On Friday afternoon, three hours after my post referencing the University of Pennsylvania’s new Early Decision guidelines, the University sent out an announcement from Dean of Admissions Eric Furda that Penn is returning to its previous policy of allowing students who apply Early Decision to Penn to submit applications to non-binding Early Action programs as well.


If I were (more) egotistical and self-promoting, I would claim responsibility for the change, but I think it is clear that Penn had heard a variety of voices questioning the new policy and that the change was already in the works.  I applaud Eric Furda and his staff for being willing to reverse course. 


Being ethical is not about avoiding mistakes altogether, but rather how you deal with your mistakes.  Admitting a mistake in judgment is not a weakness, but rather a strength.  That might be good advice for any Presidential candidate, and particularly one who happens to be a Penn alum.


In an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper, Eric Furda made the point that Early Decision is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  That sentiment was at the heart of the change in policy to restrict other early applications, and I happen to agree.  There is a debate to be had within our profession about whether Early Decision and Early Action programs should be abolished altogether, but I tend to think that Early programs constitute a legitimate part of the admissions process.  We need to make sure that early application programs don’t benefit applicants who are already privileged, and we need to make sure that there are consistent definitions and procedures in place.  I hope that discussion of those definitions will become part of the work of the Steering Committee that NACAC has appointed to review the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of that group).


I received several e-mails about Friday’s post, all appreciated, but want to mention a couple of them.  Matt Sweeney from Scarsdale High School wrote to ask if I had confused “Restrictive Early Action” with “Single Choice Early Action.”  Perhaps—I was using “Restrictive” as a blanket term, but technically there are differences between Georgetown’s Restrictive Early Action and the Single Choice Early Action programs at places like Yale.  That reinforces my larger point that it is in none of our interests to have too many different early plans with too many nuances.


Jon Reider from San Francisco University High School, a loyal reader and correspondent of this blog, was interested in the question I asked about at what point the Early Decision commitment takes place, at application or upon deposit.  Jon said that as a counselor he has always considered the application itself as the commitment.  That is actually the same for me.  I always advise my students that they shouldn’t apply Early Decision unless they have already determined without question that the school where they are applying ED is their clear first choice, and once or twice I have told a student that they were not ready to apply Early Decision after they told me on Friday that they were applying Early Decision to one college and on Monday that they were applying ED to a different institution.  It wasn’t until deconstructing (or perhaps over-deconstructing) the issue while writing the post last week that I realized that we assume that Early Decision is a commitment at the time of application but that we nevertheless ask for a deposit after the student is accepted.  So which actually constitutes the commitment?


Jon also pointed out the other side of the Early Decision bargain, which is that colleges provide extra consideration in admission for Early Decision applicants because of the implied commitment from the student, and that it is student failure to understand or appreciate the added consideration that roils colleges and causes them to try to restrict the other schools to which Early Decision or Early Action applicants may apply.


By the way, Jon also volunteered that if he were elected Czar of Colleges Admissions with unlimited power, he would abolish all early application options, abolish all standardized testing, and limit applications from any student to a reasonable number.  I think an election for Czar of College Admissions would be far more interesting than any election I’ll get to vote in this fall.  I also like Jon’s platform, although I worry that the economy might suffer due to declining profits in the domestic test prep industry unless, like Wall Street banks and the auto industry, test prep is deemed “Too big to fail.” 


Last week I spent two days with students at the Loudoun Academy of Science in Sterling, Virginia talking about ethics (not college admissions ethics, just ethics).  We talked about Socrates, who in The Apology argues that as a citizen you are obligated to follow the laws of society even when those laws are unjust, and then lived out that belief by drinking poison rather than escaping after being convicted of treason. 


As a college counseling citizen, I think it is my obligation to advise my students to follow the rules for applying even when those rules may not make sense.  I also have obligations as a member of a profession and as an ethical individual that limit my ability to support students and parents who may not want to obey those rules.  I am blessed to work in a school where commitment is taken seriously, where my ethical values are consonant with those of my colleagues, and where I am unlikely to be forced to drink hemlock for following my conscience.


Thanks to Penn for listening to the counseling community and responding.


ECA is off to NACAC.