Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are game theorists immature?

The Harvard admissions office seems to think so.

Well, not exactly, but here is what they say in a recent article about Harvard's decision to end its early admission program:
We recognize that there are risks in eliminating early admission....Yet our hope is that the very best applicants—the ones we seek most assiduously—will appreciate the principled stand we—along with Princeton and the University of Virginia—have taken and will resist the pressure to commit to a college before they are fully ready. Historically such outstanding students have exhibited a level of confidence, maturity, and thoughtfulness that separates them from others who may approach the college admissions process more from a game-theoretic point of view.

I have not figured out the optimal strategy for applying to college in a world where some colleges offer early admission and others (such as Harvard now) do not. But if the optimal strategy puts Harvard at a competitive disadvantage, then we had better rethink our policy. I hope Harvard does not make the mistake of thinking those high school students who act strategically "from a game-theoretic point of view" are somehow lacking in "confidence, maturity, and thoughtfulness."

I don't make many forecasts on this blog, but here is one off-the-cuff. I bet that with Harvard and Princeton out of the picture, applications to Yale's nonbinding single-choice early action program will see a considerable boost next year. The interesting question is whether a significant number of top candidates, once admitted by Yale, will choose to forgo a Harvard application altogether.

If that happens, then Harvard will, from a game-theoretic point of view, have to revise its new admissions policy, regardless of how immature that decision might be.