Are you an applicant to Williams? Have you received a love note yet?

Early-decision admissions policies may be falling out of favor at some top universities, but many schools are quietly using an array of other tools to win over the best students early.

In increasing numbers, colleges are wooing their top choices with notes of praise and hints of acceptance letters and scholarship money to come. The idea is to win their affections by getting them some good news before the competition does. This courtship, which can take place up to several months before formal acceptance letters hit students’ mailboxes, comes in various forms: everything from “likely” letters — which tell students that they’re likely to get admitted — to “love” letters, or handwritten notes from admissions offices complimenting a student’s essay or some other aspect of the application.

How does this process work at Williams?

A committee meets every week for several weeks in January and February to “really look for the superstars,” says Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions. The result: About 200 students every year receive an admittance letter two months before the rest of the pack.

More detail here.

By late February, the readers identify 200 or more students who stand out so clearly that they receive letters offering admission a few weeks ahead of the rest of the regular admittees. These “early writes,” as Williams calls them, are typically highly coveted by other colleges. By admitting them a bit earlier, arranging for department chairs or coaches to phone or write urging them to accept, and, in a small number of cases, offering to fly them in for campus visits, Williams hopes to get a leg up in the wooing process. (The College tends not to “early write” students from high schools where many candidates have applied to Williams, however, so as not to send parents and school counselors into a tizzy by accepting one student weeks ahead of others.)

In the age of College Confidential (or even EphBlog), I think that a tizzy is unavoidable. Does the Admissions Office also use its alumni interviewers as part of this wooing process? It ought to. Some of us can make a pretty strong case for why an applicant ought to choose Williams over, say, Harvard.

Even better would be a randomized experiment in which the Admissions Office choose 50 highly desirable applicants and allowed alumni to reach out to 25 (selected at random) but not the other 25. Would alumni involvement in recruitment help Williams in its constant battle to do better in its competition with Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford? It is an empirical question.

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