High school seniors around the country submitted their applications for early admission last week, but those applying to Princeton and Brown universities were faced with a more serious commitment.
The two schools changed their admission policies last year, forbidding any student applying early decision to either school from applying early action to another college.
They are now the only two schools that force applicants to rule out all other early admission options, both binding and non-binding.
This policy is still a hot topic in college admission circles -- and is in direct violation of the policy of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a voluntary membership organization that represents admissions officers and guidance counselors.
The responsibility to enforce the colleges' policies falls on the college counselors at secondary schools. If a student wishes to apply early decision to Princeton, for instance, and early action to Harvard University, they take a risk that Princeton will not find out.
They can, that is, if their college counselor agrees to send their high school transcript to both schools.
"Credibility is everything," Arthur Thomas, director of college counseling at Lawrenceville, a preparatory school in Princeton, N.J., said. "If the student signed the agreement that they would not apply elsewhere, I'd be forced to not send their transcripts elsewhere."
This is the kind of issue that college counselors hope to avoid by convincing students to be truthful to the institutions to which they are applying. In reality, though, this means deferring to the colleges' policies.
"I think Princeton and Brown definitely hold the cards," Larry Malkins, college counselor at The Gilman School in Baltimore, Md., said. "They have what the students want -- admission to an Ivy League school. NACAC can set policy, but they're not really offering the student anything."
Edward Hu, dean of juniors and seniors at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, Ca., agreed.
"We as an institution always tell our students to follow the college's individual policy," Hu said. "You don't want to get in trouble with the colleges."
NACAC maintains that students are at liberty to apply early decision to one school and early action to as many other schools as they choose.
Princeton and Brown's policies gained attention when, at the NACAC national conference in September 2001, the organization strengthened its official language against limitations on early applications.
"The body of the NACAC acted in 2001 to make the policies on the books more enforceable because of pressures from counselors, parents and students who wanted consistency, clarity and transparency to help navigate the early admission process," NACAC Deputy Executive Director Mark Cannon said.
According to Cannon, while these policies have been longstanding, "schools have chosen to see them as aspirational not enforceable."
The NACAC's only possible sanction is the revocation of Princeton's and Brown's membership. However, at the NACAC 2002 national conference, which was held earlier this fall in Salt Lake City, revocation was not even proposed.
Princeton Admissions Dean Fred Hargadon said he sees the original intent behind the early decision option -- the opportunity for students sure of their first choice to seek admission from just that one school -- as the preeminent issue.
"As a matter of principle, I don't believe the authority of setting application requirements of individual colleges should be ceded to the NACAC membership," Hargadon said.
Brown Admissions Dean Michael Newberger did not return repeated calls for comment.
As far as the NACAC's authority goes, Penn Admissions Dean Lee Stetson agrees. "The NACAC is a volunteer organization. There's nothing hard and fast about the rules and regulations."
Penn has no requirement that its early decision applicants cannot apply early action to other schools.
"We have no plans to change our early decision policy," Stetson said. "Early decision has served Penn very well. We don't find people using Penn against other schools."
However Hu, a former admissions officer at Brown, agrees with the intent behind Princeton and Brown's policy.
"I think some sanity needs to come to the early process," Hu said. "Putting out multiple early applications is game playing."
The only part of this issue upon which all parties seem to concur is the importance of what Stetson calls the "sanctity" of an early acceptance.
"We all agree, if a youngster applies E.D. and is accepted, they should honor the early decision admission," Thomas said.Comments powered by Disqus
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