Hooray for the Wahoos! Virginia Drops Early Decision

Blog Post
Sept. 25, 2006

Another victory for college access equality: the University of Virginia has ended binding early decision following the example of its peers Harvard and Princeton.Three elite universities, one conclusion: the early admissions process "structurally" disadvantages low-income students. As a large, public university, the University of Virginia's decision broadens the conversation. Yes, the non-Ivies of the world can "afford" to evaluate all students on an equal playing field.

Here are UVA facts: Since the 1960s, UVA has allowed students to apply in the fall and receive an early, binding admissions decision. Approximately, 30% of each class has been populated by early applicants. This pool of students, however, is in no way comparable to the rest of the student body.

Of the 947 students who were admitted early last year, only oneyes, onewas eligible for a full financial aid package. Fewer than 20, or approximately 2%, applied for any financial aid. Compare that to the entire student population: over 50% uses some form of financial aid.

The disproportionate representation of upper-income applicants in UVA's past early decision pool is likely the result of timing: low-income students need the opportunity to compare aid packages, which isn't afforded to them if they apply through binding early decision. UVA should be commended for recognizing unfairness and eliminating its shadow admissions system for wealthy applicantsespecially as a public university that doesn't have the prestige or purse of a Harvard or Princeton University.

Of course, the President of UVA John T. Casteen III's stated intention of "broadening the range of economic diversity represented within the student body" may not be pure. Following in the footsteps of Harvard and Princeton creates pretty good press. And universities often engineer an image of promoting social justice, while at the same time hiding other pathways discussed here on TPM Cafe that children of privilege use to gain access.

In 2002, 13% of UVA students benefited from a legacy admissions preference. Less than 2% of those who benefited self-identified as African-American, and less than 1% self-identified as Latino. One UVA researcher estimated that it will take 20 years for the racial composition of UVA's legacy population to resemble that of its current student body.

College admission is not a right of birth. College admission should promote diversity, reward achievement, and be fair. Harvard, Princeton, and UVA have taken a small step towards college access equality. But their admissions processes are still not ideal. True courage will be shown by the first major university that abolishes the legacy preference. It won't come a moment too soon.