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This fall, the number of early applicants has climbed at Penn and across the Ivy League. Only Brown University saw a decrease in its numbers.

Harvard and Yale universities led the group with dramatic increases in early applications of 24.3 and 23 percents respectively. Harvard received a record 7,615 applications for admission to the Class of 2007, up from 6,125 last year, and Yale received 2,600, up from 2,100 last year.

Harvard has always received a relatively large number of early applications, in part due to the fact that its early application program is early action, meaning that it is non-binding.

And while this year's nearly 25 percent increase in applications is statistically unprecedented, it is nonetheless part of a general trend.

"I think the rise shows that the early process is extremely popular everywhere," Harvard Admissions Director Marlyn McGrath Lewis said yesterday. "I don't think there's anything particular about [Harvard's] situation."

The notoriety of early admissions programs has escalated this year, thanks to a national controversy that has developed over the merits of early decision. The debate arose when Yale University President Richard Levin criticized the early decision process in a December 2001 statement in The New York Times. He claimed that early decision programs put pressure on students to rush their decision-making process and favor wealthier students who have access to extensive college advising programs.

Since Levin sparked the debate last year, Yale, Stanford University and the University of North Carolina have all abandoned their binding early decision programs in favor of non-binding early action effective for applicants to the Class of 2008.

Penn Admissions Dean Lee Stetson said last month that despite the wave of changes at other colleges and universities, Penn has no intention of altering its binding early decision program.

Penn, along with Columbia and Princeton universities, also experienced large increases in early applications this year. Penn received 3,401 applications, an increase of 12 percent, and Columbia received a record 1,785 applications, an 11-percent increase. Princeton's early applications also rose 11 percent to 2,350.

Georgetown University, whose early program is non-binding like Harvard's, saw a 16-percent increase in early applications from 4,400 to 5,100.

Dartmouth and Stanford universities, whose programs are binding, saw more modest increases in early applicants, with 8 and 3 percents respectively.

Brown was the only Ivy League school that saw a decrease in early applications this year. It received 1,863 applications, down 3 percent from 1,918 in 2001.

Brown admissions officials have noted that this decrease may be due in part to the university's decision to make its early application program binding.

Cornell University's early application statistics have yet to be released.

This fall's application increases represent a staggering work load for admissions officers, many of whom are spending this week reviewing those applications in committee meetings. Most schools still intend to mail their decisions by Dec. 13 or 14, but the huge application load is a lot to get through in less than a month.

"It's a great problem to have," McGrath Lewis said, as she rushed back to her committee yesterday afternoon. "We're very busy and we're happy to be popular."

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