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The controversy over early decision continues to grow in the Ivy League, with Yale University announcing yesterday that its early application program will no longer be binding.

Yale officials say they hope the decision will help slow down the college admissions process for applicants.

Yale waited to announce this decision until after the Nov. 1 deadline for early applications had passed. The decision will not take effect until next fall.

"Early decision programs help colleges more than applicants," Yale President Richard Levin said in a statement.

"It is our hope to take pressure off students in the early cycle and restore a measure of reasoned choice to college admissions," he said.

Yale and Harvard University are now the only two Ivies that offer a non-binding early action program.

Early decision, which requires accepted applicants to matriculate, became common in the mid-1990s. Yale introduced it in 1996, and other schools like Stanford, Princeton and Brown universities followed suit. Brown, however, did not switch from early action to early decision until 2001.

Most schools have had an early admission program since the early 1970s, though.

In recent years, Penn has increasingly accepted a larger percentage of each incoming class early. Last year, Penn accepted 50 percent of the class of 2006 early, up from 44 percent of the class of 2005.

"Early decision in its present format serves us well," Penn Admissions Dean Lee Stetson said.

"Our surveys of students have told us that they like early decision and are happy when the process is over. We have not found that students feel forced to make a hasty decision to apply," Stetson said.

Stetson expects to accept 45 to 48 percent of the class of 2007 early.

Recently, early decision has come under fire, and particularly from Levin. In December 2001, he criticized the program in a statement printed in The New York Times.

Then, in fall 2001, the National Association of College Admission Counselors -- of which colleges and universities are voluntary members -- changed its policy to help ensure that applicants who apply early decision to one school are at least permitted to apply early action to other schools as well.

NACAC's policy is at odds with Princeton and Brown's early decision programs, which require students' signed promise that they will not apply early action, as well as early decision, anywhere else.

Yale's new early action program similarly limits students to apply early only to Yale, even though acceptance is not binding.

Another recent criticism of binding early decision programs is that they favor wealthier applicants who do not need to compare financial aid packages from different schools.

They are also accused of favoring students who have benefited from extensive college advising -- in other words, prep school students or students who have hired professional advisers -- and therefore have been able to make their decisions earlier and under less stress than others.

The obvious benefit, however, of early decision is that it gets the whole process "over with."

"It seems to be in vogue right now to be against early decision," Stetson said. "But I don't think other Ivies will change their programs just because Yale did."

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