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Harvard and Princeton Restore Early Admissions

Harvard and Princeton Universities are bringing back early-admissions programs, they each announced on Thursday. Both universities moved away from early admissions, which critics say favor well-informed and wealthier applicants, in 2006.

Harvard created a stir five years ago when it became the first elite college to announce the change, ending its nonbinding, single-choice early-action program and saying it hoped to encourage more minority and low-income students to apply.

But the university has reviewed its admissions trends since then and saw that “many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low-income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard,” Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in Harvard’s announcement on Thursday.

Early admissions has become ever more popular with applicants, William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, said in an interview. Some students feel peer pressure to apply early, and others are looking for certainty, especially since the recession, he said. “Early admission is almost the new regular admission,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said.

Harvard’s move back to early action will be accompanied by changes designed keep the focus on access and diversity, the university said, including staff visits to certain high schools where few students apply early to college.

The university will also provide more guidance about the application process on its Web site, Mr. Fitzsimmons said. Harvard might have made those improvements to its recruitment process anyway, but they take on greater urgency with the return to early admission, he said, because better information “will help level the playing field.”

Soon after Harvard’s 2006 announcement, Princeton dropped its binding early-decision option, saying it hoped other highly selective colleges would follow suit.

“We felt that we had a particular responsibility to the field and that we were in a position that we could do this,” Janet Lavin Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission, said in an interview. “And if other people followed suit, it could really change the field.”

But only the University of Virginia did.

UVa then decided this November to return to early admission, offering a nonbinding early-action option. Around that time, Harvard also said it was reviewing its policy. Those moves helped convince Princeton it should review its own policy, Ms. Rapelye said. And the university announced Thursday that it will start offering a single-choice early action option.

“Being the last school in our peer group without an early program certainly wasn’t practical,” Ms. Rapelye said.

In Princeton’s announcement, Shirley M. Tilghman, its president, echoed that thought. She said the university was pleased with the results of getting rid of early admission. But “one consequence,” she said, “is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton.”

Like Harvard, Princeton said it remains committed to encouraging a diverse group of students to apply. Ms. Rapelye said that the percentage of minority and low-income students in the university’s incoming classes has increased in recent years and that she’s confident that the university can maintain that trend through careful recruiting.

“Our efforts to encourage low-income students to apply and come to Princeton happen one by one,” she said.

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