Thanks to Jim Kolesar ’74 for providing these comments on whether or not Williams has a (minimum) quota of about 12.5% on legacy admissions. Previous discussion here and here. Jim explains:

If a quota is a figure you hit precisely no matter what and a target is a figure you take all reasonable measures to try to hit as a minimum, legacies are neither. We give them extra consideration in the admission process, though their average academic rating is virtually indistinguishable from that of the class as a whole. After each admission cycle, we review the percentage and the academic preparation of the legacy group to see if we’re comfortable with where those measures fall. Virtually always we are. How those considerations play into the admission of individual legacies is another part of what makes the process an art rather than a science.

Also, the number of legacies in the class isn’t as constant as you imply. The percent of them in the class bounces between around 11% and 15%. That means the number can vary by roughly 50%.


1) Thanks to Jim for taking the time to explain this to that subset of the alumni community which is interested.

2) It would still be nice to see the actual data. There is a great senior thesis to be written about the history of legacy admissions at Williams.

3) “Bounce” is not the word that I would use to describe a statistic that moves from 11% to 15% and back. Moreover, if those are the minimum and maximum figures (rounded?) for the last 20 years, then “hold quite steady” is a more accurate desciption. Is there any other aspect of the admissions process at Williams that has been this stable for decades? None comes to mind. Also, I know no one who would describe changes in this range as a movement of “50%.”

4) The main reason to be suspicious — or pleased, depending on your point of view — is that the number/quality of legacy applicants relative to the pool of spots has changed so much in the last two decades. Back in the 80’s, all the legacy applicants had fathers who went to Williams in the era of 250 students per class. Also, those fathers [Sorry, Dad!] were not, on average, in the same academic league as later students. (Williams in the 1950’s was the Bates of its era, if that.) Since test scores and grades are correlated across generations — either because of nature or nurture — the children of 1950s graduates were not, I’ll wager, as nearly accomplished academically as the children of 1970s graduates. Morever, there were twice as many students in the 70s.

So, the number and quality of legacy applicants (assuming more or less stable fertility among Ephs over time, another great thesis topic) is much higher now than it was 20 years ago. And yet the College still enrolls about 60 each year. Why?

5) The obvious conclusion is that there is a “goal” if not a quota. In other words, Jim, as always, is telling us the truth. There is no exact “quota.” But the College has always looked favorably on the children of its alumni. The powers-that-be have always been “comfortable” with a class that is 12% or so legacies. Everything seems to work out. No one complains. 12% is enough to satisfy the Go-Williams faction. 12% does not seem to allow in unqualified students.

6) But, behind the scenes, the competition for those legacy slots has gone up, I bet. One of the most interesting parts of the Admissions Office tell-all (pdf) was this line:

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.

Recall our discussion of academic ratings. My inference is that the only attributes which matter for 3’s and below are URM, tip or wealth. Being a legacy, like being a flutist, is nice but does not matter for admissions for 3’s and below because there are “enough” legacies and musicians among the 1’s and 2’s. This is consistent with our previous analysis of legacy SAT scores. There may be a few AR 3’s who get in just because of their legacy status, but there are not many.

Conclusion: All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. With 12% legacies, there is no grounds for anyone to complain that Williams does not let in enough alumni children. What do they want? 20% legacies? 50%? But, with the so many highly talented legacy applicants — a function of the increasing number and quality in the legacy pool — Williams gets enough legacies from the AR 1’s and 2’s that it does not need to go deeper in the pool.

Prediction: This trend will continue. Recall that “legacy” is defined as being the child or grandchild of an alum. The number of such legacies will be increasing as the larger and higher quality Williams classes of the 1970’s and later enter the grandparent years. Given the continuing test score stratification of American (and global?) society, these Eph families will be richer and more accomplished then ever, able to provide their children and grandchildren with every advantage imaginable. And, even better for Williams, these families will be filled with children who, like me, choose Williams because of those family connections.

There will soon come a day when Williams is able to reach its goal of 12% legacies without actually giving legacy applicants any advantage whatsoever in the process. I wonder how far away that day is.

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