58937_bigdataf
Photo: Joy Lee

GROUP THINK is The Daily Pennsylvanian’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.

This week’s question: Last year, Penn admitted approximately 55 percent of the Class of 2021 through the Early Decision program. Is Penn filling up too much of its classes through Early Decision or is this an appropriate amount? Should there be any changes to Penn's admissions policies with regards to Early Decision?

James Lee | The Conversation

I’d want to look at that number for peer schools, but it doesn’t seem outrageous at first glance. Yield is the name of the game for universities nowadays, as it’s often one of the metrics used to determine rankings. Early Decision is a way for institutions like Penn to control that yield, and, theoretically, I don’t see anything wrong with that. It seems that there are certain concerns with the ED system favoring the wealthy and those with legacy status, but I don’t see it as being so responsible for these issues that it needs to be done away with.

It seems to me that there is an inherent payoff in deciding to apply ED. For a chance to finish the application process early and to have a slightly higher chance of admission, you give up certain things, like the prospect of choosing between colleges, as well as comparing their financial aid packages. Furthermore, to end ED is ultimately treating the symptom, rather than the disease, and we need to talk about practices like legacy admissions if we are serious about restoring the meritocratic nature of the college application process.

Sara Merican | Merican in America

Early Decision has always been a wonderful way for students committed to attending Penn to express their interest and also, if accepted, to get the application process over and done with early on. There are a few articles written expressing negative opinions about the extent that Penn Admissions employs ED, and how it has been used to "boost" yield rate and in some cases, college rankings. There has also been a Daily Pennsylvanian editorial written about how this may have affected the "quality" of Penn's student body.

However, personally, what is important is that I don't find a "difference" (whatever that may mean) between students admitted through the ED or Regular Decision programs. Also, aside from a few friends who mention it, I have no idea whether my friends and classmates were admitted ED or RD, and in light of everything else I could get to know about my friends, this is honestly insignificant. I do admit, as someone admitted through RD, that it has been interesting to hear from friends why they applied through ED and how they became so sure that Penn was the right place for them.

Spencer Swanson | Spencer's Space

Early Decision provides significant benefits to both Penn and to those lucky to be admitted early, but with EDs at 55 percent, might this represent too large a percentage of each freshmen class? While an ED myself, I’m not sure the answer is self-evident. Penn clearly benefits via the ED process because the “yield” for all those admitted early is, by definition, 100 percent — all students admitted ED are obliged to accept Penn’s offer of admission. Beyond the statistics, Penn also benefits by having a head start on planning for the upcoming year. Students admitted early also clearly benefit by avoiding the higher cost — in time, emotional uncertainty and money — of applying to multiple schools. Finally, EDs hopefully represent a self-selected group who are, again by definition, likely to know more about the University and be happier to attend Penn than a student for whom Penn might have been fifth or sixth choice. This represents a win-win for both Penn and EDs.

But do these benefits outweigh the costs of potentially biasing the Penn undergrad profile towards more privileged students who can “commit to enroll if they get in and shutting out those who want the chance to compare offers of grants and scholarships?"

Undeniably, more privileged high schoolers who benefit from earlier and better college coaching are better prepared to apply early, essentially discriminating against the less fortunate. Furthermore, the wealthier students often do not need to wait for information on financial aid. But as Penn Director of Admissions Eric Furda points out, nearly 10 percent of ED admitted students are “the first in their family to attend college” and 44 percent self-identify as minorities, demonstrating that “Penn is committed to bringing students of the highest promise to campus without regard to their families’ ability to pay."

Another cost of the whole Early Decision/Early Action process is that it has helped push the college process to ever younger ages, with standardized testing often starting in 10th grade and “high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors” increasingly “encouraged to create a 'virtual college locker' of their best work in digital documents and video.”

Should the freshman year in high school and potentially even middle and grade school be so college focused? Should young students not spend their time exploring interests for their own sake not for the sake of their resumes?

Bottom line, I’m not sure whether 55 percent is too large or small a percentage, but recognizing that the whole ED/EA process has benefits and costs, combined with the fact that admitting upwards of 40 percent of an incoming class in the early cycle is consistent with the other Ivies, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, I’d suggest that Penn has it about right. I would, however, caution against increasing this fraction dramatically in the future.

Lucy Hu | Fresh Take

Congratulations, Penn. You aspire to be an institution of inclusivity and opportunity, and yet, you continually disadvantage and restrict students’ potentials for the sake of your own brand.

Binding Early Decision is an antiquated, unjust admissions system that should be abandoned. It is undeniable that Penn employs this system for the sole purpose of maintaining its prestige by lowering overall acceptance rates and raising yield. Through Early Decision, the University promises an attractive higher acceptance rate, and then locks in students before they can adequately consider other options, often prohibiting students from comparing financial aid packages. It’s time to adopt non-binding Early Action, where students still have the chance to apply to their top choice, but have the opportunity to compare all offers available to them.

Penn’s unrelenting anxiety is being second-tier to the other Ivy League schools; in its mad numbers obsession, the University hasn’t realized just how far behind it is trailing in fair and inclusive admissions policies.

Amy Chan | Chances Are

Yes, Penn is filling up too many of its classes through Early Decision. It gives students who know 100 percent that they want to go to Penn an unfair advantage over other students who waver about it due to various uncontrollable circumstances — perhaps money, the values and strengths of other programs, even family issues/how close they want to remain to home, et cetera. Quite simply, I think Penn should lower the amount of early admissions it takes, or at the very least, make Early Decision non-binding, just as, say, Harvard University does, so that we would get a wider variety of students and a larger proportion of talent.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.