Isn’t there anyone at Williams who can accurately explain what is going on with early admissions to the students? Judging from the content of Willa Marquis’s ’09 op-ed, apparently not. Into the breach once more.

On Thursday, Education Reform and Advocacy (ERA) held our first panel discussion on Early Decision and the Politics of Socioeconomic Equality in Higher Education, featuring several Williams professors and members of the administration as speakers.

Interesting. Who said what? Did anyone blog it or record it?

Other friends told me that they knew they wanted to come to Williams and wanted to take advantage of the higher acceptance rate of early applicants, but couldn’t because they didn’t know if Williams would offer them enough financial aid.

If those friends were poor, they did not need to worry. Does Marquis know that? Did the panelists explain it? If you’re family makes less than $50,000 (Is that the current number at Williams?) you go free. There is no need to comparison shop.

Now, if your family makes between 50k and, say, 200k, there may be reason to skip early decision and apply to multiple schools. For these applicants, shopping for college is like shopping for cars. You are in the land of Morty’s bazaar, and the only way to guarantee a fair deal is to shop around. I find it hard, however, to drum up a lot of sympathy for those applicants. Life is full of trade-offs. You can improve your odds by applying early or you can, perhaps, improve your aid package by applying widely. Learn the facts and make your choice.

While I understand the desire to ease the college application process – I was one of those indecisive, apply-to-ten-different-schools types – I can’t help but recognize early decision as yet another edge for students from more privileged backgrounds.

Early decision is only an edge because Williams gives these applicants an edge. The problem — to the extent that you see it as a problem — is that Williams has lower standards for early decision. The College could easily keep the early decision program and just raise the standards so that your odds of admission were the same early or regular. Did anyone point this out at the panel? If not, Marquis should find better panelists.

From a logistical standpoint, speaker Mark Robertson, Assistant Director of Admission, brought up a fascinating point during the panel: Harvard can count on an 85 percent yield from its accepted students. That means that Harvard can estimate very accurately the number of students that will attend Harvard. Williams just doesn’t have this guarantee, and since, according to Robertson, Williams can’t afford to over-enroll its small first-year class, a lot of pressure would be applied to the waitlist phase of the admissions process.

Perhaps. But, again, the key issue is not yes-early-decision versus no-early-decision; it is lower-standards-early-decision versus equal-standards-early decision. At a place like Williams, enrollment management is just not a major concern. Robertson certainly knows this. Why couldn’t he explain it more clearly?

Also, note that the issue is not the yield rate (Harvard’s 85% versus Williams 50%), it is the stability of the rate. As long as Williams rate is stable at 50%, Robertson’s job is no harder than his counterpart’s at Harvard. Which school has the more stable rate? I don’t have the data handy, but I would bet that, over the last decade, the rate has been at least as steady at Williams. I have seen no evidence to the contrary.

The rest of the piece meanders on. Does the Record no longer require its writers to have a thesis? I was struck by two other comments.

According to Alex Willingham, professor of political science, who spoke as well, the admissions office does a very good job bringing people of all backgrounds to this campus (many, of course, may find this point debatable), but the administration does not put forth the effort to make this campus truly receptive to diversity. In particular, he mentioned the appointment – or lack thereof – of diverse faculty members.

I know faculty members who think that Williams should hire the best applicants, regardless of color. Are those faculty members willing to debate with Willingham, to argue against his nose-counting? [Maybe Willingham is looking for ideological diversity? — ed. Perhaps.]

Realistically, we make assumptions about fellow students based on their appearance, or single parts of their lives, and some clubs and activities at this campus are only truly available to select members of the student population.

Which clubs are these? I realize that there are certain clubs that are, say, majority African-American, but I thought that just about every club at Williams was eager for more participants, would welcome any student with a genuine interest. Am I naive?

UPDATE: The other obvious evidence why Robertson’s claim is 95% blowing smoke (at least at a school like Williams) is that MIT, with a 67% yield, does not give any meaningful advantage to its early applicants. A school does not need Harvard’s yield rate in order to manage its enrollment efficiently. Again, I am a fan of early decision, but there is no reason to use misleading justifications in support of it.

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