Let’s revisit our September discussion over the (infamous) claim that the mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world and that being the best college requires admitting (and enrolling) more of the best students. Professor Matt Carter wrote a letter to the editor in the Record in response. Today is day 3 of my 3-day reply.

In truth, we know that our colleagues in the admission and financial aid offices collectively work hard to admit exceptional students who each bring unique and lasting contributions to our community.

True. And I am eager to educate Carter about the gritty realities of how that work is done. In particular, the SAT plays a major role in who gets admitted to Williams. If Carter doesn’t think that it should, he should complain to Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03.

We want students who will excel beyond Williams and have an impact on the world after they graduate, not students whose sole purpose for attending Williams is increasing indices on the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The naivete here is impressive. Just how does Carter propose to look into the souls of applicants? How will he determine their motivations? How can he tell which applicants have a “sole purpose” connected to US News rankings? Good luck.

All students should know that they deserve to be here, that they are exceptional in ways that standardized test scores can’t measure and that they make Williams an outstanding college because of their presence, not despite it.

Should we also tell students to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? 8,500 students applied to Williams last year. You really think that a dozen admissions staff, as wonderful as they may be, had the time to look much beyond Academic Rating? Ha! Do the math! Each officer is looking at around 1,000 applicants! (Academic rating is calculated separately by two people.) There is no time to do much beyond that.

Ultimately, Professor Carter is a scientist so I hope he is ready to consider (and privately confirm with Liz Creighton ’01) some facts. Williams is, right now, considering a few dozen African-American applicants as part of early decision for the class of 2022. Virtually every single one of those applicants with an AR of 4 or above will be admitted, not because there is something “exceptional” in their application which “standardized test scores can’t measure” but because Academic Rating drives Williams admissions, especially within specific categories of applicants. Similarly, not a single applicant with AR 8 or 9, African-American or otherwise, will be admitted.

Williams, today, does not have an admissions system which, to any meaningful extent, looks at items “that standardized test scores can’t measure.” That is a fantasy. Instead, Williams decides, before it sees a single application, that it wants to “admit a class that reflects national populations,” which means somewhere around 100-125 African-American and Hispanic students. It then uses Academic Rating (which is about 50% driven by standardized test scores like the SAT) to determine which African-American and Hispanic students to admit.

I have few problems with Williams people who defend the current system. My issue is with faculty members like Matt Carter who don’t understand how Williams works and then spread their ignorance in the Record.

I can actually understand why some students feel like they snuck through a selective admissions process because I occasionally experience these same feelings myself. These thoughts are common, especially at high-achieving institutions like Williams. The key is to recognize the universality of these feelings, to realize they are unproductive and to ultimately ignore them. We should do the same with Kane’s unthoughtful article.

My position on Williams admissions is the same as it was a decade ago:

Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.

The fewer admissions preferences we give — whether to athletes, URMs or students from poor families — the less common/destructive will be the feeling that a student “snuck” into Williams or does not “deserve” to be here. To the extent those feeling are common, they aren’t my fault. They are the fault of Professor Matt Carter and everyone else at Williams who insists on putting so much emphasis on non-academic factors in admissions.

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