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Comments on International Admissions

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There are two issues with that [loosening the international quota]. The first is that international students have considerably lower graduation/retention rates than any other demographic group at the top schools. That’s not a consequence of ability but rather of uncertainty: financial aid for international students often doesn’t increase in later years, there is a geographic barrier, and foreign political/economic situations can complicate their coming back.

False. Here is the latest data on graduation rates:


International student 6-year graduation rate is about the same as that of white/Asian students, as we would expect. African-American/Hispanic students are about twice as likely to fail to graduate from Williams in 6 years.

Now, this data has evolved over time and you may be right about both earlier periods and about 4-year graduation rates. But, even then, a big driver is “diversity” among the international students. Not all international students are AR 1, after all. Indeed, I would not be surprised if some (many?) international students are AR 3 and below, if they come from the sorts of countries (not China, South Korea, England, et cetera) that Williams likes.

When I recommend increasing international enrollment, I mean for AR 1 students. Speaking roughly, I would start with about 25 more students from China/Korea/Japan.

The second issue is that the international pool is not as strong as it is constantly made out to be. Many of these students are not informed about how competitive US colleges are, so you get a lot of weak applicants applying when they have no chance of getting in. This is backed by the statistics of need-blind for international students schools like MIT and Amherst: the international acceptance rate is a third of the domestic one, even though these colleges have made assurances to not let ability to pay influence the likelihood of getting in. Many colleges (Williams, Wesleyan, Swarthmore) report a similar pattern: an international acceptance rate 1/4-1/2 that of domestic students.

Is the acceptance rate low because the pool is weaker or because these schools, like Williams, have a quota on international students?

Everyone that I have discussed this with — although contrary opinions are welcome — suggests that there are, at least 50 AR 1 international applicants (many not requiring any financial aid) who are currently rejected by Williams but who would enroll if given the chance. Do you disagree?

Even if students stand out academically, it isn’t enough. Prominent international universities like India Institute of Technology and Tsinghua University admit solely by performance on a test. The UK institutions- Cambridge, UCL, LSE, Oxford- don’t care about extracurricular activities at all. On the contrary, The top US colleges don’t just want perfect scorers. Williams doesn’t either. As a residential college, it wants committed students who will engage critically and meaningfully with their peers and their community. As a distinguished and scholarly place, it wants those who are committed to learning and open to having their viewpoints expanded and challenged across a broad spectrum of fields. Those things can only be evaluated by subjective perspectives, not the SAT.

False. First, there is no evidence that AR 1 applicants are, relative to AR 4 applicants, any less willing to “engage critically and meaningfully with their peers and their community.” If anything AR 1 students are more willing, or, at the very least they are much more willing to engage in academic work, and with a talent for doing so.

Second, are you arguing that the current Williams admissions process uses “subjective perspectives” in evaluating candidates? As if! Or are you arguing that it should? Perhaps. I am always happy to entertain a discussion of changes in the admissions process.

Not to say that Williams has done enough or that it should be content with where it is- the simple fact that you have 8400 students applying compared to 40000 at some top universities means that there is a significant cohort of good fit, high stats international students who should apply and largely be admitted. But here’s another question: how will Williams convince them to apply and attend over HYPS + other Ivies + other top 20 universities? The LAC name brand is virtually non-existent outside of the States, even for Williams and Amherst (beyond maybe Oxford/Cambridge/London).

Williams doesn’t need to convince 40,000 (or 40) high schools students (who don’t apply) to apply. We have plenty of applicants already! We just need to change who we admit and who we reject.

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#1 Comment By KSM On October 5, 2017 @ 9:15 am

The article you posted yesterday says that Williams already admits 375 out of 600 AR1’s, i.e., 62.5%, as compared to likely single-digit admit rates for such students at HYPS. Are you suggesting that all AR1’s should be automatically admitted? Do you think having an AR1 admit rate ten times that of HYPS will actually make Williams more like HYPS? Watch out for unintended consequences. Because that would turn Williams into even more of a safety school for strong students aspiring to top ten national universities. This would hurt yield (stronger students have more options), and in the longer run might hurt the school’s reputation and ranking as its priorities would no longer be aligned with its peers’.

It seems to me that Williams would be much better off focusing on the things that make it unique.

#2 Comment By DDF On October 5, 2017 @ 11:03 am

> Are you suggesting that all AR1’s should be automatically admitted?

No. I am suggesting that about 100 of the AR 5 and below admits be replaced with AR 1/2 applicants that are currently rejected.

> Do you think having an AR1 admit rate ten times that of HYPS will actually make Williams more like HYPS?

My plan would make the academic quality of the student body at Williams equal to the academic quality of the student body at HYPS (and superior to the academic quality at, say, Amherst or Swarthmore).

> This would hurt yield (stronger students have more options)

First, I doubt it. Second, you could easily fix that by admitting many/most/all of the applicants during Early Decision.

> priorities would no longer be aligned with its peers’

First, the amount of knowledge that applicants have about this stuff is close to zero. Second, we would still look very “peer” like with my scheme. Our athletics would be as successful as Hamilton’s. We would have similar racial diversity to Middlebury and socio-economic diversity to Colby.

> Williams would be much better off focusing on the things that make it unique

Why not do both? There are two separate issues: First, who should we admit among those who apply? Second, how should we market to increase both applications and yield? What makes you think that we disagree about the second question?

#3 Comment By abl On October 5, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

I’m reposting this from another thread b/c this is relevant to this conversation and the thread I posted to may be dead:

If we’re looking for the “best” students, it seems unnecessarily constraining to only look at raw numbers. These numbers are helpful insofar as they are signals for student quality — among other things, high SATs and GPAs imply success in college (and, to a lesser extent, after). But not all high SATs and GPAs are created equal. I hope it’s not controversial to say that a student from a wealthy background who has had a private tutor every year since eighth grade, who took numerous expensive SAT classes, and who has never had to focus on anything other than her academics with a 3.8 GPA / 750 SAT average is probably a “worse” student than her classmate with the same GPA/SAT whose parents did not go to college, who has had to work a second job every year since eighth grade, and who took the SAT once with little prep.

I understand that this is a somewhat extreme hypothetical and it becomes much more difficult when we jump into the weeds and consider (1) which non-numerical factors are relevant; and (2) for how much these non-numeric factors should count. Is a first-generation college Native American student with a 3.6 GPA / 700 SAT average who has spent her entire life on the reservation in rural Minnesota “better” than the described wealthy student above, for example? But the fact that this sort of line drawing is difficult and that we may disagree about which lines should be drawn where doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary or crucial to consider such factors in determining which students are the “best.” The editorial’s proposal -– to focus solely on numbers –- strikes me as being the quickest path to admitting an academically *worse* class of students.

I also want to head-off a potential response by noting that the fact that the kid without a tutor or the kid from the reservation may not immediately succeed on arriving at college to the same extent as the kid with all of life’s advantages doesn’t indicate that either student is actually “worse.” There are a number of learnable skills, like how to write a paper, that underprivileged students lack that have little bearing on their contribution to the college’s intellectual community.