Boston College announced that it would replace its Early Action (EA) admission, used through the Class of 2023, with Early Decision (ED), which will be implemented beginning with the Class of 2024. After seeing a 54 percent jump in EA applications for the 2018-19 admissions cycle for the Class of 2023, the University is now aiming for a predetermined yield and selectivity rates over sheer volume of applications.
Restricted EA means that students can apply to other schools EA, but they cannot apply ED. ED means that students cannot apply to other schools ED, and they must attend the school they applied to ED if admitted. EA means that a student may apply to other EA and ED schools, though attendance if admitted is not compulsory.
Such a change will have significant effects on both who and how students apply to the University. According to the announcement post, BC states that the switch to ED will “attract a small, but competitive pool of applicants” and encourage applicants to demonstrate commitment. It also enhances “[BC’s] ability to enroll students interested in the Jesuit, Catholic approach to education, personal-growth, and service to others.” BC’s decision to admit based on ED instead of non-binding EA will result in the administration being able to more easily determine their class sizes and makeups.
There is a danger that, as students are forced to choose between applying ED to BC or other top universities, the University will lose top applicants who are usually advised to apply ED to more traditional “reach” schools like Brown, Columbia, or Washington University in St. Louis. In doing so, it also forces applicants who are considering other non-ED Catholic schools like Georgetown and Notre Dame to actively pick BC over the two.
The rapid switch from restricted EA in 2017 to EA in 2018 to ED in 2019 is also confusing for some students, especially those from high schools that lack a robust college advising program, most of whom do not have access to college counselors who can keep up with the changes.
The change could also impact the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program. Before the switch, Presidential Scholars had to apply Early Action in order to be considered. Starting with this year’s admissions cycle, applicants can apply either ED or regular decision (RD) as long as their application is submitted by the Nov. 1 deadline. In theory, top students could apply ED or EA to an Ivy League or other elite-level institution while also applying RD to BC, keeping themselves in consideration for the Presidential Scholars Program in case they are not admitted early elsewhere. Further, if they are admitted to another school, they must rescind their application to BC, causing the University to lose some of its top academic applicants.
BC seems to be aiming to capture a larger percentage of students who are highly committed to the school, many of whom tend to be either legacies and those who attend Jesuit high schools. Those students tend to be overwhelmingly Catholic and wealthy, presenting a risk to the diversity BC has attempted to foster in recent years.
The measure supports BC’s goal to become the top Jesuit, Catholic university in the world. Contenders for that title include other top institutions like Georgetown and Notre Dame. Both schools have significantly lower acceptance rates than BC, 14.5 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively, for the Class of 2022.
As a top U.S. university, BC attracts students who are looking to attend a prestigious school and are likely considering a number of other top 40 universities. Switching to ED makes BC mutually exclusive with many of these schools. As a Jesuit university, BC also attracts students who want to attend a Catholic school, a considerably a smaller pool of schools.
Of those two groups of students, the wording on BC’s website seems to indicate a preference for the latter.
Though students can decline an ED acceptance for financial reasons, it is difficult to do so and the prospect of being bound to an expensive commitment could scare away students for whom financial aid is a serious consideration. The University’s website encourages only students who have “confidence in [their] family’s ability to meet the full cost of attendance with or without need-based financial aid” to apply ED. Students may use a net price calculator, also on the website, to determine their expected financial aid award, which the University says should match what their actual award will be. According to the Wall Street Journal, first generation college students and financially underprivileged students are significantly less likely to apply EA or ED than other applicants. BC already has a significant wealth disparity, with more students coming from the top one percent of total family income than those in the bottom 60 percent.
Of the 40 top U.S. colleges, 21 offer ED options. Overall, the decision risks alienating students for whom financial aid is a significant factor in their college choice, as well as students who attend low-resource high schools who do not have a counselor to keep up with rapid changes in BC’s admissions process. It may also lead to a more Catholic and wealthier university, limiting diversity and accessibility. The University must ensure that its push for more students who want to attend a Jesuit institution does not deter applicants from all socioeconomic backgrounds, high schools, and religious affiliations.