It was just 4 years ago that I (successfully?) urged Julia Sendor ’08 to choose Williams over Harvard. This thread, and the appearance of long-time reader Sam Jackson (Yale ’11), provides an opportunity to revisit. There are scores of students that were accepted at both Yale and Williams. Around 90% of them will probably choose Yale. I think that a majority are making a mistake, that most of them would be better off if they chose Williams. I think that most students are misinformed about what life is actually like at the two schools. Perhaps we can convince Sam (and other Yalies) to participate in the conversation.

To be clear, I don’t think that Sam (and other Yalies) have a bad time or get a bad education at Yale. I just think that they would have a better time and get a better education at Williams. Let’s start by focusing on academics. (I hope that Sam will answer these questions, both for himself and the “typical” student.) For both Yale and Williams:

1) How many professors know by name the typical student? By “professors,” I mean tenured or tenure track faculty. I think that, for the average first year at Williams, this is at least 4 if not 6. At Yale, I predict 1 or 2.

2) How much written feedback does the typical student receive on his papers from professors? At Williams, this must be in the thousands of words. At Yale, very little. Most/all of the written feedback is from poorly-paid and harried graduate students. Some is from lecturers and adjuncts of various sorts. I bet Sam has received written feedback from no more than two professors in his first year.

3) How much one-on-one conversation does the typical student have with professors? At Williams, this varies dramatically by student and does depend on how often you seek out faculty members outside of class. The same is true at Yale. But the average Eph gets around 10 times more direct interaction with faculty. The average Williams student in a single tutorial exchanges more words with that one professor in a semester than Sam Jackson will exchange with all his professors put together over the course of four years.

These are, of course, rough estimates. But I did live with Harvard undergraduates for 4 years and there is no doubt that these estimates apply there. I suspect that the same is true at Yale, although things are (reportedly) better in New Haven.

The market failure is that the typical high school student has no idea about this reality. She thinks that her interactions with professors at Yale would be, more or less, just like her interactions with professors at Williams, the only difference being that the Williams professors assign the books written by the Yale professors. If students really knew what they were getting, more would choose Williams.

Contrary opinions welcome.

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