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November 24, 2009 1:25 PM Early Decision Still Important to Colleges

By Daniel Luzer

Remember how colleges promised to scale back on early decision, because of the irritating way the practice favored rich people and left it harder for kids who had been rejected from their first choice school to get into another? In the last decade many colleges began to form large portions of their college classes through early decision. Early decision programs, which require students to apply to college in the early fall and commit to enroll in the school if admitted, had come under fire for elitism.

Well, never mind. Early decision is back.

Early decision is obviously a process that favors those who don’t have to worry too much about financial aid decisions and many worried that early decision was shutting out poor and minority students. Schools said they would cut down. Some even eliminated early decision altogether. With the collapse of the economy many believed that a practice that required such a large financial commitment was doomed.

But it didn’t happen. Inside Higher Ed reports today that:

All signs point to another year in which more students apply early — and in which some colleges may increase the share of their class admitted early. The colleges reporting increases include not only some of the most competitive, but some that are a notch or two below in competitiveness.

The number of early decision applications to Duke University was up 32 percent. Early decision applications to George Washington University rose 24 percent from last year. It’s worth pointing out that there are certain pretty fundamental benefits to early decision. It’s easier for the student, who doesn’t have to spend all of senior year waiting to hear from colleges. It’s also easier for the college, which doesn’t have to wait to see which admitted students will actually attend.

But part of the reason early admissions didn’t go down recently is that early admission can actually make financial planning easier for families; a lot of the top early admissions schools promise to meet need in their financial aid packages. Families also have the advantage of knowing the cost well in advance. The trouble is that there are less slots for kids who can’t get it together for the early deadline and don’t know the nuances of the admissions process. That 24 percent increase at GW is almost entirely composed of very advantaged students.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer