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The Early Admissions Game - Joining the Elite, With a New Chapter


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Joining the Game 1 The History of Early Admissions 2 The State of the Game 3 Martian Blackjack: What Do Applicants Understand about Early Admissions? 4 The Innocents Abroad: The Admissions Voyage 5 The Truth about Early Applications 6 The Game Revealed: Strategies of Colleges, Counselors, and Applicants 7 Advice to Applicants Conclusion: The Essence of the Game and Some Possible Reforms Appendix A Median SAT-1 Scores and Early Application Programs at Various Colleges Appendix B Data Sources Appendix C Interview Formats Notes Acknowledgments Tables and Figures Index

About the Author

Christopher Avery is Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Andrew Fairbanks is former Associate Dean of Admissions at Wesleyan University. Richard Zeckhauser is Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


Written by three informed scholars-Avery and Richard Zeckhauser are professors at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Andrew Fairbanks is former associate dean of admissions at Wesleyan University-this eyeopening study of the effects of early admissions programs is based on five years of thorough research. The authors examined some 500,000 college applications to 14 elite schools and interviewed hundreds of students and admissions officers to provide an insightful account of the whole game. (The process of applying early is logically referred to as a game because the ultimate decision depends both on the choices made by other applicants and the colleges themselves rather than applicant's wishes.) The authors discuss at great length the various rules of early admission programs, the decision-making strategies used by colleges, and the advantages vs. the disadvantages to everyone involved. They also offer recommendations for improving the system. The bottom line: applying early does make a difference. Those who read Jacques Steinberg's The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College will find that the two works share similar concerns. The key difference is that this work offers a broader picture. Recommended for all public libraries offering guidance and resources to students preparing their college applications.-Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Readers seeking solid information about elite colleges will find The Early Admissions Game refreshingly frank. Other readers concerned about restoring some equity to the process will also appreciate the book's generosity of spirit and suggestions for reform. The authors present a devastating portrait of elite college admissions-and early admissions in particular-as an elaborate and complicated 'game'...[where the winners] tend to be privileged students who have access to highly skilled counselors with information pipelines to elite college admissions offices. * The Nation *
Avery and his colleagues describe college admissions as a casino on Mars: you have to guess the rules of the game you are playing, and the rules can change while you are playing it... [Their chief finding] is that applying early significantly increases the chances of acceptance... Colleges argue that the early-admissions pool is stronger than the regular pool...[but the authors] dispute that claim... The Early Admissions Game is intended as an expose, for high-school students and their parents, of the realities of college admissions, but it is also a protest against the practice of early admissions. The authors believe that these programs benefit privileged students...[and] cheat disadvantaged students. * The New Yorker *
Applying to an elite college through an early-admissions program can improve students' chances of getting in by as much as 50 percent over their odds during the regular admissions cycle, a difference that is the equivalent of scoring 100 points higher on the SAT... Based on an analysis of admission data at top colleges, as well as interviews with over 400 college freshmen [The Early Admissions Game] challenges the official line of college admissions deans, who have long held that applying early does not give prospective students an advantage over regular applicants. But the research confirms what many high-school counselors already suspected, and it is likely to fuel debate over whether early-admissions programs favor wealthy and well-connected students and should be eliminated or reformed. * Chronicle of Higher Education *
[This] important contribution to the college-admissions process should reduce the general anxiety that pervades today's transition to college and, in particular, help level the playing field for students who lack access to adequate college counseling. The book may also prompt needed reform of contemporary admissions practices... The authors' goal...deserves acclaim for helping inner-city and rural students and those in other understaffed districts to pursue admission on a much more even footing... There is a wealth of information in this well-organized, clearly-written book which will enable students to make better college choices. * Harvard Magazine *
Avery, Fairbanks, and Zeckhauser offer clear and compelling evidence that the college admissions process needs repair. Their findings have already inspired steps toward reform.
This is an exceptionally interesting and intelligent book-one with real 'news' to report. The authors present their important findings with great clarity. I expect that this volume will have a significant and favorable impact on policy discussion of early admission programs at elite colleges.
Anyone involved in the college admissions process-students and parents, counselors and admissions officers, top officials at high schools and at colleges-should read this important book. It will help them achieve their objectives. The authors also present a number of suggestions for reforms in the admissions system that are worthy of debate across American higher education.
Researching and applying to colleges is a demanding, confusing, and stressful time for both students and parents. This book provides context and guidance to admissions professionals, to college counselors, and to families as they confront today's highly competitive, and often controversial, college admissions scene. It offers an insightful and authoritative explanation of the strategic choices that await those seeking to enroll at the nation's leading colleges and universities. It can help a student decide whether, when and why to apply early. Most important, it can give applicants the confidence to focus less on the 'game' and more on the truly critical factors in choosing a college: the level of intellectual challenge and vitality in the curriculum, the strength and accessibility of the faculty, and the student's individual sense of fit with a particular campus environment and culture.
The Early Admissions Game explains clearly and comprehensively the many forces that have made early applications a prominent-and much misunderstood-feature in the high-pressure arena of college admissions. The authors clear away the hype and speculation, then offer refreshingly sane, sensible guidance that will greatly help students make intelligent decisions about their college applications.

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