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Early decision application process unfair for prospective students

By Andrew Elmers

Section: Opinions

October 30, 2015

As college students finish up midterms for their fall semesters, high school seniors continue the long and stressful process of applying to college. While those already at Brandeis no longer have to worry about applying to school—save any seniors looking at graduate schools—applications to Brandeis still have an impact on all of us. Be it hosting recruits for a team or answering a prospective student’s questions, most students have had some sort of interaction with a high school junior or senior who is completely overwhelmed by the concept of college. Even passing a tour group while walking to class renders the application process always in our peripheral as current college students.

Since this aspect of the university is impossible to escape, one problem of it must be addressed—early decision. Most universities offer two different styles of application, early decision or early action, along with regular decision. This is the standard operating procedure for applying, allowing students to apply to however many schools they can scribble out essays to by the January deadline.

Yet ED and EA programs are a bit more complicated. These programs have an earlier application deadline, typically sometime in November, allowing students to hear back on an admissions decision sooner. Early action simply requires an earlier submission; ED forces high school seniors to commit to the school they are applying to, having them sign an agreement that they will not apply to any other schools, which is a terribly imprudent decision to throw at a 17-year-old.

Last year, Brandeis accepted 35 percent of all applicants and 41 percent of all ED applicants, according to stats from the College Board. This fact attracts students who are nervous or anxious about getting into their first-choice school and prevents them from taking a more critical look at all of their options for college. Seniors in high school usually don’t know exactly what they want, so they shouldn’t pick a college with as little information they have for the early decision process. Look at college students who change their major throughout their academic career; almost everyone here at Brandeis has either added a major they weren’t originally interested in or dropped the one they were focused on at first.

While there are some benefits to applying early decision, mostly a higher acceptance rate for those that do, the potential problems that arise vastly outweigh these benefits. The biggest issue is the aspect of financial aid. If a student only applies to one school through early decision, and are accepted, they must accept whatever financial aid package the school gives them. They can’t compare it to other packages that might include more merit aid or a different calculation of how much their family can contribute, and have to more or less accept what is offered.

Additionally, the package that is offered is extremely tentative. Since the final financial aid for any academic year is calculated off the most recent fiscal year (i.e. for students enrolled in the 2015-2016 year, financial aid is based off information from their 2014 tax returns), students applying early decision receive a package based off of mostly outdated information. For students whose parents or guardians make a standard yearly salary, this won’t be much of an issue. But for those students with parents that operate their own business, or are in a field that experiences rapid turnover each year, yearly income can be very different between what is reported when applying and what will eventually be used to finalize the package.

In the financial aid survey that was just released this week, a major complaint of students about the financial aid policy was the practice of “front-loading” packages, offering more aid for a student’s first-year and then decreasing it over the years. This is not a fair practice, and for those accepted from early decision, they don’t even have the chance to have a higher package their first-year because they’ve already committed.

By offering the ED option to prospective students, the admissions office is invariably taking advantage of high schoolers’ vulnerability during the application process. Many of these students are extremely anxious and simply want to get through it all as soon as possible, while having a better chance to get into a school they like. I know I was. I applied ED to Brandeis four years ago, and while I am perfectly content with being here now and the experiences I’ve had, sometimes I wish I would have applied to more schools. Not just to see if there was the possibility of more financial aid from other schools to ease my parents’ burden of paying for my education, but also to see what other schools I could have gotten into. Even if I applied regular decision to Brandeis, along with a bunch of other schools and were admitted to a handful, I’d probably still have chosen Brandeis, because I felt it was where I belonged. And after visiting friends at other schools, I’ve grown even more confident in that belief. But I’ll still always wonder “if.”

Brandeis, and all other institutions of higher learning, should outlaw the ED admission process, or at least rid it of the binding agreement to attend the school upon an offer of admission. This policy goes against everything a university should stand for as a place of learning and development. Students can’t learn to make critical choices when they’re enticed by a higher acceptance rate to sign up for ED. At the very least, schools should allow a student to apply ED to both a public state university and a private school so that if the financial aid package at the more expensive school is not adequate, they at least have a fallback.

If Brandeis really wanted to appear to care about the students they recruit to apply each year, they would do away with the ED application process. There are so few benefits to it that it is a problem, and only continue to be one.

  • Larry Barr

    Here’s the thing, no one is forcing a student to apply ED. Students can make the choice to apply ED or not. My older son applied ED to Brandeis. My younger son is not going the ED route. It’s called choice.

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