Occidental is an easy school to fall in love with. With top-notch academics, a sunny Los Angeles location and frequent sightings of movie stars (as pathetic as it may seem, I am convinced that being within twenty feet of Michael Cera on my summer tour helped steer me toward attending this school), Occidental is an attractive place to spend one’s formative college years.
It is not surprising that the most fervent prospective students, with their hearts bleeding orange and black and their mouths already screaming “Io Triumphe,” want to maximize their chances of admission. And what better way to do so than by applying early decision, thereby letting the school of your dreams know that you want it to be your one and only?
Occidental offers two rounds of early decision, in which students apply to the school and find out their collegiate fates months before regular-decision applicants. However, there is a catch: If accepted, the admitted student is obligated to attend, and the only way to be let out of the contract is a demonstrable financial hardship preventing attendance. While it is the student’s choice to apply in this fashion, it is unfair and unwise of Occidental to give the early decision option in the first place, as the temptation of an easier acceptance process may put students in difficult financial situations that they would otherwise avoid during the regular application process.
Although Occidental stresses its commitment to social consciousness, the college’s early decision process contradicts this tenet, as the institution strips the applicant of his ability to compare other options. Occidental is an expensive school; the price of tuition is currently $48,000 per year. While Occidental provides financial aid for many students, the college dictates exactly how much is provided based on relative perceived need. While many families would gladly and easily pay a steeper price for their son or daughter to attend their first choice college, early decision effectively strips those less fortunate of the ability to compare offers from other institutions. In many cases, it is possible that an institution of similar academic standing may be willing to provide a more generous amount.
Wealthier families don’t face this dilemma. Even if poorer families steer clear of the early decision process, there is nothing deterring richer, dead-set applicants from it. For applicants’ families who view $10,000 dollars as chump change, it is advantageous to apply early decision. Early decision has a higher acceptance rate of 49 percent, in contrast to the 42 percent acceptance rate during regular decision.
According to CollegeData.com, in the last admissions cycle 251 applicants applied early to Occidental, and 123 were admitted. As the average incoming class size fluctuates between 500-600 people, this means that 20-25 percent of the school is filled with early applicants. This process spoils Occidental’s diversity. Wealthier applicants, in line with U.S. Census statistics on economic standing, are more likely to be white. Poorer applicants are more likely to be ethnic minorities. As the college prides itself on the unique backgrounds of its students, this fact is unacceptable.
If Occidental were to abolish early decision, it would not be the first amongst its peers to do so. Harvard and Princeton ended the practice of binding admission in 2006, with the two institutions eliminating early applications entirely until 2011, when they jointly implemented single-choice early action (SCEA) programs. SCEA works somewhat like early decision in that you can only apply to one school, but are not obligated to attend if admitted. Therefore, the student can still specify their interest, but compare other financial offers from universities to which they applied in the regular decision round. Other schools give applicants even more choice. The University of Chicago, University of Michigan and California Institute of Technology all exercise nonrestrictive early action programs, in which prospective applicants may apply to as many schools as they desire.
If the administration eliminates the ingrained advantage given to wealthy applicants, Occidental will take a big step toward becoming a truly socially conscious campus. And only when it gives financial agency to its applicants can it claim to be a school of free choice. It is paramount that Occidental does so, lest it hypocritically stand in opposition to its widely-touted ideals.
Niklas Palomba is a first-year and it undeclared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.