The Ethics of Single Choice Early Action

Posted by Michele Hernandez

For many of our students, single choice early action (the very restrictive program used by Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford) is a tough choice. For those who fall in love with a SCEA college, it’s a big risk because unlike early decision, SCEA prohibits applications to other early action colleges (that you might use as back up). So for example a student who picks Brown for ED can also apply to U Mich, UVA, U Chicago, UNC Chapel Hill and Villanova under early action – the catch is that if that student were accepted to all those colleges, he’d have to say YES to Brown and turn down the other offers since ED is binding.

But what happens when a student is successful at Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Princeton in SCEA? Suddenly the student finds him/herself celebrating because of the happy news from Princeton, but decides rather than just saying YES (and ostensibly Princeton was a first choice or else the student would have picked one of the others), that student decides, “hey, why not go for 10 other schools to see where else I get in.” Sure, it’s permitted under the rules of SCEA – it is NOT binding and students are allowed to use the regular round. But WHY would they? Once you’ve been accepted to your top choice school, we think it’s unethical for a student to then send in multiple applications just to, in effect, collect acceptance letters. Obviously the student is VERY strong or he/she wouldn’t have been accepted to the SCEA school in the first place. That means it’s pretty likely that same student will see multiple offers of admission in the regular round. But what is the point of collecting acceptances if you can only ATTEND one school? Think about how tough the regular round is – most of the Ivies have single digit acceptance rates. For every student accepted, often 20-30 are turned down. That means a strong student who already has an SCEA acceptance is basically blocking out other students for whom that particular school might be a dream/first choice. And that’s unethical in our opinion since you can only attend one college.

I suppose that if a student got into Yale but wanted to try one other college (say Stanford), he could throw on ONE application for regular, but only if he were fairly positive that he would pick Stanford over Yale. Otherwise, it’s not even right to do that. Space is TIGHT in the regular round. Students who are lucky enough to get in SCEA should thank their lucky stars and then think VERY carefully about withdrawing all other applications except maybe one other to leave some space for students who still have no acceptances. Guidance counselors should also encourage students at their high school to NOT just take up regular round spots on a whim to collect trophies.

One reply on “The Ethics of Single Choice Early Action”

While I definitely see where you are coming from, there are situations where it makes sense for a student accepted SCEA to their favorite school to apply regular decision to other schools as well. College can be extremely expensive, so some students apply SCEA to their top school to make sure they get in, but then apply to other schools so that they can compare financial aid/merit scholarship packages.

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