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It was 3:42 p.m., and I had just refreshed my browser for what must have been the twelfth time: "Error: the page you are trying to view is unavailable."

Finally, two hours later, the site allowed me to log in, and my fingers began to shake uncontrollably. As the system verified my password, I quickly covered the computer screen with a sheet of paper. Nervously, I gradually slid the paper upwards, not quite ready to see the inevitable "yes" or "no" that would greet me at the top of the screen.

In just two days, applicants for the Class of 2011 will face the same anxiety-ridden afternoon as Penn releases their long-awaited early decisions.

As The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on Dec. 6, between 20 and 30 percent of early-admissions applicants should expect acceptances. These students will make up approximately 50 percent of their class. According to figures for the Class of 2010, regular-decision applicants have only a 15 percent chance of getting into Penn.

This striking gap in acceptance rates is entirely justified. Early applicants deserve a distinct admissions advantage over their regular-decision cohorts.

Ultimately, this is how to acquire the best possible students for Penn.

One of many admissions experts who supports this idea is Kennon Dick, a director of college counseling at College Coach, a national preparatory agency. Prior to his position with College Coach, Dick was the associate dean of admissions at Swarthmore College.

"I often describe it as a marriage proposal," Dick said. "They're forsaking all others, and they have to be 100 percent certain that their early decision college is their No. 1 choice."

Because these applicants consider Penn their dream school, they are more likely to make a positive contribution on campus. A Penn enthusiast who has a 2150 on the SAT and one or two B+s would surely be a more desirable candidate than a perfect-scoring student who is disgruntled about his rejection from Princeton.

"If the percentage of people who got into Penn were people who wanted Penn as their first choice, we'd have a happier student population," Engineering junior Sakil Chundydyal said.

And considering that Newsweek recognizes us as the "Hottest for Happy-to-Be-There" school in the nation, I'd say that we are doing quite a good job.

Despite what some people may tell you, early-decision applicants are generally more objectively qualified than their regular decision counterparts - in both academic and extracurricular accomplishments.

"The average applicant in early decision is going to be a stronger student than the average applicant in regular decision," Dick said.

Other experts agree, including Mary London, college counselor at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, which ranked No. 45 in Newsweek's annual publication of the top high schools in America.

Early-decision students at her school "seem to be a lot more sophisticated about the application process," London said. Interestingly, London observed that early applicants are essentially "self-selective" - meaning that students who understand the admissions process are more likely to already be "higher achievers" than their regular-decision peers.

She worries, however, that early decision is "a disadvantage to lower income students who aren't as sophisticated about the process."

For example, confusion about financial-aid options can often deter these students from applying early. Perhaps it is Penn's responsibility to help increase awareness of their opportunities from a younger age.

Despite inequities in understanding the process, few doubt the academic caliber of early applicants. Typically, these students already have the maturity needed to make such a binding decision.

"Early decision is not a choice to be made lightly - you have to be really sure about it," College senior Alexandra Kougentakis said. "A sign of its success is that Penn has such a high retention rate."

Good luck to all of the early decision applicants who happen to read this issue of the DP. More than 30 percent of you deserve to be here, and those of you who do get in are sure to find yourselves quite happy - here at the "hottest" school in America.

Sharon Udasin is a College senior from East Brunswick, N.J. Her e-mail address is Shed a Little Light usually appears on Mondays.

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