In commentary on this thread, “Semus” wrote:

I think that the biggest discrimination that exists in the Williams admission process is the one against international students. International students and US citizens are considered to be 2 separate pools by the admission office. The admission offce targets to fill about 6 % of the incoming class with internationals; this is about 30 ppl. Last year, about 900 international applied, and about 80 were accepted (these figgures are “almost righ”–I am quoting from my memory, but the accurate data can be checked in the previous editions of The Williams Record).

Thus, the admistions rate for internationals is about 1 in 10, while it is 1 in 5 for the general college population. Of course, this differs from country to country –Williams seeks to acheive as much “global geographic diversity” as possible. This effectively means that the admissions rate for somebody from China is, say, about 1 in 50 (my friend from China who goes to Williams told me that a bunch of his friend with Math SAT of 800 were rejected — and that’s only one (albeit elitish) high school in China [BTW, imagine yourself doing SAT in Chinese, or Burmese, or Russian, while you take all of your classes in English] . I have heard a person from the admission office saying that (I parafraze) “if we had a truly need-blind admission policy [read “citizenship-blind policy”], a third of the Williams students would be Chinese, a third Eastern European, and a third everyone else.”

Given the admission rate of 1 in 20 for an average intl. student, it is not surprising that although they constitute 6% of the student body, the valecitorians in the two last years have been intl’ students (in 2004, a student from China, and in 2005 a student from Bulgaria).

This is interesting stuff and, as always, I wish we knew more details. In particular, is there really a 6% quota? Are the grounds for this quota any better than the quotas that elite schools had for Jewish students 50 years ago?

But, I think that what little evidence we have contradicts Semus’s claim. For example, consider the juniors and seniors selected into Phi Beta Kappa (more or less than highest 12.5% of GPAs in the class).

If Semus were correct, we would expect that more than 6% of these students would be international. After all, if standards are higher (competition stiffer) then the typical international student should be smarter and/or harder working and/or more academically gifted than the typical US student.

There is some evidence in looking at the juniors inducted. By my count, 4 of the 25 (16%) are international. But, among the 42 seniors inducted, none were international. So, only 4 out of the 67 Phi Beta Kappa students in the class of 2005 were international students.

And, mirable dictu, 4 is almost exactly 6% of 67. There are exactly as many international students in PBK as one would expect if the null hypothesis — that the college does not discriminate for or against international students — were true.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of complications here, especially in terms of course choices and major selection. One could do more by looking at actual GPAs, or at least various latin honors. But, big picture, there does not seem to be discrimination against, or affirmative action in favor of, international students.

Now, if the Record really wanted to write a story that everyone talked about, they would investigate the distribution of alumni children, URMs or varsity athletes among the PBKs. I wonder what they would find?

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