Thousands of words on the Business Week article on Amherst’s increased preference for “poor” students (here, here, here and here) were not enough. There is more good stuff to blog about!

Consider this handy chart on academic ratings used by the Amherst admissions office.

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Comments:

1) This seems consistent with Williams admissions. See the Taylor ’05 and Doleac ’03 theses for more detail, as well as the Alumni Review article on the admissions process.

Each applicant gets an academic rating from 1 to 9 that focuses heavily on his or her high school grades, standardized test scores, the rigor of his or her academic program within the context of the school setting and the strength of teacher recommendations.

Now 9 categories is different from 7, of course, but I think that the bottom 2 for Williams are essentially irrelevant. Recall Barnard’s report that “it seems clear that we are not going to put the Jeannie back in the bottle in terms of admitting 7’s as athletic tips (SAT scores of 1150-1250).” These SAT scores map to the Amherst category 6, but, apparently, such applicants are no longer admitted, and this is a recent change at both schools.

2) This discussion is obviously connected to recent changes at Williams. Note the rise in the academic qualifications of tipped athletes. Recall the decrease in the percentage of students with low SAT scores. Dozens of students who would have been admitted to Williams 10 years ago are being rejected today.

3) These ranks are high-school-quality adjusted. At an elite school like Boston Latin or Exeter, you can be in the top 5% or even lower and still be a 1. At a weaker high school, you need to be the valedictorian. At the weakest high schools (botton 25%?), even the valedictorian is not considered smart enough to go to Williams.

4) Unstated in the article is the important role played by course selection. You must take the most rigorous courses (AP, honors and the like) that your school offers in order to be a 1 or 2. Again, this is school-quality adjusted. A student who takes two AP classes at a high school that only offers two such classes can be a 1. An Exeter student with only 2 AP classes can’t be.

5) The Amherst article notes:

Right now, Amherst ranks each of the thousands of applications it receives every fall on an academic scale of one (outstanding) to seven (inadmissible). Most students admitted for academic reasons alone are ones, meaning they were at or near the top of their high-school class and scored 1520 or higher on the SAT.

But are (almost) all 1s admitted? I had thought that they were (and many/most attended H/Y/P/S instead). But the Williams article claimed that:

The admission staff wait-listed or rejected nearly 300 of the 675 applicants to whom they had given their top “Academic 1″ rating–a pool of students that, on average, ranked in the top 3 percent of their high school classes and had SAT scores of 1545.

Really? I am deeply suspicious. My guess is that the vast majority of the rejects were international students, forced out by the international quota. I bet that the admissions rate for US citizen academic rank 1s is much higher than 50%.

6) Amherst Admissions Dean Tom Parker ’69 was Admissions Dean at Williams for years, so one would think that the ranking systems would be quite similar.

7) For context on the trade-offs involved, note that, at Williams:

In general, all applicants with a combined academic rating of 3 or higher are rejected at this point, unless the first and second readers have identified one or more “attributes” that warrant additional consideration.

I am not certain that a 3 at Williams is the same as a 3 as described above at Amherst, but I think they are fairly close. At Amherst:

Bringing in more low-income kids would require added compromise. To meet Marx’s 25% goal, Amherst would have to take more threes, says Parker, meaning those who may have straight As but SATs as low as 1360. Even though Amherst already does so for minorities, legacies, and athletes, faculty members are worried. “This could be a radical departure that fundamentally changes the character of our institution,” warns physics professor David Hall, who heads the Faculty Committee on Admissions & Financial Aid.

And that is the trade-off. See my prior screeds for arguments against this policy.

But the main purpose of this post is to document the details of the process, how the academic ranks are constructed and what they mean. Anyone with further information should provide it in the comments.

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