Although College Confidential discussions about Williams are not always reliable, they are often informative. Who knew that the combined average SAT among admitted legacy applicants was 1,446 for the class of 2009? Not me. Comments:

1) The provided link (page 36) provides one other interesting factoid: there were 94 admitted legacies into the class of 2009.

2) An obvious interpretation of the 1,446 figure is that legacy status does not matter much for admissions since 1,446 is significantly higher than the average SAT for the class as a whole. But this is, of course, misleading since we don’t know the average of the admitted non-legacy applicants. We only know the average for the admitted and enrolling students, those who decide to attend. I would guess that the average for all admitted students is at least 1,446 since so many of the admitted applicants are also accepted by Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford and, inexplicably, turn down Williams.

3) Of course, what we would really like to know is how many legacies decided to attend Williams and what the average SAT for this subgroup is. If this is a number like 1,300 then we might conclude that legacy status is similar in the “boost” that it gives an applicant to tips-level athleticism.

4) But, unless the numbers are extremely skewed, there is just no way that this can be the case. After all, if 50 of these students had 1,300 SATs (and those were the 50 that decided to come to Williams), then the other 50 would all have to have 1,600. That seems implausible. The most reasonable conclusion is that legacy status does not give one much of a boost in admissions. Back of the envelope, I would guess 50 points or less. Indeed, these numbers wouldn’t contradict a null hypothesis of zero boost.

5) I am sweeping a lot of complications under the rug. Legacy students are different in all sorts of ways from non-legacy students, so a simple SAT comparison is not easy to make. What we really want is to compare the academic credentials of legacy admits versus matched non-legacy admits, those from similarly wealthly, educated parents.

6) It might also be that the legacy numbers are biased on the high side because so many very highly qualified legacies choose Williams. I would not be surprised if a disproportionate number of students who choose Williams over H/Y/P/S are legacy applicants.

7) Those eager to believe that legacy status matters a lot can take comfort in this quote from a great Malcolm Gladwell article on admissions.

In the 1985-92 period, for instance, Harvard admitted children of alumni at a rate more than twice that of non-athlete, non-legacy applicants, despite the fact that, on virtually every one of the school’s magical ratings scales, legacies significantly lagged behind their peers. Karabel calls the practice “unmeritocratic at best and profoundly corrupt at worst,” but rewarding customer loyalty is what luxury brands do.

A priori I would have thought that similar preferences for legacies exist at all elite schools. Why would Harvard care more than Williams?

Conclusion: I think that this data point provides further evidence for my claim that legacy status, while certainly a boost to ones chances, has nowhere near the power of significant athletic talent (much less URMness) at increasing ones chances at Williams.

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