IF YOU LIKE the idea of a college admissions system that works for students rather than the schools, you will like the news last week from Yale and Stanford universities. Both institutions said they are giving up on binding early admissions -- the practice of giving students a chance for an early decision on applications in exchange for the students' promise to attend if accepted. They join the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Beloit College in Wisconsin and Virginia's Mary Washington College in backing away from the practice. More ought to follow their example.
UNC officials noted when they announced their change that the pool of early-decision applicants was more affluent and less diverse than the group of students applying under ordinary deadlines. Though admissions offices have denied it, studies have shown that early applicants have a better chance of acceptance: That advantage was not available to students who needed to shop for the best financial aid package. Colleges that forgo binding early admissions may have to compete harder for some of the most attractive students. They may have to process more applications. They may lose points on their "yield" rating -- that much-watched measure of the percentage of admitted students who accept. But they can handle that, and for aspiring freshmen, this change is a plus. A widespread move to early action won't slow the application race, but at least it will offer students more time before they have to make a decision. They can test the waters at more places, think longer about what is the right fit and who is offering the best deal before committing.
That's all to the good. Now, if there were just a way to do something about those application essays.