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Credit: Julio Sosa

The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into several colleges and universities regarding their sharing of information about applicants admitted through Early Decision programs, a practice which might violate federal antitrust laws.

The schools under investigation are suspected of exchanging student information in order to ensure that students accepted early decision honor the binding principle of early decision agreements, which prevents them from applying regular decision to other institutions.

An unspecified number of colleges received letters on April 5 and 6 informing them of the investigation and instructing them to maintain certain relevant documents including agreements between universities and “internal documents relating to the transmission of identities of accepted students to or from persons at other colleges or universities.”

Penn is not among the universities to receive one of these letters, according to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda.

Since ED admissions provide students with a greater chance of acceptance in exchange for a commitment to attend, many admissions officers are concerned over students who apply ED without intending to honor that commitment.

If a student reneges on an ED acceptance, schools may retaliate by canceling applications, rescinding offers of acceptance, and even limiting the number of students accepted from the offending student’s high school.

Of the admitted students to Penn’s Class of 2022, 35.16 percent were accepted ED. Penn admitted 18.50 percent of its early decision applicants, but only 6.46 percent of its regular decision applicants for the Class of 2022.

In 1991, the Ivy League decided to stop exchanging student financial information after facing similar charges of violating federal antitrust laws. 

However, the current charges against schools may not be as strong. When submitting an ED application through the Common Application, students – as well as parents and high school counselors – must sign a waiver to demonstrate awareness that the decision is binding and that the school may share application information with other institutions. 

In 2016, Penn reversed its decision to prevent students from applying to other universities through non-binding early action programs while also applying ED to Penn. The restriction on ED applications was initially enacted in response to a high number of students attending other universities despite receiving binding ED acceptances from Penn.

Currently, students who apply to Penn ED are obligated to accept an offer of admission. If a student applies to Penn regular decision but is offered admittance through an ED application to another school, the student must withdraw his or her Penn application.