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Taylor Thesis V: Academic Rating

On page 82, Taylor provides some interesting background on the meaning and distribution of the academic rating (AR) system used at Williams.

The academic rating is a vital number that is gleaned from a student’s application. As seen in Table 6.3.l.a, the greatest percentage of students in this study falls in the “academic 2” category, with 27.1 percent of students qualifying for this rank. There are approximately the same proportions of students in the ranks above and below this one, as 15.7 percent of students are academic 3’s and 15.3 percent earn the distinction of being an academic 1. Again, it is important to remember that the students being studied are those who have applied, been admitted, and matriculated to Williams, thus this information is not indicative of the characteristics of the applicant pool. One of the most interesting findings is that over 16 percent of students were ranked as an academic 6 or below. Academic 6’s and 7’s are so close to the bottom of the scale as to be nearly off the Williams’ admission radar, to say nothing of the academic 8’s.

I think that Williams would be a much better place — and a more academically serious one — if the vast majority of academic 6’s and 7’s were denied admission. I also suspect that those students, though denied admission at Williams, would do quite well at a Hamilton or Connecticut College. Applicants who are academically mismatched at Williams should be careful what they wish for.

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#1 Comment By bobc On October 28, 2005 @ 8:54 am

There is a certain thread of smugness that permeates a good deal of the postings on Ephblog. Why the gratuitous swipe at Hamilton and Connecticut College? Surely the point made by David could have been made without any specific alternative college reference.

#2 Comment By David Kane On October 28, 2005 @ 9:27 am

It is not a “gratuitous” swipe to point out that students at Hamilton and Connecticut College have, on average, lower high school scores/grades than students at Williams, just as it is not a “gratuitous” swipe to point out that students at Harvard/Yale/Priceton/Stanford have, on average, higher ones.

Those are the facts. Ignoring does no one any good.

I think that it is helpful to point out specfic other colleges because there seems to be a tendency, by those who think that Williams is hurting the AR 6 and 7 applicants that it rejects, to ignore what happens to these students after Williams rejects them. They still go to collge. In fact, they go to colleges that are every bit as good (in terms of the quality of classroom instruction) as Williams. They just end up as colleges in which their scores/grades match those of the other students.

And that is a good thing.

#3 Comment By James McGill On October 28, 2005 @ 9:56 am

They just end up as colleges in which their scores/grades match those of the other students.

And that is a good thing.

A good thing for what?

… for the value of the Williams Credential?
… for the efficiency of teaching a student populace of relatively uniform aptitude?
… for making us alums proud that we can put little purple stickers on our vehicles?

Keep in mind that the best high school students do not necessarily make the best college students, and the best college students do not necessarily make the best graduate students, and the best graduate students do not necessarily make the best lawyers, doctors, teachers etc.

If a college’s goal is to produce the best possible group of graduates, then it is necessary for the admissions process to look deeper than the numerical credentials of the applicant pool.

This will mean taking a chance on some students, whether you do it on a ‘diversity’ rationale or some other rationale.

As for the the individual students, some will rise to the challenge and some will not. Unless a clear section of students is performing disastrously, then the admissions policies should be presumed to be working as intended.

No need to get snotty about it.

#4 Comment By David Kane On October 28, 2005 @ 10:41 am

It is mostly a good thing for teaching efficiency. It is, secondarily, a good thing for the reputation of Williams, but this is not much of an issue since the College ensures that it lets in so few AR 6/7 applicants that the reputational effect is a small one.

But you ignore the effect of the rejected applicants themselves. They are better off at another school. Do they “perform disastrously”? Well, for the most part, No. But I wonder what the data would show on this. I’d bet that 6/7 students are much more likely to fail a class, go on academic probation, be forced to take a leave of absence and so on. I’d bet that they are much less likely to be math/science majors, even if they liked math/science in high school. They are probably much less likely than other students to take tutorials, write theses or report an active engagement with their classes.

Again, I am not making these points to be snotty. I do not think that people that go to Williams are, in any important way, better than people that go to Hamilton. They are not, meaningfully, nicer or more caring or more trustworthy or more responsible. They just happen to be smarter. If you value smartness a lot than, obviously, this is important. And, if you value smartness a lot, then you’ll think that students at Harvard are “better” than students at Williams.

By the way, Williams (read: Morty) have already decided to take fewer chances than it used to. The number of 6/7 applicants accepted is, I believe, much lower than it used to be. If you think that this is a problem, don’t yell at me. Yell at Morty.

If a college’s goal is to produce the best possible group of graduates, then it is necessary for the admissions process to look deeper than the numerical credentials of the applicant pool.

Says who? There is no evidence that I am aware of to think that anyone can do this, that a “deeper” look produces better results. Williams and other schools used to do interviews to try to get this deeper look. They were useless. You can’t accurately judge 17 year old high schools students who are trying to impress you with any greater insight than the simple data of transcript/scores (and, maybe, recommendations) provides.

#5 Comment By bobc On October 28, 2005 @ 11:29 am

I’m sure nobody wants to continue this conversation for any undue length of time, but it might have been more circumspect, David, to refer to the “roster of excellent colleges whose applicants generally have lower high school grades/scores” rather than select Hamilton and Connecticut College from what is surely a rather extensive list. If it is not necessary to risk offending a Hamilton graduate or a Connecticut College graduate (or the offspring of Williams alums) – even if you are right – why do it? Surely being right is not the sole measurement
of a sensitive human being.

#6 Comment By Mike E On October 28, 2005 @ 11:35 am

I’m glad the college admits “6’s and 7’s,” primarily because it indicates a real belief in people being more than their academic record. And, there are a lot of terrible places for smart people to be graded in this world.

I could be missing the point if all we’re talking about are legacies or something… but even then, who knows. We’re not out to become Swarthmore (and that IS a direct swipe, for comparatively good reason).

#7 Comment By David Kane On October 28, 2005 @ 3:42 pm

Mike writes (naively) that:

I’m glad the college admits “6’s and 7’s,” primarily because it indicates a real belief in people being more than their academic record.

This isn’t what Williams does! How many times do we have to go through this? If you are a 6/7 without also being in some other highly specific category, you have essentially zero chance of getting into Williams? Williams does not try to look “deeper” into the character or beyond the “academic record” of, say, Chinese American students with 6/7 ARs and from middle income families. None of those students get in. Period.

It is not the case that Williams looks at all the 6/7 students and then decides who among them are special. Instead, it will go down to 6/7 rankings for very specific kinds of students in order to ensure that it has enough of those types. This may be a good idea. It may be a bad one. But it is silly to sugarcoat the process by pretending that Williams just happened to see some outstanding personality/character in a 6/7 linebacker. He got in because, among all the linebacker applicants, his AR was the best.

Replace “linebacker” with some other category (donor-child; URM; whatever) as you like.

#8 Comment By frank uible On October 28, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

Keep them linebackers coming!