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Tulane University

Tulane University has become more and more popular with applicants in recent years. Last year, Tulane received more than 45,000 applications, a record, which was 55 percent more than the university received five years earlier.

Last year, the university announced that half of the students who enrolled applied early. At the time, President Michael Fitts said, “While many universities have pared down their expectations and ambitions during the pandemic, Tulane continues to perform at an extraordinarily high level in all areas, including attracting the best and the brightest young scholars from around the country.”

Tulane launched early decision in 2016. This year, the numbers of applicants and early applicants (Tulane has two early-decision programs) were even better than last year.

The university received nearly 46,000 applicants and admitted only 9.8 percent of them. Michael Strecker, assistant vice president for communications, said the class was “our most selective, diverse, largest and most academically qualified class ever.”

Two-thirds of applicants who will make up the freshman class applied in one of two rounds of early decision (with most of those admitted in the first round of early decision). Early-decision applicants generally must enroll if admitted.

What about the other applicants who make up the more than 1,800 students in Tulane’s freshman class?

Tulane admitted 2,249 students via an early-action program, Strecker said. Under early action, students do not need to enroll if admitted.

For regular decision, Tulane admitted only 106 applicants.

The regular-decision numbers were so low that some college counselors heard a rumor that Tulane didn’t admit anyone that way.

Other Colleges

Tulane’s early decision total is a high percentage, even among those of the most competitive colleges in admissions.

At Brown University, 896 students were admitted early this year, out of a total admitted class of 2,546. If Brown’s admitted applicants enroll as they have in the past, the early applicants will make up about 53 percent of all students. At Yale University, 800 applicants were admitted early (through early action, not early decision). They will make up a little less than half of the final class.

These increases (and others at similar institutions) come despite lots of negative publicity about early decision. In New York State, a bill was introduced this year to ban early decision (at private as well as at public colleges).

Mamie Voight is president and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, which issued a report last year on policies that keep low-income students out of college, or the most selective colleges. One of the chapters was on early decision.

“Research has found that early-decision policies can come at the expense of student diversity,” she said. “To benefit from early decision, students need to have access to guidance that counsels them about early application options and supports them through an early application process.” Most low-income students don’t have that access.

“What’s more, they need to be able to commit to a college without comparing financial aid packages across institutions—a type of flexibility many students from low-income backgrounds simply do not have,” Voight said. “Research shows that students from affluent families apply early decision nearly twice as often as lower-income students with similar academic credentials.”

Added Voight, “When colleges reserve more seats in their incoming class for early-decision applicants, fewer seats are left for students who cannot commit without comparing financial aid packages, and the students left behind are the very students who stand to benefit most from the economic mobility higher education can provide.”

Robert J. Massa, principal and co-founder of Enrollment Intelligence Now, said any discussion of early decision or anything among “an organization of peers cannot generally agree to any systemwide practice that could be interpreted by the Department of Justice as restraint of trade.” He was referring to the Justice Department’s suit and settlement of a suit with the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“As opposed to the collegial environment that existed when I was growing up in college admissions,” he said that now a college “can do almost whatever it needs to do in order to meet their enrollment and revenue goals.”

Added Massa, “All of this is to say that the percentage of an entering class a college admits under an early-decision plan is completely up to them. An institution that is really committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, however, would likely not enroll two-thirds of their class under ED, because underrepresented students, particularly those concerned about price, are likely not to apply under a binding early program, and one obviously limits the number of spaces available for those and all other students if that ED percentage is high.”

He said, “If I were a VP for enrollment today, I would likely look to fill somewhere between 40 percent and 45 percent of my class early—enough to virtually guarantee that I would meet the institution’s enroll targets, but still leaving room in the regular pool to shape the class.”

College counselors also see the problems with lots of early-decision applicants being admitted. Many colleges are putting more of an emphasis on early decision, said one. “A player in this shift is Tulane. They aren’t by themselves, and their approach to this is not new—they may just have dipped more into this method this year than in previous years—and, from all accounts, it is working. Their yield has improved,” said the independent counselor, who asked not to be identified.

“Years ago, an Ivy dean proposed a single-choice early-action plan to a group of counselors—not one of the 50 or so of us supported the concept,” she added. “What counselors want for their students is for colleges to be aboveboard in their practices—Tulane has done that. Whether we like or support the practice is immaterial.”

Strecker said via email that Tulane had strong reasons for admitting as many students early as it did.

“Interest in attending Tulane has increased among students nationwide during the pandemic. We received nearly 46,000 applications for the class entering Tulane this fall (the Class of 2025) and accepted only 9.8 percent, making this year’s incoming class our most selective, diverse, largest and most academically qualified class ever. We also had the highest yield rate ever on our offers for admission to this year’s entering class. In terms of health interventions, more than 95 percent of Tulane students and over 90 percent of our faculty are fully vaccinated,” he said.

He added: “Thanks to this and our strict adherence to safety protocols, including mandatory face coverings and one of the nation’s most robust testing, contacting tracing and isolation/quarantine programs, Tulane’s positivity rate has remained substantially lower than that of the city’s or state’s throughout this pandemic. Our admission team continues to host prospective students and their families for campus tours, both in-person and virtually. Our successful efforts in carrying out the dual mission of face-to-face education, while protecting the health of the campus community, is being recognized by these students and their families.”

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