January 9, 2006

Early Action, Afternoon Delight

Friday, the Dartmouth editorial board published a Verbum Ultimum expressing distaste for the early decision program Dartmouth still practices, even though Harvard and Yale have switched to non-binding early action.

Today, an alum retorts that "Dartmouth cannot afford to institute early action unless she is prepared for a significant drop in yield." A drop in yield will lead to a drop in rankings, which will lead to a drop in applications from gifted students in the future. Harvard and Yale won't really suffer a drop in yield regardless of whether they have binding early decision or non-binding early action.

The Dartmouth ed board tries to look at the problem from the perspective of the applying student—those freaking out kids have enough to worry about without stressing over binding contracts and the possibility that they won't be able to find enough financial aid once they're in a binding contract. Those are legitimate concerns, certainly.

But what I think is the real problem here is not that we have a binding early decision program, but that we are need-blind, at least in name. I think a college of Dartmouth's caliber and endowment level should not be need-blind, but rather need-sensitive. I think we should actively recruit kids who will be needing significant aid, and although I think we do to some extent, the proof is in the pudding—throw a frisbee across the Green and you'll hit at least five trust fund babies, it seems.

Early decision does seem to make the idea of being need-sensitive problematic—what if we admit too many "needy" students early and don't have enough money for the regular applicants? What if a student is admitted early (and therefore bound) but can't come up with the money required? These are legitimate and real problems, and I don't have any facile solutions. But I genuinely think being need-sensitive is something we should pursue.


  1. The financial issue is bigger than you think and it is very unrealistic to think that they would be able to become need-blind to the necessary degree any time soon. I, for instance, was only able to afford dartmouth because I used better offers from other schools as leverage. If I had applied early I would have been screwed. EA is a concrete thing that Dartmouth could do in the short term until this financial aid paradise exists.

  2. I agree. I was just saying that there is a larger goal as well to pursue.