How to Talk Like an Ivy League President

That would be out of both sides of your mouth

Four years ago, with great fanfare, Harvard and Princeton announced they were doing away with their “early admission” programs, which allowed hyper-interested students to throw their hats into the admissions wringer months before regular-decision applicants. The rationale was that early admission works in favor of well-to-do applicants, who a) know that such a creature as early admission exists, because the guidance counselors in their fancy private schools tell them about it (or because their parents went to Harvard or Princeton), and b) don’t have to worry about whether they’ll be able to afford to attend a given institution, since early-admission applicants often have to commit to enrolling before they find out what their financial-aid packages look like. Admit rates are higher for early-admission applicants than for the regular cycle—at Penn, for example, 31 percent vs. 14 percent for the Class of 2014—and students accepted via early admission are less likely to require, and receive, financial aid than those admitted the regular way.

Back in ’06, Princeton president Shirley Tilghman explained that the university was eliminating early decision because it “advantages the advantaged. Although we have worked hard in recent years to increase the diversity of our early decision applicants, we have concluded that adopting a single-admission process is necessary to ensure equity for all applicants.” Princeton, she emphasized, was taking this bold step because “it is the right thing to do.”

Last week, within hours of one another, Harvard and Princeton both reinstated early admission for their classes enrolling in Fall 2012. So—how come? Did the right thing to do somehow change?

Not exactly. The problem was, Princeton and Harvard expected their peer institutions to jump on the no-early-admissions bandwagon, and none of them did (unless you count the University of Virginia, which also just reinstated EA). So there were poor Princeton and Harvard, hanging out over the abyss with the best-qualified students not even bothering to … I’m sorry, what’s that? You say Harvard had 35,000 applications for 1,640 spots this year, making it the country’s hardest college to get into? And Princeton posted 27,115 applications for 1,300 places, up 8.5 percent over a year ago? Oh. So if Harvard and Princeton both have applicants coming out their ears, why reinstate early admission? Here’s Tilghman’s explanation:

“By reinstating an early program, we hope we can achieve two goals: provide opportunities for early application for students who know that Princeton is their first choice, while at the same time sustaining and even enhancing the progress we have made in recent years in diversifying our applicant pool and admitting the strongest possible class.”

In other words, the program they eliminated to increase diversity in the student population is now being reinstated in order to increase diversity in the student population. Man, those Ivy League presidents are smart!