Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Early Decision: a Stepping Stone for High-Income Applicants

Most students would happily forget their experience with the college application process entirely—the essays, visits, fees, and forms were tedious at best and infuriating at worst. Unfortunately, I was forced to remember it all when BC announced two weeks ago that it would be switching from an Early Action to an Early Decision model of admittance. I felt angry with the admissions office over this decision. High school students already stress over their college applications, taking away from the enjoyment of their senior year; ED only exacerbates that stress. The prospect of committing to a college in November puts an immense pressure on students for whom ED may offer a better chance of admittance but is not financially viable.

Applying ED means committing to a university before receiving a financial aid package, a factor that can carry enormous weight in the decisions of lower-income students. As a result of this, ED tends to favor students with the means to pay full or near-full tuition and access to the best high schools. Though BC asserts that it “meets demonstrated financial need,” there are enough students filling out the FAFSA and taking out loans to suggest one’s ability to pay may not be the same as one’s demonstrated financial need. This discrepancy results in many parents and students paying more than they can afford to, even with financial aid; how could prospective students in this predicament possibly apply ED, knowing what’s at stake? While ED favors students who are able to commit with no regard for financial aid, the process also favors students with the support from parents and guidance counselors necessary to meet the earlier deadline.

Not only are ED pools typically of a higher socioeconomic status, they are also less academically strong and predominantly white compared to other waves of applicants. In other words, an ED admission gives one more advantage to an already privileged group. The notice announcing the decision claimed “this change is in the best interest of Boston College and applicants who have identified BC as their first choice…and we expect that our Early Decision program will position the University to attract the strongest students from across the country and around the world.” Fiscally, this change is certainly in the interest of Boston College. It is also in the interest of students who have already known about BC, people whose parents went to BC, and people that have known for years that they want to go to this Jesuit institution. But the “strongest students from across the country and around the world”? Demographically, early decision data does not support that claim.

Of course, BC admissions has valid reasons for switching from Early Action to Early Decision. Recent changes in admissions guidelines mandated that BC would not be able to have a “binding Early Action” program anymore. Binding Early Action means that there is no commitment, but students applying Early Action could not be applying Early Decision at another school. After BC switched to Open Early Action, which meant that people applying ED other places could join the Early Action pool, the admissions office was flooded with applicants. This made the tasks of admitting the right number of people and predicting which students would actually enroll even more challenging. Especially with BC’s notable scarcity of housing, managing enrollment is definitely an important consideration for the university. Given record application and enrollment numbers in recent years, something had to give in the admissions office. Nevertheless, BC’s less-than-stellar track record of racial and socioeconomic diversity highlights the biases associated with Early Decision.

This decision to switch to ED leads me to one conclusion: BC values students who will pay full tuition and the clout of being labeled an “Early Decision school” over its ability to offer equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds. The statement from two weeks ago announcing the switch to Early Decision asserts that Boston College is still “need blind” and “committed to enrolling students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds,” yet the ED model is set up to discourage prospective students with real need. The beginning of the university’s announcement reads as follows: “Boston College will introduce an Early Decision program for undergraduate admission this year, in an effort to meet the growing preference of today’s high school students and enroll more “best fit” applicants for whom Boston College is a first choice.”  Clearly, BC imagines their “best fit” applicant as simply someone who will pay full tuition. I can only wonder what the consequences are for those who don’t fall into that best fit category.