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Photo from the Office of Admissions

Nov. 1 marked Penn’s early decision deadline – at least for some students. 

For others, specifically those affected by hurricanes, the deadline is not quite so soon. Last month, Penn announced it would give students living in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle an extension until Nov. 12 to send in their ED applications. 

Penn Admissions is also offering to waive the $75 application fee for students financially impacted by the storms. 

Earlier this fall, the southeastern U.S. was battered by two Category 4 hurricanes – Florence and Michael – which damaged homes, buildings, and infrastructure. More than two dozen people died in Hurricane Michael, which caused damage to more than 20,000 homes.

This is not the first time that Penn has extended the ED deadline due to natural disasters. In 2012, Penn extended the ED deadline for students affected by Hurricane Sandy, and it did the same last year for students affected by a series of natural disasters. 

Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that Penn followed in the footsteps of other universities, notably Duke University. 

“I’ll be honest, we took the lead from Duke,” he said. “When it was happening, it was going on in their backyard.”

Among the other Ivy League schools, Yale and Dartmouth will also offer an extension for students in affected areas until Nov. 9 and Nov. 15, respectively. At Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Brown, students must contact the admissions offices to request an extension. 

Wharton freshman Patricia Arruza grew up in Puerto Rico and benefited from Penn's decision to extend last year's deadline for those in areas affected by Hurricane Maria. Arruza said she witnessed the destruction caused by the hurricane firsthand, and said the extended ED deadline helped to alleviate stress during a tough moment. 

Arruza was out of school for two weeks and said that a lack of cell service and Wi-Fi access made it difficult to send in her application.

Arruza said that there was a period of time after the hurricane, and before Penn issued an ED extension, when she did not know if she would be able to send in her application. Before Penn offered the extension, she would spend her time in between classes trying to call Penn admissions to request an extension for her documents.

“Once [Penn] did change [the deadline], I had already completed my application and done all the essays and all that, but I was stressed that I wouldn’t be able to send it on time – or that my teachers wouldn’t be able to send their recommendations on time,” Arruza said. “Some of my friends hadn’t written stuff because they didn’t have electricity in their houses and couldn’t charge their computers, so they couldn’t write.”

“So, the deadline really did help us in terms of getting the stress off our shoulders – of worrying whether or not we’d be able to send it,” she continued.

Penn Admissions claims the extension is designed to help students who are at a disadvantage because of the natural disasters, but some question this motivation. Admissions consultant Brian Taylor, managing director at Ivy Coach, said the extension is nothing more than a ploy to boost application numbers so that Penn can appear more selective.

“The more applicants that apply to a school like Penn, invariably the lower the admission rate will be and the higher the school will be ranked in U.S. News and World Report,” Taylor said. 

In an emailed statement, Vice Dean and Director of Marketing and Communications Kathryn Bezella rejected that idea. 

“We expect that students will act with integrity during the entire application process and we trust our applicants to take advantage of this extension only under the circumstances with which it is intended: because they need extra time as they navigate the many challenges that the hurricane season brought to these areas,” Bezella wrote. 

Over the years, Penn’s ED admission rate has steadily decreased, as the number of applications has risen. In the last ED cycle, the University received a record-breaking 7,047 applications – a 15 percent increase from the year prior. The early decision deadline for 2017 had also been extended due to natural disasters.

In 2017, Penn admitted 18.5 percent of its early decision applicants for the Class of 2022, a significant decrease from the 22 percent ED rate in 2016 and the 23.2 percent rate the year prior.