The chain seemed to break in September. That’s when the University of Virginia said it planned to end its binding early decision program  – an announcement that followed just weeks after similar pledges at Harvard  and Princeton  Universities. The move was followed by months of quiet, until now.
In a decision that officials say has nothing to do with other institutions' actions and everything to do with its expanding applicant pool, Florida is eliminating its binding early admissions program. Instead of giving students an option of October 1, November 1 and January 16 application dates (with the first being binding), the university is moving to one mid-November deadline.
In doing away with their early admission programs last fall, colleges cited criticism that the system favors wealthier applicants who are looking for an edge and are not concerned about comparing financial aid packages. At Florida, early decision applicants are generally wealthier and less likely to be first-generation students than those who apply regular decision, according to university officials.
"Since financial aid decisions aren't made until spring, it seemed unfair to ask students to sign a contract without being able to compare contracts at multiple campuses," said Janie M. Fouke, Florida's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
Added Zina L. Evans, assistant provost and director of admissions: "This alleviates students' anxiety of having to choose when to apply and eliminates the perception that applying at one deadline gives anyone an advantage."
The move comes at a time when Florida is seeing a surge in student interest. Since 2000, the number of applications has increased by 18 percent. During that time, the university's acceptance rate has decreased from 62 to 48 percent and the yield -- percentage of accepted applicants who enroll -- has increased from 55 to 64 percent. Test scores and grade point averages have also risen slightly in the past several years, Evans said.
"Since our pool has evolved, the three-deadline model no longer made sense for us," she said. "We were locked into taking a certain number of students. This will help us make an informed decision and let us see the entire pool."
Starting next year, all applicants will hear back from Florida in mid-February. (Early decision applicants received word in December.) Evans said that more than half of applicants each year use the November 1 regular admissions deadline. This fall, close to 5,000 students applied early, with less than half being admitted. In all, Florida received about 25,000 applications for a class of 6,600.
Evans said there's not a great concern of losing students to universities that still offer early admissions. Like Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which eliminated its early decision program five years ago), Florida is a flagship institution in its state. Another state flagship -- the University of Delaware -- eliminated early decision last year.
"We're letting students know [about their application] within the window of when other colleges tell them, so we shouldn't be at a disadvantage," Evans said.
Fouke said students can still apply after the November deadline with the understanding that space is available on a first-come basis. She added that housing will also be on a first-come basis.
Florida's Board of Trustees heard about the change last week.