Princeton to end early admission

Princeton University will end its early admission program and admit all undergraduates through a single process, beginning next year with students applying for the class that will enter Princeton in September 2008.

"We are making this change because we believe it is the right thing to do," said Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman. "The ultimate test of any admission process for Princeton is whether it is fair and equitable to all our applicants and whether it allows us to enroll the strongest possible class.

"In recent years we have instituted the most generous financial aid program in the country, and we have significantly increased the diversity of our student body. We believe that a single admission process will encourage an even broader pool of excellent students to apply to Princeton, knowing that they will be considered at the same time and on the same terms as all other applicants."

In making a similar announcement last week, Harvard pointed to the inequities of early admission programs for less advantaged students and concerns about early admission that many secondary schools have expressed with increasing urgency in recent years.

"We agree that early admission 'advantages the advantaged,'" Tilghman said. "Although we have worked hard in recent years to increase the diversity of our early decision applicants, we have concluded that adopting a single admission process is necessary to ensure equity for all applicants. We believe that elimination of early admission programs can reduce some of the frenzy, complexity and inequity in a process that even under the best of circumstances is inevitably stressful for students and their families. We hope very much that our decision will encourage other colleges and universities to join in eliminating early admission programs." 

Princeton's decision was made by Tilghman, Dean of Admission Janet Lavin Rapelye and Dean of the College Nancy Weiss Malkiel. It follows a series of annual reviews in recent years that have included assessments of the impact of early admission programs. The decision to end Princeton's early program was discussed at length this past weekend by the Board of Trustees at its regularly scheduled September meetings. The trustees expressed strong support for the decision.

Princeton has had some form of early admission program for almost 30 years. Since 1996 it has had an "early decision" program that requires students who apply early to Princeton as their first-choice school to commit to enroll at Princeton if admitted. This year 598 applicants were admitted early to the freshman class, accounting for almost 49 percent of the 1,231-member class.

This year's freshman class includes 37 percent minority students and 11 percent who are the first in their family to attend college. More than 55 percent of the class is receiving financial aid, and under Princeton's landmark financial aid policy, students receive their aid as grants that do not have to be repaid, not as loans. The average award for a student on financial aid is almost $30,000. Since loans are not required, all Princeton students have the opportunity to graduate debt-free. 

"We want students from all backgrounds and financial circumstances to know that Princeton is affordable to them, and that they will receive full and thoughtful consideration in our admission process," said Rapelye. "We hope that eliminating early admission sends a strong message to students and schools around the country that Princeton is committed to the fairest and most equitable admission process we can devise.

"Adopting a single admission process allows us to reinforce our values," Rapelye added. "Our goals remain the same: We continue to aim to enroll students who demonstrate academic excellence, diversity of talents and interests, potential for leadership, strength of character and a determination to take full advantage of the exceptional educational opportunities Princeton makes available to them. We have been concerned about the senior year in high school and the way early admission can create a frenetic pace in some schools. We also have been concerned that early decision has been unreachable for many students from disadvantaged backgrounds and that it has caused other students to make premature decisions about their college choice. We have reviewed our policies and practices annually, and we have concluded that we can best address these concerns and achieve our goals by ending our early admission process."

Princeton's new policy will take effect with the admission process for students applying to enter Princeton in September 2008. According to Rapelye, next year's deadline for applications has not yet been established, but it could be set in mid- to late December to allow her office adequate time to carefully consider all applications prior to an early April notification date.

For this year, Princeton's admission process remains unchanged, with early decision applications due by Nov. 1 for notification in mid-December and regular decision applications due by Jan. 1 for notification in early April. 

"One benefit of a single admission process is that my staff will have even more opportunity in the fall to travel to schools around the country and around the world to talk with students, parents and counselors about Princeton's exceptional commitment to undergraduate education and to financial aid for all who need it," Rapelye said.

Princeton is currently phasing in an increase in the size of its freshman class from the current 1,230 to just over 1,300, beginning with the class that will enroll in the fall of 2009.