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We’re #1

The latest US News college rankings are out. Williams has maintained its #1 position, with Amherst second and Swarthmore third. Previous discussions here and here.

Again, it would make a great senior theses to look at the US News system and how Williams has fared over the years. One of the surprises (to me) is that Williams is only 5th on the “selectivity” rank. Why would that be? Note that Amherst also has higher SAT scores and class ranks. Hmmm.

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#1 Comment By Yodelyho On August 19, 2005 @ 10:56 am

It would be great if they lumped the liberal arts colleges together with the national universities. I don’t think many folks make it past the “Best Universities” section in the US News Guide. “Williams and Mary” has been ranked #1 for several years now among liberal arts colleges, and I’m still waiting for the college to rise from its obscurity.

#2 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 19, 2005 @ 11:07 am

I applaud your speed, David. Your posting beat the e-mail I just got from the college announcing the U.S. News rankings by an hour and a half.

#3 Comment By frank uible On August 19, 2005 @ 11:19 am

All this only matters if one is concerned with the unsophisticated among college evaluators. Nevertheless the vast majority of college evaluators, including prospective college students thinking about colleges like Williams, their parents and Williams alumni, are unsophisicated. We certainly want to impress them. Consequently we ought to and do care. In an ideal world the quality of this “manufactured” news item would relegate it to People Magazine, but of course People Magazine isn’t interested.

#4 Comment By LS On August 19, 2005 @ 10:18 pm

Considering that Tufts is rankled #27, tied with University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Wake Forest, this would tend to say good things about the liberal arts colleges as we all know that Tufts is not the top of the NESCAFE. I would suppose that one could make a ranking of the NESCAFE colleges, including Tufts in the ranking, and extroplate from there

This could lead to further questions about the original rankings such as was Tufts downgraded for not having many graduate schools? Was Tufts downgraded for being in lovely Medford? Was Tufts upgraded for having a wacky school mascot, and would Williams be upgraded for this reason as well.

#5 Comment By jared ’96 On August 19, 2005 @ 11:30 pm

I wonder who fills out the U.S. News “reputation” surveys and ranks Williams as less than a 5 out of 5? Apparently several people do, which is just unfathomable. It makes me wonder just who they give their 5s to…

Allegedly some law professor did a study once where he surveyed a bunch of legal professionals on the reputations of various law schools. Perhaps not surprisingly, Princeton Law School ranked very high. which is all you need to know about the validity of these surveys.

#6 Comment By Yodelyho On August 19, 2005 @ 11:42 pm

The reputation survey is filled out by presidents, provosts and deans of admissions. Liberal arts colleges fill out surveys for other liberal arts colleges.

There are two explanations for why Williams and Amherst would have less than a 5.0 academic reputation score. First, colleges may downgrade their peers, hoping to provide leverage for themselves. Second, I think its highly likely that some folks filling out the liberal arts surveys may have not have heard of Williams, or they may simply not recognize it as a strong school.

I have interacted with high-level administrators at liberal arts colleges (some even peers of Williams!), and you would be SHOCKED by how many of them give me blank stares when I tell them that I went to Williams. In one case, a newly appointed high level administrator at a NESCAFE (hah!)school indicated quizically that she was, “not familiar with that school,” when I told her that I attended Williams. She subsequently asked where it was located!

To me, this is very compelling evidence that Williams needs to make an extremely concerted and forceful effort to market itself. This would benefit students, faculty and alumni tremendously. Are you listening Williams College??? Brand! Brand! Brand!

#7 Comment By frank uible On August 20, 2005 @ 12:59 am

Yodel: I believe that you can find Williams College right behind the Heinz ketchup!

#8 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2005 @ 1:41 am


I believe it’s 5th on the selectivity rank because it is 5th in both of the categories that contribute to that rank: median SATs and % of freshmen in the top 10% of their class.

I’m pretty sure that USNEWS dropped “acceptance rate” from the calculation because it’s so meaningless. For example, Harvey Mudd has a 38% acceptance rate (nearly double that of Williams), but has the highest median SATs and the highest percentage of top-10 percenters of all 4-year colleges in the United States. The relatively high acceptance rate indicates nothing about how hard the school is to get into; instead, it’s a measure of self-selection because nobody but a brainiac is going to apply to an 850 student science and engineering school that is harder than hell.

Same deal with UChicago, which has slightly higher median SATs than Williams, but a 40% acceptance rate. It isn’t that it is easier to get into, but rather its reputation and daunting application separate the wheat from the chaff before the mountain of reject applications hits the admissions office.

I actually think the entire admissions game would work a LOT more efficiently if there were a much higher degree of self-selection on the front end. You wouldn’t have so many clueless parents and students bellyaching about “such a crapshoot” because they applied to hopeless reaches.

When you reject four out of every five apps, it means that you are getting a lot of apps from people who have no chance and just wasted their $60.

#9 Comment By Jeff Zeeman On August 20, 2005 @ 8:41 am

Believe me, as someone very familiar with both, UChicago is MUCH easier to get into than Williams. I would say Harvey Mudd is as well. Put it this way: if all you bring to the table is academics, you need MUCH better numbers to get into Williams (1500 plus SAT for sure and close to a 4.0, plus lots of academic honors) than you need to get into either one of those schools. What makes Williams Williams is that it has nearly the highest numbers of any school, while at the same time, having the best athletic program and arguably the best undergraduate art/theater/music talent of any LAC, not to mention having a respectable, and increasing, level of diversity and a healthy social life.

Admissions percentage really should be included, because otherwise, schools that focus primarily on numbers will have artificially inflated selectivity rankings. I mean, Caltech has higher SAT’s and gpa’s than Harvard, but anyone who thinks that Harvard is not harded to get into is dead wrong. Basically, AWS are by far the hardest three LAC’s to get into — Williams has the lowest SAT’s because it is the largest and most interested in non-academic accomplishments (particularly athletics), while Swat has the highest because it is the smallest and has no football team. But those three are approximately equal in terms of true selectivity (I’d say Amherst probably slightly ahead because it essentially attracts the same appliant group as Williams, but has a significantly smaller class), with all the rest far behind.

#10 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2005 @ 11:21 am


I agree with your premise. I don’t think it’s possible to make some generic assessment of “selectivity” at, for example, Swarthmore and Williams. It all depends on how the individual student fits into the targeted mix. In other words, your best chance of admission will be at the school where you are the best “fit”.

Let’s look at two hypothetic examples:

Student A is a Massacusetts state all-star ice hockey player with 1350 SATs. This student is probably a lock for acceptance to Williams, but has virtually zero chance of acceptance to Swarthmore. Without an ice hockey team there is no athletic “hook” and the SATs would kill him.

Student B is a Boston Latin student (let’s say with 1450 SATs) whose extracurriculars were focused on campus activism, including organizing a student protest against state-wide MCAS testing at the state house and who failed to get a diploma from Boston Latin because he boycotted the mandatory testing as a matter of principle. With mid-pack SATs, this student is unlikely to be accepted at Williams, but is probably a lock at Swarthmore because the ballsy activism is something that has been traditionally valued in their particular “mix”.

This is precisely why I feel the system would work better if there were a much higher degree of “self-selection” and students paid much more attention to issues of campus culture and “fit” in choosing their colleges.

On your other two points. I agree that UChicago is, on average, slightly easier to get into than Williams. But, not “twice as easy” as the acceptance rate would indicate.

On the Harvard/Caltech comparison: I stay away from comparing Harvard admissions to “normal” admissions. Because of brand name and uber-yield issues, Harvard is an abberration. Any normal statistical analysis does not apply. It simply doesn’t “fit the data curve”.

#11 Comment By Yodelyho On August 20, 2005 @ 2:38 pm

Williams should be so lucky as to have as much prestige as Heinz Ketchup!!!!

#12 Comment By frank uible On August 20, 2005 @ 9:07 pm

Let’s start a list of brand name condiments whose prestige Williams does not have!

#13 Comment By Yodelyho On August 21, 2005 @ 5:47 am


Miracle Whip
Grey Poupon

#14 Comment By frank uible On August 21, 2005 @ 10:13 am

Definitely Tabasco!

#15 Comment By Yodelyho On August 21, 2005 @ 2:23 pm

and Lee and Perrins and

Mrs. Dash!!! (I know it’s not a condiment, but what prestige!!!!!)