Princeton Halts Early Admissions

A student rides his bicycle home from class on the campus of Princeton University April 23, 2002 in Princeton, NJ.
Getty Images
Princeton University became the second elite university to drop its early admissions program, following Harvard in a move the Ivy League schools say will benefit disadvantaged students and reduce anxiety.

"We agree that early admission 'advantages the advantaged,'" Princeton President Shirley Tilghman said, echoing Harvard's comments last week.

Harvard's announcement last week that it would evaluate all applicants in a single pool prompted speculation about whether other universities would follow suit — a change that could transform the admissions process for high-achieving students.

Princeton had an "early decision" program, meaning applicants get word by Dec. 15 of their senior year, but must attend if accepted. Harvard's early program was non-binding "early action," meaning students could still weigh offers from other schools in the spring.

Such programs — particularly early decision — have been criticized for increasing the anxiety of the application process and informally discriminating against less sophisticated applicants.

"We believe that elimination of early admission programs can reduce some of the frenzy, complexity and inequity in a process that even under the best of circumstances is inevitably stressful for students and their families," Tilghman said.

Princeton was considered the most likely of the prominent private universities to follow Harvard. Yale, MIT, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, have all indicated they would likely keep their current systems — at least for now.

Harvard's decision — and the prospect of other universities following — was praised by many college guidance counselors, who say the pressure to find a college to apply early to has consumed students with anxiety. But others criticized the move, saying for many students early admissions reduce stress, by allowing them to get the process over with and enjoy the second half of senior year.

Princeton admitted about half of this year's entering freshman class of 1,230 through early decision. At most universities with early decision, a higher proportion of applicants are admitted in the early round, but the applicant pool itself is also stronger.

However, early applicant pools are tilted toward students who do not need financial aid — especially at colleges like Princeton that have binding early decision. More than 55 percent of Princeton students receive financial aid under a first-of-its-kind financial aid grant program that does not require any student to borrow any money to attend. But Princeton officials said they were concerned the system might discourage poorer applicants nonetheless.

The decision was discussed by Princeton's board over the weekend, the university said, and announced to faculty at a meeting late Monday.