The Feb. 3 Notebook story on admission applications states that 74 percent of Princeton applicants are seeking financial aid and attributes this high percentage to the economy and to “our financial-aid message ... reaching more students than in the past.” There is probably another reason — adverse selection due to the absence of an early-decision or early-action option. As any parent or student who has been through the college admission process recently knows, many (if not most) intelligent and mature students prefer to have the peace of mind of knowing in December that they are going to the college where they feel they will be happiest. Princeton is almost unique in not offering this option. Therefore, unless Princeton’s financial-aid package is important to a student and gives the student a reason to prefer Princeton over other alternatives, the student is more likely to look at and choose other high-quality universities or liberal arts colleges.
It is wonderful that Princeton has a no-loan financial-aid policy. It may well be that Princeton has too many applicants to be able to offer early decision or early action. But the absence of an early-decision/early-action option does alter the composition of the applicant pool and does cost Princeton high-quality students who are not dependent on financial aid. Fortunately, other high-quality colleges (such as Amherst, Pomona, and Williams) are following Princeton’s lead and adopting no-loan policies, but without eliminating early decision.