The Admissions Office has a request.

Admissions is currently looking for hosts for prospective Williams students. We need at least 60 freshmen/sophomores for the weekend of October 1-3. Incentive for Freshmen: The entry at the end of the year that hosts the most pre-frosh will get $200 added to their entry fund.

The students who host deserve our thanks. Unfortunately, I have heard mixed reports about the quality of the hosting. Did any readers overnight at Williams as pre-frosh? What was your experience? Have any readers served as hosts? Tell us about it. I have heard some less than wonderful stories about a single host getting “stuck” with 3 or 4 pre-frosh and then being too busy to do anything at all with them. Are those stories outliers? How many pre-frosh per host is standard?

The hosting process would be much better (twice as good? ten times as good?) if the incentives were better aligned. Tell students that the Admissions Office will keep track of who hosts how many pre-frosh and what sorts of experiences those pre-frosh have while at Williams. That information will be forwarded to the JASC (Junior Adviser Selection Committee) for any host who applies to be a JA. (The unstated implication will be that being an excellent host of many prefrosh will be treated by the JASC as good evidence that you would be a good JA.) Results?

1) You would have many more hosts who would be much more committed to ensuring that their pre-frosh had a good time. Around 150 sophomores apply to be a JA. Even more are, in the fall, considering applying. At least 1/2 of the freshmen class could imagine themselves as a JA and are certainly interested in keeping their options open. So, there are hundreds of students who would host just because they thought (whether correctly or not) that doing so improved their chances of becoming a JA. Not only would this lower the host-to-prefrosh ratio but it would allow Admissions to better match hosts with pre-frosh. Matching random person X with random person Y (presumably of the same gender) sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Much better to match outdoorsy female prefrosh from the Southwest with an interest in mathematics with outdoorsy female sophomore from the Southwest with an interest in mathematics.

2) Without casting aspersions on the students who currently host (I never hosted), I suspect it is fair to say that a) There are not enough of them and b) Some of the students who we would most like to host are “too busy” to do so. The more involved a student is in all the wonderful activities that Williams has to offer, the less likely she is to think that she has the time to host, at least to host properly. Moreover, this is often exactly the sort of student who is most likely to make a wonderful host. Improved hosting would generate increased yield among admitted applicants.

3) This process would provide the JASC with very useful information. (Nothing requires that the JASC use this data, but I bet that they would.) Consider a student who appears to be a great candidate but who has never hosted, or who hosted poorly. If I were on the JASC, that would concern me. Why didn’t this student host? Why didn’t his pre-frosh have a good time? The central issue that all JAs face is the conflict between a) Living their own lives at Williams and b) Sacrificing their time and energy to make the better the lives of their freshmen. It is a tough balance. And the worst JAs are not necessarily bad people, they just choose to spend their time on their own classes and activities rather than worrying about their freshmen. A refusal to host would, under this new policy, be a useful signal as to their priorities.

Consider the other extreme: a student who does not initially appear to the JASC to be a strong candidate, for whatever reason. Now imagine that this student has been an amazing host, introducing a dozen pre-frosh to Williams, devoting lots of time and energy to the quality of their experience. That sort of student deserves a stronger look from the JASC than she would otherwise get in the absence of this information from hosting.

4) If I were in the Admissions Office (shout-out to my classmate Sean Logan ’88), I would just go ahead and do this without even waiting for the JASC to “approve” the plan. Nothing prevents Admissions from collecting this information. In fact, they already need to keep track, at least to some extent, for awarding the prize. Moreover, I hope that they provide some sort of feedback form to pre-frosh, including some sort of overall rating about the quality of the experience. Once they have all this data, nothing prevents Admissions from sending it to the JASC even if the JASC (initially) declines to use it. But, I bet that Dean Dave Johnson would think this a fine plan in any event.

Your thoughts? (Previous post on the same topic here.)

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