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The 15% Statistic

The Record’s overview of admissions decisions for the class of 2008 is somewhat relevant to our recent discussion of tips. The article claims that “Each year 66 athletes receive tips, increasing their chances for admission. ” Actually, the number of tips varies from year to year. I’d wager that Morty Schapiro was involved in the decision to reduce the number from the 70 odd that were tipped just a few years ago. Of course, “increasing” should be read as “virtually guaranteeing.” I presume that former editor Mike Needham ’04 would have caught that error.

Even more interesting, though, was this quote from Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74:

“The biggest overlap of admitted students is with Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Amherst and Dartmouth – the usual suspects,” he said. “Going head-to-head with places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, if we get 15 percent of those kids, we are actually doing pretty well. Whereas with Dartmouth and Amherst, we are doing well if we split students 50-50.”

It is heartening to see that the admissions department keeps such a close eye on these competitive yield statistics. My sense is that one of the biggest changes of the last 50 years at Williams (that is specific to Williams) is the extent to which the College does much better in these head-to-head competitions than it used to. I am not sure why Williams does better; there’s a great senior thesis, probably in history, to that story.

Of course, the best way of measuring the success of Williams would not involve looking at competitive yield. But in an imperfect world, competitive yield is not a bad measure. After all, if Williams is doing a good job than more applicants will, one hopes, choose Williams over places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton et al. Indeed, if 10 years from now the competitive yield of Williams with the Big Three were more than 35%, then I would argue that the presidency of Morty Schapiro had been a roaring success.