applying early, I just don't know where - because they have heard that there is an advantage to applying early - is one of the most frustrating things of all for someone who is working as a college counselor. That pressure is overwhelming for them. So that they feel that they have to jump into the gaming of this whole process.

Clark says that adds to the angst of those who can't afford to apply early, like 17-year-old senior B. Anna Mashawn(ph). He says it would be too risky for him to commit to a school before he knew how much financial aid the school would offer and before he could compare that to other schools.

Mr. B. ANNA MASHAWN (17-Year-Old Senior): That's actually like the biggest reason. Because you don't want to get trapped into a situation where you think that you're able to pay and you can't pay. That's happened to my sister.

SMITH: While many other Ivy League schools have acknowledged the problems with early decision programs, experts say only a Harvard could afford to take the risk of going first. Now that Harvard's done it, others, like Princeton, say they may be more likely to follow suit.

Lloyd Thacker is head of the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit, that pushes for admissions reforms.

Mr. LLOYD THACKER (Head of Education Conservancy): In many ways this is an icebreaking kind of an event, by the most powerful college in the country. And it will help colleges realize that it's not only an opportunity, it's also responsibility and, in fact, an obligation.

SMITH: But it may be that other top universities opt for more of a compromise. Several years ago Yale changed its early admissions programs so that students can find out early if they're accepted, but then don't have to commit until spring. In a statement today, President Richard Levin says, it's not clear that totally eliminating early admissions will boost the number of low-income students.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.
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