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How To Get Into Williams

There are many “chances” posts on College Confidential, requests from potential applicants for comments on their chances of getting into Williams and advice on how to do so. See here, here and here for recent examples. I am often tempted to reply: “Take a genetic genealogy test and, if it comes back black, join the appropriate clubs in your high school and check the right box on the Common Application.”

Good advice?

1) A recent New York Times article discussed the power and problems of these tests.

The authors said that limited information in the databases used to compare DNA results might lead people to draw the wrong conclusions or to misinterpret results. The tests trace only a few of a customer’s ancestors and cannot tell exactly where ancestors might have lived, or the specific ethnic group to which they might have belonged. And the databases of many companies are not only small — they’re also proprietary, making it hard to verify results.

“My concern is that the marketing is coming before the science,” said Troy Duster, a professor of sociology at New York University who was an adviser on the Human Genome Project and an author of the Science editorial.

“People are making life-changing decisions based on these tests and may not be aware of the limitations,” he added. “While I don’t think any of the companies are deliberately misleading customers, they may have a financial incentive to tell people what they want to hear.”

You think? If a particular company get a reputation for “finding” black ancestry in people who “look” non-black, I suspect that they might find an eager market for their services. (By the way, Troy Duster is an Eph, via honorary degree. Previous entries here.)

But even if the test companies don’t act on their financial interests, they still make mistakes. And, even when they don’t make mistakes, what happens when they start saying that you have “African” genes when it appears that some of your descendants came from north Africa? And, even when the companies a) Don’t act in their financial interest, b) Don’t make mistakes and c) Don’t count north African ancestry as “African”, there is still a big problem. A large percentage (can’t find a citation just now) of the “white” population in America has at least one ancestor from sub-Sahara Africa. Does Williams really want to provide them with affirmative action?

2) I covered much of this ground last year. Recall:

Note that the Common Application gives you almost complete latitude in what boxes you check. It states, “If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply.” In other words, there is no requirement that you “look” African-American or that other people identify you as African-America or even that you identify yourself as African-American, you just have to “wish to be identified.”

Now, one hopes, that there isn’t too much truth-stretching going on currently. The Admissions Department only wants to give preferences to students who really are African-American, who add to the diversity of Williams because their experiences provide them with a very different outlook than their non-African-American peers. But those experiences can only come from some identification — by society toward you and/or by you to yourself — over the course of, at least, your high school years. How can you bring any meaningful diversity if you never thought of yourself as African-American (or were so thought of by others) until the fall of senior year?

The point here is not that the current admissions policy at Williams is bad or good. It is what it is. The point is that there are significant preferences given to those who check certain boxes and that cheap genetic testing will provide many people with a plausible excuse to check boxes that, a few years ago, they did not have. How much will the admissions process change as a result? Time will tell. It will be very interesting to look at the time series of application by ethnic group over this decade. I predict that the raw number (and total pool percentage) of African-American and Hispanic applicants will increase sharply.

3) Note that this is already happening. Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War over College Affirmative Action tells the story (page 82) of white parents scamming their way into San Francisco’s elite Lowell High School “by scouring their family histories for the tiniest hint of black or Hispanic blood.” That sort of “scouring” gets easier and cheaper each year.

4) Besides studying the trends in the number of applicants from different groups, the Record could have a lot of fun just by looking at the pictures of Williams students. There are, allegedly, 49 or so African-Americans in the class of 2011. Want to bet? I have no doubt that the admissions office is being honest — 49 students did indeed check that box. But, could an outsider look at pictures of all the members of the class of 2011 and pick out those 49 individuals? I doubt it. The Record ought to give it a try. Background information here.

5) Don’t forget that there are some administrators at the College who would actually welcome this development. The College loves to be able to claim that 10% of Williams is African-American, whatever the underlying “truth” might be. In this dimension, the College certainly practices a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell philosophy. Even better would be having a 10% African-American class with average SAT scores above 1400. Not hard to do if a lot of applicants start checking that box.

So, what should those poor applicants at College Confidential do? Suggestions welcome.

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#1 Comment By Vermando On November 30, 2007 @ 12:49 am

I don’t get as worked up about affirmative action as some people, but we certainly had an…issue with this in our class with people who did not look at all Hispanic and likely had not suffered a drop of discrimination in their lives nonetheless checking that box. This was particular sad because those students generally breezed through culturally like kids from prep schools often do while other “true” Hispanics – often from poorer backgrounds – genuinely had a challenge adapting to Williams’ Northeastern prep-school culture.

I did not know of any students doing this with the “Black” box, though perhaps some did and were just too ashamed to admit it. Indeed, we’ll never know, and it would be a bit creepy to have which box someone checked next to his Facebook profile, so perhaps it is for the best.

On the larger issue, why don’t I get as worked up about affirmative action as some people do? Two reasons. First, there is a horrible and recent history of virulent racism in this country – the parish (county) where I grew up only settled its Brown v. Board mandated school desegregation suit last year – so it does seem reasonable to give the classes which were its victims a hand. We can argue about what would be the best kind of “hand” to give – and in that regard I am also not militantly pro-affirmative action – but in any case, I can’t get worked up and indignant against it.

Second, some opponents of affirmative action seem to suffer from the “handicapped parking space” syndrome. This refers to the anger that one feels when one sees a certain group receiving privileged treatment – one reacts on the assumption that, were it not for those handicapped parking spaces, you would be able to park that close to the mall. Similarly, some opponents of affirmative action seem to suffer from an equal indignation that certain people are getting into schools easily, and their reaction (and lawsuits) are based on the contention that “I had better grades than he did – I should have gotten in instead”. The effect of eliminating affirmative action – or the handicapped parking spaces – however, would not be to allow you to suddenly attend a school that you would not have been able to attend / park close to the mall. Instead, you just move up the extra small bit of eliminated space – you park 290 feet from the mall instead of 300, and since you were most likely not one of the last 10 kids on the wait-list, you likely still do not get in to the school. Given this philosophy – combined with the fact that I cannot feel resentment against those who profit from the current system because of reason one – I do not really get riled up about affirmative action or handicapped parking spaces one way or the other.

Those who profit from it by scouring and claiming “questionable” ancestry on the other hand…yeah, that does not leave a warm feeling in my stomach…

#2 Comment By anonymouse/Mr Wierdo On November 30, 2007 @ 2:45 am

Screw you Vomit.

Racism exists because you are not of this race.

People who bullshit race, obviously do not recognize it or are using it for position.

You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.

You came here cause they let you in.

They want you in.

So why all the resentment?

Either fit in or get out.

Once you become a nuisance, there is only one alternative.

Be smart.

Questionable ancestry? Ask that of of our school attendees.

You would be surprised at their questionable pedigree.

#3 Comment By FROSH mom On November 30, 2007 @ 11:05 am

First of all, scrolling right over Mr. Wierdo….

A couple of weeks ago, one of the threads that touched upon diversity issues, prompted me to an interesting exercise. (Suffice it to say that I was at a particular point in my real work and needed an even bigger distraction than just blogging)

Anyway, I picked up the Facebook of the Freshman class that is issued to all parents on check-in to Parents Weekend. I started a list that had on it, the obvious ethnicities; black, white, asian, hispanic…etc. I added a category for “other” (impossible to judge from a photo), “unknown”, (photo missing), “foreign” (from another country). At this point, I started through Facebook, checking the categories that a mere photo and/or last name “suggested” the individual fit into.

I won’t bore you with particular numbers, because the exercise was rife with error and assumption on my part, but I did come away from it with a newfound respect for the College Admissions Department. Not only did their claims of diversity match up percentage wise, but I became more aware of how complex their job is.

In this day and age, there are less and less clear “markers” as to race and ethnicity. Names, color of skin, etc….it is all over the place. And with time and nature, it will become even more so.

And once you step away from the PCness of it all and just look at all those beautiful, bright, shining, intelligent faces, you realize that the mix is there, and with a bit more time and nature, nobody will need to try to “achieve” the mix, it will just be…

#4 Comment By frank uible On November 30, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

mom: Did you make a separate category for the 100s of low and beetle browed, high hairlined, flatten nosed, glazed staring, teeth missing, slack jawed, cauliflowered eared, scar cheeked, pop eyed, open mouthed, spittle dripping, unwashed, foul breathed, gas passing, nose picking, “dis-dem-dese-dose”, booze abusing, fraternity seeking, self exposing, cro-magnon footballers for whom the Williams Admissions Office annually opens the figurative and literal flood gates?

#5 Comment By Anonymous On November 30, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

frank: You write that prose as if born to it. Please post a picture of self so I can compare it to my formed mental picture. Feel free to expose all and thereby answer my question regarding envy.

#6 Comment By FROSH mom On November 30, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

You never cease to disappoint! So much said with so few words! (well, in this instance, not so few..)

And the answer to your question is no. I made no category for “them”.
The telltale signs weren’t evident enough. You know…the drool, the vacant look…

I guess the photos just weren’t big enough.

#7 Comment By FROSH mom On November 30, 2007 @ 2:06 pm


Damn…I meant: “You never disappoint or cease to amaze!”

God , my ineptness at blogging is scary! So sorry!

#8 Comment By frank uible On November 30, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

When it comes to the various stripes of footballers, cro-magnon and otherwise, fortunately or unfortunately your correspondent has had more experience than most people can imagine.

#9 Comment By anon On November 30, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

BTW, did anyone seen the lead story in today’s WSJ weekend section titled “How to get into Harvard?” Williams got an extensive mention over there. Interesting read.

#10 Comment By Anonymous On November 30, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

I would rather a school full of athletes than these dainty little artsy momma’s boys these seem to have a thing for lately.

#11 Comment By Max Factor On November 30, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

“the Record could have a lot of fun just by looking at the pictures of Williams students. There are, allegedly, 49 or so African-Americans in the class of 2011. Want to bet? I have no doubt that the admissions office is being honest — 49 students did indeed check that box. But, could an outsider look at pictures of all the members of the class of 2011 and pick out those 49 individuals? I doubt it. The Record ought to give it a try.”

Let me put it this way. Most gay people are not obviously non-straight in public life. Some people who are of non-white descent can pass similarly. However, just as gay people are routinely ‘outed’ and treated differently because of their orientation, people of color are repeatedly outed and treated differently when their racial profile is known. How many times have I heard “yeah, and she’s black too, it changes everything…” The everything that it changes is a person’s entire life, from the inside and out. We can see differences in to what degree between individuals, but the basic effect of being ‘othered’ is the same.

Would you go around trying to find the reported gay people on campus? And then say ‘wow, who’d have thunk it! Those people are not really minorities, they look just like the regular people.” People and race, like sexual orientation, are more than skin deep.

‘fun,’ indeed.

#12 Comment By FROSH mom On November 30, 2007 @ 6:06 pm

to 5:35 pm:


I am pro-athlete and pro artist…In fact, I am pro-“mix it all up”.

But being an athlete certainly doesn’t preclude being a momma’s boy…
and by the same token, “dainty” doesn’t come to mind in describing the artists I have known.

#13 Comment By hwc On December 1, 2007 @ 4:10 am

From the sound of things in Billsville, some of these families would be better off saving the money they would spend on trying to find a dollop of ethnic blood and invest it in remedial potty-training courses for little Johnny.

#14 Comment By Anonymous On December 1, 2007 @ 4:31 am

Or little Johnny’s visitors from other schools — but of course you would never consider that possibility.

#15 Comment By frank uible On December 1, 2007 @ 4:44 am

Or train Johnny to select a better class of visitors.

#16 Comment By Anonymous On December 1, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

I believe Admissions has the breakdown on what their requirements are for admissions. Asking the public through the use of profiling only adds to bitter recriminations.

Admissions appears to change as the perceived needs of the admininstration and the trustees and our perceived values.

A qualitative student body and high standards in pride and personal development would go more to improve student behavior.

Since Williams cannot afford an entire student population of effeminate effet intellectuals, sporting a few “cro-magnum” jocks is both refreshing and stimulating.

Perhaps their maleness will rub off on the rest of the student body.

#17 Comment By frank uible On December 1, 2007 @ 6:31 pm

Perhaps the Admissions Office should count penises rather than checked boxes.

#18 Comment By FROSH mom On December 1, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

Oh my….

EphBlog…where it’s Halloween every other day…..

Since you’re talking about boxes….can’t somebody please lock it and throw away the key?

#19 Comment By anonymouse On December 1, 2007 @ 8:52 pm

The vulgarity of these comments as to the frivolity that we treat free speech, please inform me when your investments are illiquid.

Insofar as you check boxes, perhaps you would like to check my box for free sex.

Throw the key away, please keep it near your breast as I will check on it freqently.


#20 Comment By frank uible On December 1, 2007 @ 10:02 pm

If you think this is vulgarity, then you haven’t spent much time on the mean streets.

#21 Comment By yawn On December 1, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

yawn. What were we talking about? What does David think about all this hitting on his idea, anyhow.

#22 Comment By Laura ’92 On December 1, 2007 @ 11:37 pm

Here’s the link to the WSJ article that anon mentioned:

not only does it discuss Williams, a kid in one of the photos is wearing a Williams sweatshirt!

#23 Comment By Laura ’92 On December 1, 2007 @ 11:38 pm

Here’s the link to the WSJ article that anon mentioned:

not only does it discuss Williams, a kid in one of the photos is wearing a Williams sweatshirt!