- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

RICHMOND — The University of Virginia will drop its early decision admissions process, becoming the third prominent university this month to cancel such a program.

The decision, announced yesterday and applicable to those entering the university in the fall of 2008, was made to level the playing field for low-income students, who rarely apply for early decision, UVa. President John T. Casteen III said.

The programs, common at many of the nation’s universities, give high school seniors who apply in the fall a decision by mid-December — before regular application deadlines.

“We certainly never intended to have early decision be a barrier to low-income students,” said John A. Blackburn, the university’s dean of admission. “But in point of fact, low-income students don’t apply for any kind of early admission program.”

UVa. has had an early decision program since the 1960s. Students who apply agree to enroll in the school if they are offered admission. Each year, early decision applicants make up about 30 percent of the entering class.

In recent weeks, Harvard and then Princeton, both private universities, announced they would end early admissions. Harvard used nonbinding “early action,” which allowed prospective students to apply elsewhere in the spring. Princeton was among the colleges that have used binding “early decision,” which requires applicants to attend if accepted.

Critics of early admissions contend the programs undermine campus diversity because poor and minority students are less likely to use them. They also say the programs intensify pressure on high school seniors to pick a first-choice college before they are ready. Supporters say the programs reduce anxiety by giving applicants a way to finish the process early in the year.

Only one student who qualified for UVa.’s maximum financial aid package applied under the early decision plan last year, Mr. Blackburn said. And of the 947 students the school accepted last fall in early decision, fewer than 20 applied for financial aid, he said. About one-quarter of the school’s approximately 13,000 students receive financial aid.

Part of the problem is that poorer families don’t want to risk committing to one school without seeing what financial aid packages they may be offered at another school, Mr. Blackburn said.

The University of Delaware also dropped early decision this year, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did the same in 2002, although it maintained a nonbinding admision program.

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