Is the treatment of international applicants by Williams today equivalent to the discrimination by Ivy League schools against Jewish applicants 50 years ago? Inquiring minds want to know.

First, we have the empirical question of whether or not Williams discriminates against international applicants today. I am beginning to think that it does. For starters, international students have made up a seemingly fixed 6% of the each class for several years now. Where did that magic 6% come from, if not an implicit/explicit quota?

It could be that international students just so happen to be a strong enough group that there are about 60 of them worthy of admission each year (which, with a 50% yield, would generate 30 international Ephs in each class), but I would have predicted a secular growth in the quality and quantity of international applicants in the last decade. The world is getting smaller. Still, as I have argued on other occasions, the law of large numbers applies to admissions as elsewhere, so a steady state value of 6% is not, in and of itself, evidence of a quota.

The more damning evidence of discrimination comes in the performance of international students at Williams. Consider the first crop of Phi Beta Kappa students for the class of 2006. Now, if the population of international students is similar to the population of US students in the class of 2006, we would expect that 6% of the 26 PBKs would be international. In other words, the default hypothesis of no-discrimination would predict 1 or 2 international PBKs.

Before reading further, ask yourself how many PBKs would have to be international for you to be distrustful of the Admissions Department . . .


The actual number is 6 — although the hometown data presented here may not be perfect. Almost 25% of the top students at Williams in the class of 2006 are from outside the US even though such students make up only 6% of the class.

This is a large enough number to make me suspicious. Admittedly, my prior analysis suggested that there weren’t really aren’t that many more international students in the right tail of the Williams GPA distribution, but more evidence leads me to update my posterior inference. I think that Williams does discriminate against international students. Or, if their outstanding performance caught tha admissions office by surprise — perhaps because it is hard to evaluate the meaning in high school transcripts from places like China — then there is no excuse for not acting on that information going forward.

Second, assuming that this discrimination exists, is it justified? No. Would any EphBlog reader disagree? Williams should admit the most academically outstanding (and, secondarily, well-rounded) English-speaking 18 year-olds from around the world. If 50% of them happen to be from outside the US, then so be it.

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