In her column, “Inviting Quaker pride,” two weeks ago, Dani Blum argued that Penn should continue to admit a high percentage of the freshman class through the Early Decision program. This, she believes, will give Penn more students who are committed to the University, who will work to realize their specific Penn visions, academic and extracurricular, once they get here. “Admissions should try to find the most qualified and interested students, but we should also reward those who can truly see themselves here,” she writes.
The writer’s obvious Quaker pride is commendable. But Blum’s argument seems to omit an obvious but important point: As a world-class research university, Penn should admit candidates based on their merit, far above their apparent commitment to the college. The admissions rate among early decision applicants was 24 percent for the Class of 2019, compared to 7.3 percent for regular decision the previous year. While the early decision pool might indeed be that outstanding, with students who would have other options if they were admitted through the regular cycle, I find it difficult to believe that three times the proportion deserve places. An implication of Blum’s argument is that, faced with the hypothetical choice, we would rather have the less able, but more committed student. This strikes me not just as undesirable, but also categorically unfair: Should I have less of a shot at a great education because I didn’t apply early or show commitment, even with equal qualifications? That seems contradictory to the principle of meritocracy that universities like Penn are supposed to stand for.
Frankly, I’m not even sure the early decision pool is as enthusiastic about Penn as Blum claims. Several of my closest friends were admitted early, and most of them confess that they committed in advance because they thought Penn was a “more realistic” Ivy to get into. Not only was their Penn spirit suspect, but they were also attracted by the more favorable odds of applying early: that sounds a lot like the admit-insecurity that Blum has elsewhere beseeched Penn students to push past — and rightly so. While I’m sure many early decision students, like Blum herself, applied for positive reasons, the challenge is to separate out the frauds. Although application materials might give a sense of the truly committed candidates, any process where the admission rate is so much higher is bound to result in a distorted pool.
Admittedly, it doesn’t help that all of the Ivy League now practices some form of early admission, most with curiously lenient admittance rates. For example, Harvard accepted 16.5 percent of early applicants this cycle. Other explanations for this now widespread practice are less savory. Without the concern of retention, admissions committees can cherry-pick certain types of student to ensure a diverse class. Early admissions typically attract better-informed middle-class students, who are conveniently less in need of financial aid. A higher acceptance rate also provides better odds for legacies or those with Penn connections, who are more likely to make substantial donations. These are not fair reasons for an admissions policy. Although Blum argues for increased access and awareness of the Early Decision program, having a single, later deadline would make admissions more equitable. At the very least, closer harmonization of the regular and early admissions rates would minimize some of the unfair advantages of applying early.
There are efficiency arguments for early admissions. Restrictive early decision ensures that the same select group of students is not admitted to all the top schools, at everyone else’s expense. It also gives colleges greater predictability. I don’t know Penn Admissions’ specific policy, but I am sure they take painstaking effort over decisions, at least for students within their respective pools, early or regular. But to suggest that commitment to Penn is any way a substitute for merit makes a mockery of the admissions system. In fact, I think the best candidates, rather than the most committed, will make the greatest contribution to whichever institutions they attend, simply because they are highly industrious and curious people. If Penn is really interested in moving beyond its “inferiority complex,” as Blum wants, admission on ability alone seems like a more sensible approach.
DAVID BRITTO is a College and Wharton senior from the United Kingdom, studying PPE and management. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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