The best overview of the Williams admissions process comes from this 2005 article in the Williams Alumni Review. The article used to be on-line, but I can’t find it anymore. Can anyone provide a link? Read the whole thing, but the key passages (with my commentary) include:

The admission staff wait-listed or rejected nearly 300 of the 675 applicants to whom they had given their top “Academic 1” rating—a pool of students that, on average, ranked in the top 3 percent of their high school classes and had SAT scores of 1545.

It is unclear how this breaks down between US and International applicants. Williams gets scores (hundreds?) of AR 1 applications from international students, the vast majority of which are rejected. But do we reject hundreds of US applicants with those sorts of credentials? I don’t think so, but I don’t have a good source.

In 1962, the first year for which the admission office has electronic records, 1,501 young men applied to the College. Of those, 35 percent were accepted. The entering class of 288 had an average combined SAT score of 1280

Note that the SAT was recentered in 1995, so a 1280 in 1962 corresponds to a 1340 today. We need to create a decent time series of SAT scores. Wake up my research assistants!

Two readers examine each folder independently, without seeing each other’s comments, and assess them in three major ways. Each applicant gets an academic rating from 1 to 9 that focuses heavily on his or her high school grades, standardized test scores, the rigor of his or her academic program within the context of the school setting and the strength of teacher recommendations.

This is the most critical part of the admissions process. For details on how these academic ratings (known as “AR”) are calculated, see yesterday’s discussion.

If the first and second readers’ academic ratings differ by more than a point, they put their heads together to try to reach a consensus rating. 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.

As we have often discussed, the vast majority (90%, I think) of the exceptions are driven by race/wealth/athletics.

“So far we’ve admitted 803 students,” he [Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74] says, providing breakdowns by sex and race, those with alumni connections, international students and the number admitted through athletic “tips” — requests from coaches for some extra nod in an athlete’s direction because of his or her ability to help a team or teams.

Notice what is not being kept track of — artistic talent, musical ability, passion for debate, et cetera, et cetera. You can call them goals or quotas or whatever you like, but the college has certain numbers that it will hit. Nesbitt and the other admissions officers keep track of those numbers and they hit them. Every coach will get his tips. Eight percent of the class will be international. Racial goals are important. Recall Mike Reed in the Record:

Reed explained that the College tries to model its student body on an “approximate mirroring” of the country, which requires recruiting students of color who otherwise would not apply.

There are so many interesting parts to the original article, that I really ought to spend a week or two parsing it carefully. Something to look forward to during Winter Study! In the mean time, the main less here is that, virtually every applicant below AR 2 is rejected unless they fulfill a need in the holy triumvirate of race/athletics/wealth.

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