MIT Early Applicants Increase As Harvard Stops Its Program

Early applications increased by 13 percent this year, to a total of 3,937 applicants. The increase comes as Harvard and Princeton Universities eliminated their early admissions programs. The rise, however, falls far short of increases at other competitive institutions such as Yale University.

The 13 percent rise in early action applications was a “similar increase” compared to last year’s increase, “which was higher than we have seen in a number of years,” Interim Director of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86 said in an e-mail.

(For a recent snapshot of MIT’s early admission statistics, see the table on page 10.)

Other schools had much larger increases in early applicants, including a 36 percent surge at Yale, 42 percent at the University of Chicago, and 30 percent at Georgetown University, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The number of early applicants at Stanford are expected to be about the same as last year’s number, according to numbers provided to the Journal by Richard Shaw, Stanford’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid.

Schmill said that the elimination of Harvard and Princeton’s early admissions programs “had an effect” on the numbers. Unlike MIT’s early action program, Harvard had a single-choice, non-binding program while Princeton had a restrictive, binding early decision program. Many students who might have applied early to Harvard and Princeton may have applied early to other schools this year.

Harvard and Princeton ended their early admissions programs, decisions that were announced in September 2006, arguing that such programs put low-income and minority applicants at a disadvantage.

MIT doesn’t have any current plans to eliminate its early action program. “We feel very confident that the way we administer our early action program does not disadvantage any students, nor does it add to the stress that students feel,” Schmill said. Since MIT’s early admissions program is non-restrictive and non-binding, “there is no advantage or disadvantage in applying early, so it is only to the benefit of the students.”

Despite the increase, Schmill said MIT would continue to “only enroll approximately 30 percent of the class in the early action round.” “We actually set the bar a bit higher in the early round so as not to disadvantage students who apply regular action,” Schmill said. Consequently, “a number of students who were not admitted in the early round are subsequently admitted in the regular action round.”

The yield — the percentage of admitted students who choose to attend — has also risen in recent years but “is a difficult thing to predict,” Schmill said. Schmill said the yield would probably go down this year since “there are likely to be students in our applicant pool who have Harvard or Princeton as their first choice and in the past would have applied early to one of those schools.” But he added that “as they explore MIT, they may well decide they like what they see, and choose to enroll here.” As such, “we are likely to be a bit conservative with the number of students we will admit,” Schmill said.

Schmill cited the success of the Admissions Web site and better communication with students as other factors in the increase in early applicants. He said the site gets 20,000 hits a day allowing prospective students and their parents “to engage with our current students, staff, and faculty in a way that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.” Improved communication through channels like the Web site have helped convey to students “the true excitement of MIT, and therefore more students are seeing MIT as a place they want to be.”