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Let’s Have Completely Blind Admissions

Williams College is currently a need-blind in its admission process for national students (not so for international students). That by itself is a good thing, but isn’t that still leaving space for the admissions office to discriminate against potential students through other factors–say, if they’re white or black, a legacy student, or from a nice family in North Adams?

I propose that Williams expand its blind admission policy to all factors that don’t immediately relate to an applicant’s academics and (certain) extracurriculars. The school wouldn’t know if the 1580 SAT score and 4.0 GPA comes from a white, upper class student from Los Angeles or a working class black student from Chicago. Whether you share a last name with a big donor of the campus goes unnoticed by the admissions office. You won an interscholastic competition? Great, that gets considered. But they won’t know or care if you’re president of the Asian students club of your high school.

Regarding international students, the policy will affect them in the same manner. All that will be known are their academics and their status as an international applicant.

This new policy has the potential to boost the already respectable academic achievement of the campus. High school GPA correlates with college GPA, and the SAT predicts for future academic success. It follows that a selecting for students who perform and score the best in high school will likely select for the students who will get the most out of college.

I leave this idea for you to entertain.

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#1 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 18, 2017 @ 8:35 am

You would blind admissions to high school attended? That would be nuts since some high schools are much more competitive than other high schools. So, at the very least, admissions would know what city you lived in . . .

#2 Comment By KSM On November 18, 2017 @ 8:51 am

You might succeed in putting a blindfold on the admissions process, but the results will be very visible the next time Williams its Common Data Set, with radical changes in the racial composition of the incoming class. The elite school that most closely follows your suggestion is CalTech, with the highest average SAT scores of any school in the country, and in some years, every incoming student has an 800 on the Math II SAT Subject Test. Its 2014-2015 CDS shows a grand total of two black students in an incoming class of 226. Do you think this is something Williams aspires to?
http://finance.caltech.edu/documents/394-cds2015_final.pdf

#3 Comment By Auberon Good On November 18, 2017 @ 9:19 am

@David

Certain high schools may have higher numbers of competitive students, but a competitive student from any high school is a competitive student. I don’t see the problem here.

@KSM

I don’t think the comparison to CalTech is worth much. One’s a research university, the other’s a liberal arts college.

Williams should try to be the best campus. One way to do that is getting the best students. Is this admissions process missing out on some other important quality for an institution?

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 18, 2017 @ 10:00 am

> competitive student from any high school is a competitive student

You can only tell what a 4.0 GPA means if you know how smart the other students at that high school are. Also, grade inflation varies dramatically across high schools.

#5 Comment By abl On November 18, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Auberon,

1. You assume that the best students are those students with the highest GPAs and the highest SATs. I strongly disagree. I have posted extensively about this elsewhere, but I am happy to elaborate further if necessary.

2. There is also a separate question about whether admitting the strongest 550 students (however defined) will lead to the best educational outcomes for everyone. So, for example, will the educational experience at Williams be better if Williams admits its 450th white upper class male student from Connecticut (who has a 1450 SAT and 3.8 GPA) or if Williams admits its second African American student, who also happens to be a woman from a poor family in Atlanta (who has a 1440 SAT and 3.8 GPA).* I am strongly of the opinion that the quality of classroom discussion in most humanities and social sciences classroom is enhanced more by adding diversity than it is by adding a student who got one additional question correct on the SAT. There is obviously a balance to be struck here–but your proposal does not allow any of this balancing.

Finally, if you accept either of these points, there’s a separate question about creating a Williams environment that supports all of its students. Without a critical mass of students from under-represented groups, Williams will struggle to attract students from these groups, and students from these groups may struggle at Williams. It may therefore be beneficial or even necessary for Williams to admit more students from these groups than it would otherwise so as to build a class that “works” for everyone. This is true, even if you accept both of my above points: there’s a real happiness/satistfaction cost to adopting an admissions policy that leaves Williams looking more like Caltech–student outcomes and student satisfaction for those few URM students at Williams are likely to plummet in an isolating environment of that nature. The question, then, is at what point are these costs greater than the marginal benefits of an additional [x] in SATs. I suspect that most would agree that the cost-benefit consideration of such factors militate trading a small handful of students with 10-point higher SATs so as to dramatically increase the satisfaction and experience of a population of Williams students…and if we accept this pretty obvious point, then we also must accept that an everything-blind admissions will lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

*See my first point. It may not be necessary to give bonus points this sort of diversity if Williams is admitting the actual strongest class (as opposed to the numerically strongest class).

#6 Comment By Hi On November 18, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

>Do you think this is something Williams aspires to?>

Do you think this is something Caltech aspires to? Yet, they still do it. Is Caltech run by a bunch of frothing -in-the -mouth neo-nazis? Here is Caltech President:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Felix_Rosenbaum
Doe he strike you as a crazed right-winger?

#7 Comment By PTC On November 18, 2017 @ 3:27 pm

Williams was created as a free school for locals. As such, it should always give special consideration to the students from North Adams and other local towns. That is the original mission of the college. That is why Ephraim Williams, Jr gave the school a land grant.

http://www.williamstownhistoricalmuseum.org/how-did-we-become-williamstown/

Some people argue that without Williams College Williamstown would not exist. The simple fact is, that works both ways; without Williamstown Williams College would not exist!

Text

) Becoming Williamstown
In 1765, after 12 years of searching (mostly during the French & Indian war), a settled pastor was found who was willing to come to the wilds of West Hoosuck which then officially became incorporated as Williamstown. This was the first term complied with in the will of Colonel Ephraim Williams, Jr . Williams had bequeathed funds to found a free school for local children only if the hamlet were incorporated and renamed Williamstown, and lay within Massachusetts. After the American Revolution, the border with New York was finally agreed upon (putting our town safely on the Massachusetts side of the border), the school opened in 1791 but its life as a free school was short. The free school became Williams College in 1793.

Text

Local residents deserve both scholarship and admissions considerations above others as per school charter. That includes international or any other students.

Just as Dartmouth takes into consideration Native American admissions and scholarship, Williams must do so as well for local young adults, or neglect its heritage. That is a fact.

#8 Comment By PTC On November 18, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

I believe abl will confirm that Townies are indeed given special admissions status at the College.

After all, without Williamstown, Williams College would not exist.

#9 Comment By PTC On November 18, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

In fact, Williams was free for locals for some time after it became a regional (Wall Street and Northeastern Prep) powerhouse. Not sure how they got out of the obligations of the charter? Would make for an interesting senior thesis!

#10 Comment By sporty fella On November 18, 2017 @ 4:04 pm

This proposal would utterly eviscerate Williams’ reputation as a sporty campus. That might be fine, it might be terrible, but the truth would be that Williams would never be competitive athletically again. It is simply impossible to compete at any level of college sports without active recruiting.

#11 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

Sporty,

I concur.

Williams without brainy jocks could be a great school, but it would not be Williams, and while there are many great schools, there is only one Williams College. — PTC

This made the Ephblog Quote Wall over a decade ago for good reason.

#12 Comment By Dick Swart On November 19, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

@ sporty fella …

recruiting needed to compete: yes indeed!

@ PTC …

Williams without brainy jocks could be a great school, but it would not be Williams, and while there are many great schools, there is only one Williams College. — PTC

… a great observation!

#13 Comment By Auberon Good On November 21, 2017 @ 8:06 pm

Looks like it’s an unpopular opinion. I’m interested in seeing some critiques expanded.

@ABL

Please do elaborate on your disagreement. What other qualities might be needed to be part of the ‘best’ students?

@PTC

Good point about the college’s history as a college for locals. What’s differentiating that appreciation for a college’s history from nepotism, though?

@sporty

Probable consequence. Next question: is being athletically competitive that important?

#14 Comment By PTC On November 21, 2017 @ 10:31 pm

What is differentiating that appreciation for a college’s history from nepotism, though?

Nothing. My position is that Williams does and always will do this, because it is good for the school, especially if the school does even extra to admit the children of big donors- which it does.

I am just pointing out that David’s focus on athletes and minorities is not the only focus of the school in terms of modified admissions. The college makes exceptions for townies and legacy children as well… especially big donor legacy children. So does HYP- and every other school! That is because Legacy families will give more over time. That is a fact.

Without the rich kids there would be no scholarships for the poor kids- some of those rich kids are there because they are rich. That is a reality.

#15 Comment By abl On November 21, 2017 @ 11:45 pm

Please do elaborate on your disagreement. What other qualities might be needed to be part of the ‘best’ students?

A 3.8 at Deerfield likely doesn’t mean the same thing as a 3.8 at James Woods Regional High School. Deerfield may practice enormous grade inflation — or it may not. Deerfield may have a much higher caliber of student setting the curve — or grades may not be given out on a curve. The classes at Deerfield might be far more challenging. Deerfield may offer each of its students enormous support and tutoring. Etc., etc., etc.

GPAs (and SATs) serve as a signal for a student’s past successes and, more importantly, for her future potential. It is this future potential that schools really care about: Williams wants to admit the students who will do the best at Williams, who will do the best after Williams, and who will add the most to their classmates’ experiences–both in the classroom and out. (Williams cares little about rewarding students for past good behaviors.)

The problem is that GPAs (and SATs)–taken in isolation–are pretty mediocre signals for prior performance, and they’re even worse as signals for future performance. Unless we took the same classes at the same school, my GPA probably doesn’t signal the same thing that your GPA signals about our past performance let alone our future potential. But even if we did, unless we each were set-up for success in similar ways — we each had roughly similar amounts of time to study outside of the classroom (because we each had to work a second job to support our family, or we each did not), we each had roughly similar familiar/community/tutoring support (e.g., we each had a father adept in calculus who could talk us through tough problems, and a tutor to help us write masterful paragraphs in English — or we each did not), etc — then even our same-school same-class GPAs aren’t going to be equally predictive about our future success.

Earning a 3.8 at Deerfield in a set of classes is far more impressive if, at the same time as you are in school, you are engaged in preparation for the olympics and therefore are swimming during every single free hour that you have (and have no time to study besides the time you would otherwise be spending sleeping). In that circumstance, your 3.8 is better evidence of a high future potential than a student who attends Deerfield with literally no other focus or worries than her academics.

That there are numerous factors that effectively “inflate” the GPA and SATs of students–thereby systematically causing the GPAs and SATs of some students to inaccurately reflect their true future potential–is beyond reasonable doubt. There is a lot of room to disagree on what each of those factors are, and how much inflation is effected (or deflation). Irrespective of what exact factors should be considered, and how much, everything-blind admission guarantees that the strongest possible class is not being admitted.

#16 Comment By Healthy Eph On November 22, 2017 @ 2:16 am

I can’t speak for @sporty, but I’d ask another question — what is Williams without sports? And given the role of sports, if we make Williams decidedly non-athletic, what makes Williams competitive?

It might well be a better school academically — whatever that means. But it would lose all identity as Williams.

My experience with the jock-Williams types was this: They/we got recruited by Williams-type schools and Ivy-type schools for sports. We were top choices for Williams, but at the Ivies would have made the team, but mostly just been on the team. On a handful of teams Williams could beat out the Ivies, but realistically the multiplier effect meant that the typical Ivy was better than Williams at sports. At the same time, for recruited athletes the standard for athletes was actually higher at Williams than at the Ivies for a lot of sports. (In the famous words of the AD who recruited Dick Farley to be the Harvard football coach, upon hearing the standards for admissions for Williams football players: “We could not field a team with those numbers”).