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Is American University Violating Early Decision Rules?

American University announced this week they are joining the movement to take a little stress out of the college application process by no longer requiring submission of SAT or ACT scores. That's good.

Unfortunately, they chose to test this move in its first year by making what is called the test-optional policy available only to students applying to AU under the Early Decision program. Under ED, if your early application is accepted--usually before the Christmas holidays---you are obliged to attend that college and no other. ED has come under fire as too restrictive and applying too much pressure on first semester high school seniors. AU's announcement appears to some critics, including me, to violate ED guidelines laid down by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. That's bad.

The NACAC "Mandatory Good Practices" rule on this says: "Postsecondary members agree that they will not offer exclusive incentives that provide opportunities for students applying or admitted Early Decision that are not available to students admitted under other admission options."

When I asked about this, AU spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email "our test-optional pilot program is not an exclusive incentive for students applying for Early Decision." Hmmm. It sure sounds like it is to me. If I am applying to AU for next year, I can only keep my below-the-water SAT score a secret if I am applying ED.

No, she said. Since the AU admissions officers were looking at every aspect of the regular applicants' records, and placing no extra emphasis on their test scores, the university did not think the ED applicants earned an advantage in the review process. She said UA officials were checking this with NACAC, but thought they were not breaking any rules.

By Jay Mathews  | August 19, 2009; 5:00 PM ET
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