CHARLOTTESVILLE — More than a decade ago, the University of Virginia ended its early decision option amid a push to democratize student applications.
On Thursday, UVa announced the return of early decision, a binding option that requires students to accept an offer — a situation more likely to appeal to wealthy and well-connected students who don’t need to wait for financial aid offers.
Dean of Admissions Greg Roberts said the change came after demand from high school students, adding that the option should enable determining class size earlier and with greater precision.
“As we started thinking about it and having these conversations, I started reaching out to high school counselors across the state — I don’t know what I was expecting, but they were pretty much unanimously in support,” Roberts said.
This fall, prospective UVa students will be able to apply via three tracks — early decision, early action and regular decision. Early action allows students to apply early to a number of colleges and pick one of their choosing. UVa has seen increasing early action applicants, and posted a record 25,126 early applications this year.
UVa used early decision from the 1960s until 2006. In 2007 the university switched to one deadline to simplify the process and attract more low-income applicants.
Between 1990 and 2006, John Casteen, UVa’s president at the time, said few students from low-income families used the early decision option.
Fewer than 20 of the 947 students accepted under early decision in 2005 applied for financial aid. That year, early decision applicants made up nearly one-third of the eventual first-year class, according to university records.
An influential 2003 report from the Harvard University Press found that early applicants received the equivalent of a 100-point bump on the SAT. According to a 2016 analysis by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Ivy League schools admit early admissions applications at rates three to five times higher than other applicants.
In 2012, UVa began offering a non-binding early action process in addition to regular decision. Its applications, and offers, have soared since.
Some schools use early decision as a way to play a numbers game with application and acceptance numbers, which can boost their standing with U.S. News & World Report.
A 2016 report by The Washington Post found that many of the nation’s top schools pull nearly half of their incoming freshman through early application processes that favor wealthy and well-connected students.
The Post found 37 schools where the early-decision share of enrolled freshmen in 2015 was at least 40%. According to its analysis of top-tier schools’ 2015 early admission applicants, 42% were admitted to the University of Richmond in 2015, 39% were admitted to Washington and Lee , and 50% were admitted to the College of William and Mary . Each school’s admissions rate for their total applicant pool was far lower.
Most top-tier universities offering binding, early decision plans are private schools.
However, Virginia Tech, Christopher Newport University and William and Mary are state universities that offer early decision.
UVa will still offer its non-binding, early action option, which has a Nov. 1 deadline , and its regular decision option, which has a Jan. 1 deadline.
Early action and regular decision applicants have until May 1 to pay their enrollment deposit and commit to attending UVa.
Students are all equally eligible for financial aid; the Access UVa program promises to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need to attend college.
The early decision application will be available this fall. Prospective students must complete the Common Application, which becomes available in August.