Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 4.

The portion of the op-ed least likely to be confronted by its critics:

[W]e are not the best college in the world today.

The average SAT section score for the Class of 2020 is about 720. At Macalester and Wesleyan, it is 690. At Yale and Princeton, it is about 750. Macalester and Wesleyan are fine schools. Yet every Eph considers Williams, correctly, to be a cut above – not because our dining hall food is tastier, our professors are more learned or our facilities are more sumptuous, but because our students are smarter.

Yet that same reasoning applies to Yale/Princeton relative to us. A 30-point difference in the score on a single SAT might not seem like much. Can anyone really say that an applicant that scored 750 is meaningfully “smarter” than one who scored 720? But, to the extent that we think that the quality of the College’s student body is better than that of Macalester/Wesleyan, we need to admit that it is worse than that of Yale/Princeton. As long as that is true, we will never be the best college in the world.

Note that this judgment does not depend on using only the (potentially flawed) metric of SAT scores. Williams is worse than Yale/Princeton and better than Macalester/Wesleyan on any reasonable measure of academic performance, whether that be the ACT, SAT II Subject Tests, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, high school grades, teacher recommendations and so on. Elite schools rank applicants using, more or less, the same criteria. SAT scores are a handy, and public, summary statistic which demonstrates the relative quality of our student body.

Critics quibble about what the “best” college is while, at the same time, recommending that virtually any student admitted to both Williams and Wesleyan should choose Williams, as more than 90% of such students actually do. Indeed, perhaps this implies a theorem:

EphBlog Maxim #5: College X is “better” than College Y if a large majority of high school seniors admitted to both X and Y choose X.

Obviously, this does not mean that X is better than Y for every student in the world. Lots of students won’t even apply to X because it lacks something (an engineering major, warm weather) which they value. Nor does it imply that X is better than Y for the (relatively few) students who choose Y over X. They probably had good reasons for doing so. Yet this definition captures, in a well-specified fashion, what it means for one college to be “better” than the other. It also provides a plausible metric for Williams to aim for:

EphBlog Maxim #6: The best college in the world is the college that is chosen most often by students admitted to both it and to one of its competitors.

Readers: How do you tell if one college is better than another college? If a high school senior was admitted to Williams (or Amherst/Pomona) and to Weslesyan (or Macallister/Bates), wouldn’t you recommend that she choose Williams (or Amherst/Pomona)? If not, then why do 90% or more of such dual admittees choose the Williams/Amherst/Pomona option?

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