The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on Friday about how successful students from various undergraduate colleges are at getting into “elite” graduate programs. Their summary measure is a “Feeder Score” — basically the percentage of an undergraduate class that ended up in an elite program. For Williams, the percentage was 9%, or 47 attendees out of a class size of 519. The key table rated Williams as the 5th best school in the country, with Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford in spots 1-4. Amherst and Swarthmore were 9 and 10.

Of course, as the authors note, this is a flawed measure on at least two levels.

1) A high school senior deciding between Williams and Princeton wants to know how her chances of getting into, say, Harvard Medical School, are effected by her choice of undergraduate college. This is a very hard question to answer.

2) The WSJ Feeder Score doesn’t control for the number of applicants from a particular school. It could be that every students from Williams that applies to an elite school gets in, or it could be that everyone applies and only a few get in. As a current Williams student, you care about your chances. Note that the reported numbers are further clouded by differential rates of enrollment. It could be that students from Williams and Princeton are equally likely to get in to Harvard Med, but that Princeton students are more likely to enroll if admitted.

But, it is always nice to see Williams near the top of a list like this. If we assume that Williams students are no more or less likely to apply to elite graduate schools (and to matriculate if admitted) than their peers at Amherst and Swarthmore, then Williams higher ranking has some real meaning. Whether this might be because of superior process at Williams (better teaching; good graduate school advising) or superior inputs to Williams (smarter, more ambitious students) is a topic for another day.

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