Harvard Ends Early Admission Program, Deems It Unfair to Poor, Minority Students

Harvard University will eliminate its early admissions program because it puts poor and minority students at a disadvantage, school officials planned to announce Tuesday.

Under the surprise move, the Ivy League school will discontinue its "early action" round of admissions, in which high school seniors can apply by Nov. 1 and receive a decision — accept, reject or defer — by Dec. 15.

The change will take effect for students applying to enter Harvard in the fall of 2008. All applications for that class will be due Jan. 1.

"The college admissions process has become too pressured, too complex, and too vulnerable to public cynicism," said Harvard interim President Derek Bok in a statement issued by the university. "We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer."

Under early action, applicants must agree not to apply to other schools early but can apply elsewhere in the spring. More commonly, colleges allow students to apply early decision, which requires them to commit to attending if accepted.

Both programs have been criticized as favoring wealthier, well-connected applicants who don't need to worry about balancing competing offers of financial aid. Harvard, along with other elite schools, has faced criticism for a high concentration of wealthy students despite significant efforts to expand financial aid in recent years.

At most selective colleges, applicants are accepted from the early pool at a higher rate than from the general pool, though the colleges contend that is at least in part because the applicant pool is stronger.

"Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged," Bok said. "Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out."

Also, he said, students "who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school."