Not so random googling brought up this transcript of a CNN broadcast from May 24, 2000 that featured am inside look at Williams admissions. I’ve included the section related to Williams below. It is an interesting read.

JORDAN: We focus on life “After the Bell” in today’s “Chronicle.” Many of you will be or have been strutting down your high school graduation line to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Those who have probably already have been through a process some of you still face: getting into a good college. Sixty-five percent of U.S. students go on to college. For those, the science of applying for college is a precise one. Admissions boards consider grades. They also look at standardized test scores like SAT or ACT. There are letters of recommendation and personal essays.

Stephen Frazier gets a peak into the process one admissions board went through, and it’s not as simple as you might think.


RICHARD NESBITT, DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: Let me just go through the cards for this kid because I think it’s one that could be interesting.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Spring comes so late to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, Williams can be so bleak in early April, they send a student once a day to play the school song on church bells to remind them what’s out there past all the clouds: the mountains. But it is a thrilling time for the admission officers crowding around this conference table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And after I won the Nobel Prize, I went to the countryside and delivered gold to all the people. I am now Robinhood.

FRAZIER: Robinhood? Nobel Prize? All joking aside, even the most experienced officers on this staff still get impressed — no — excited by the accomplishments of high schoolers applying here.

NESBITT: And you have the testing — 780 verbal, 770 math, 700 Math II, world history 73, world — writing — sorry — 800: a scholar who cares not for grades.

FRAZIER: That’s admission director Richard Nesbitt presenting notes from three of his colleagues…

NESBITT: Deep thinker, good writer, fascinating family; mom’s a former nun, dad almost a former priest.


FRAZIER: … about a basketball co-captain and newspaper editor from a private academy in small-town Louisiana. And with those scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, all at or near the top score of 800, he’s the kind of kid most colleges would admit in a second.

NESBITT: He’s not a good detail guy, but, oh, won’t he be great on the big picture. When he sets his sights, I bet he’s impressive.

FRAZIER: Maybe so, but here he is not a quick admit. They’ll talk about him for 15 minutes.

NESBITT: He’s a National Merit finalist.

FRAZIER: And at times, it doesn’t sound good. NESBITT: Guidance counselor says he’s a true scholar, brilliant, loyal, but checks him back for academic achievement. He has great aptitude, but he still has a lot of the Bs. He hates busywork, apparently. I’m sort of leaning toward wait list on my card.

FRAZIER: Some of that time is spent rating academic performance. Williams uses a scale of 1 to 9, 1 being the highest. And this is the table a reader uses to calculate the rating. A 5 “ac” student smack in the middle of that scale would have College Board scores averaging 660 points. Moving across, there’s her score times two — they using that as a shorthand sometimes. She’d have average ACT scores of 29, grades that would rank her higher than 90 percent of her class, and her average score on advanced placement tests would be 4.

But to include her in its class of 2004, which will contain 528 students, Williams considers other factors not visible on the table. Did she take the most challenging courses offered in her school program, the most demanding teachers? Did she just sit in class or drive discussion forward? Even if her opportunities were slim, did she make the most of them?

LAPIDUS: The kids from less sophisticated environments who have gone beyond their settings and beyond the pale to bring their own curiosity or passion to the fore is really remarkable.

FRAZIER (on camera): Worth having on campus?

LAPIDUS: Really worth having on campus.

FRAZIER (voice-over): Look at the stats on the ac 1s or ac 2s — raw academic power. And hundreds of these apply to Williams every year.

NESBITT: We could easily fill our class to two or three times with, you know, just straight academic 1s and 2s. If you, for instance, took all straight academic 1s, you would have a very strong class academically probably. You probably might not have an orchestra. You certainly wouldn’t have a football team, and, you know, it probably wouldn’t be — you know, it wouldn’t be a very interesting group of people.

FRAZIER: So, non-academic accomplishments are also rated on a scale of 1 to 6. They break out categories from athletics through publications, music, public service, all sorts of visual and performing arts, religious and political activism, science clubs, even after school or summer jobs. Then they rank the intensity of commitment or the level of attainment. Here’s student government: A student elected to class council gets a moderate ranking. The council president gets a top local ranking. Someone elected to lead boy state government is ranked top regional.

Nowadays, says assistant director, Karen Parkinson, Williams prefers students who pursue fewer activities for a longer time.

KAREN PARKINSON, ASSISTANT DIR. OF ADMISSIONS, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: It’s one of the things that we’re looking at in the extracurriculars, that students have been involved for a length of time or to a very deep degree.

NESBITT: We feel there’s a correlation between those students and how, though, they’ll perform in the classroom.

FRAZIER: They ask students to document their interests and send in evidence. Then they send that work to professors or coaches for an evaluation.

NESBITT: Photography — she’s got four years of that.

FRAZIER: The photographs of one applicant from a day school on the West Coast kept her in the running.

NESBITT: This is somewhat significant. She did submit a portfolio of slides. Aida it the one who did the evaluation.

PROF. AIDA LALEIAN, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: It seemed like she had an extensive background in the medium and that the work was pretty intelligent.

FRAZIER: Associate professor of art Aida Laleian.

LALEIAN: I look at it as this is a strength that the student brings to the college, not necessarily that they’re going to be art majors or working photography.

FRAZIER: They asked Peter Farwell, who coaches women’s and men’s track, for his judgment on a football captain and shotputter from a private Catholic school in a part of Oklahoma they didn’t know well.

PETER FARWELL, TRACK COACH, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: They said, well, he’s on the edge. Is he good? And I said, well, he’s a very good one that will be able to score in meets for us. Not necessarily an NCAA candidate at this point, but eventually could, you know, could really impact.

NESBITT: Very fine student, and he gives us a little bit of geographical diversity with Oklahoma.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he’s a hard worker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Top of his class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He worked at a lumber yard in the summer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really like that.

MATTHEW SWANSON, ASSISTANT DIR. OF ADMISSIONS, WILLIAMS COLLEGE: And I think there’s room for getting behind a kid.

FRAZIER: Assistant director Matthew Swanson says most applications never make it this far, weeded out earlier. But once here, the committee will listen to advocacy. One reader can help a student get in.

SWANSON: If you have a reader who’s really impassioned or inspired by a kid, that reader can really make it happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy just is not afraid of hard work. He got his hands dirty, and I just find that really commendable.

NESBITT: OK. How many would like to include? How many would like to middle?

FRAZIER: The shotputter was included in the class. So was the photographer. And the ballplayer from Louisiana? They included him, too. Richard Nesbitt signed their acceptance letters and the other admissions officers helped prepare them for mailing, on their way to anxious seniors, to moments those seniors might never forget, like these undergraduates looking back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was asleep and my dad had gotten the letter and he went ahead and opened it and woke me up, and it was really exciting. And he kind of picked me up and hugged me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I found out on April 1, April Fool’s Day. So for a split second, I thought it might be a joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was bouncing around the room and screaming, and my mom was running around in circles, and it was really cool.


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