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More Apply Early To Institute

Early Action Numbers Rise by Forty Percent

By Sanjay Basu

Late last summer, admissions officers across the nation braced themselves for what was expected to be the largest ever early applicant pool in history. But few here could have anticipated the incredible increase in early action applications to MIT this year.

MIT’s Office of Admissions has received 3,080 early action applications, up 41 percent from last year’s total. In 1998, the board received 2,182 early applications -- an increase of only five percent from the previous year.

This year’s early applicant pool is nearly three times the size of previous pools. Prior to 1995, the Institute received an average of only 1,200 early applications. Since then, the number has risen by small steps, until this year’s giant leap.

Peer institutions change policies

Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones attributed the change to altered policies at three major competing institutions: Harvard, Brown, and Georgetown.

All three schools traditionally used a restricted early action system that prevented students from applying early to more than one school.

Now students can simultaneously apply early to Harvard, Brown, Georgetown, and any other school allowing students to send applications early to multiple colleges. MIT has never restricted the number of institutions to which early action applicants can apply.

“Because of this we know that there are students in our pool who are also applying to Harvard early,” Jones said. “From admissions officers’ point-of-view, that is a nightmare. Just getting the work done on time becomes a serious problem and it becomes very difficult to calculate yield.”

But MIT is not alone in feeling the effects of the policy change. Brown has received 66 percent more early action applications than last year. Georgetown’s early action application rate is up 44 percent, nearly twice Harvard’s increase of 25 percent.

Population rise also responsible

While Jones attributed the early application increase primarily to the policy change, she also noted that the number of high school seniors applying to college is increasing on a national scale.

“There are more 17-year-olds in the population,” she said. “We have just begun to see the beginning of the second largest population in U.S. history after the Baby Boomers. This population should peak with the high school graduating class of 2007, so we have much more growth in our applicant pool ahead.”

But Jones and others on the admissions board have already declared that the class of 2004 will not be any larger than previous classes.

“We plan to admit 500 [early action candidates] ... just under 30 percent of the freshman class,” said Jones. “We know that we will also have an increase in regular action cases as well, and we want to be very conservative at this point.”

“We will [have] over 10,000 applications this year, but we will not admit a larger class. If anything, the class may be a bit smaller.”

Growing numbers a national trend

While the increase in early action applicants will allow institutions to be more selective, many see the changes as a disturbing trend.

Some admissions directors are disturbed by the number of students applying early out of fear.

“Many schools now take half of their freshman classes early, which has created a panic that if someone plans to be admitted, they had better apply early,” said Jones.

“You have no idea how upset everyone -- college admissions offers and guidance counselors alike -- has become over the trend toward early applications.”