January 10, 2006

More on Early Action

I was thinking a bit more about the benefits prospective students might receive if Dartmouth switched from early decision (a binding agreement) to early action (a non-binding agreement). Basically, early action is better than early decision because it gives the student some leverage in negotiating for more financial aid. And it is better than regular decision because there may be a slight edge for getting in in applying early and because it will give the student a longer bargaining period than regular decision does.

But what if the student didn't need leverage, and didn't need a longer bargaining period? (The edge in getting in is a different matter.) What if Dartmouth pledged—and fulfilled that pledge—to not just "meet demonstrated need" but to actually make it possible for every kid accepted under early decision to come to Dartmouth.

Now that may not be totally economically realistic, but I'm just being hypothetical here. What if Dartmouth made it known that if you apply early and get in, Dartmouth will make sure you have the money you need to enroll the next fall? I think there would be a variety of effects, and most would be positive.

First, more students would apply. Secondly, more highly qualified students would apply, eager just to get the whole circus over with. This means, therefore, that the early decision pool would be more selective. Thirdly, our regular decision pool would be better because it would catch all the wait-listed kids from the better early decision pool. Fourthly, this would likely diversify our applicant pool. Removing the fear of cost as a factor means that more people with more and different reasons to apply to Dartmouth early will all see no reason why not to do so.

Of course, there is the possibility that if we devote a large portion of our endowment (or the profits from the endowment) to making sure all early decision acceptances can enroll in the fall, we may not have as much money for the regular decision applicants. This punishes the indecisive, mainly.

Anyway, just a thought.


  1. Just so you know, the "edge" is not slight. For the class of '09 Dartmouth admitted 32% of their ED pool vs. 15.5% of their regular pool. I'd say that's a sizable difference.

    You can argue that the ED pool is more qualified and that drives the acceptance rate up and I'm sure it does, but I find it hard to believe that the quality of the applicants alone could account for so great a difference.

    Also I have a problem with the statement that the better ED pool would lead to a better regular pool. Your new and improved ED pool contains all those students who are highly motivated and qualified, but who previously applied regular for financial reasons. If these students are waitlisted, they go back into the regular pool, and I fail to see how this lead to a change in the make-up of the regular applicants.

  2. I guess this (second part) depends on the idea that such a policy as guaranteeing sufficient financial aid will not just bring in some who would have applied regularly before, but that it will also attract entirely new students, some of whom will be stronger than average.