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abl on Admissions, 5

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 5.

I understand that you’d like the Williams’ admitted class profile to more closely resemble schools like Harvard. But unless Williams dramatically increases its applicant pool and/or its yield, doing so will come at a cost: Williams can’t admit a class that is both as interesting and talented as Harvard’s and has SATs/GPAs as high. Increasing the focus on AR ratings, as you propose, will make the Williams class worse in some material respects even as it makes it better numerically. There is going to be some balancing and trade-offs that have to be made, regardless. I’m just trying to get a sense of what specific trade-offs you’re looking to target, and why you think Williams is not making those trade-offs in an optimal manner.

It is unclear what you mean by “interesting and talented.” AR 1 students are, almost by definition, more academically “talented” than AR 4 students. I want more of the former. Neither Williams or Harvard have a way of figuring out who is “interesting.” And they don’t really try! This is how elite admissions works today. Let me know if you have any questions.

The “specific trade-offs” I propose are simple. Williams students, as a group, must be as academically talented (and interesting!) as HYPS students. In order to do that, we need to reject 100 or so of the AR 4s and below that we currently enroll and replace them with AR 1s that we currently reject. That Williams will be less black/Hispanic (and more Asian-American/Interntional), less poor and less athletic than the Williams of today. But we would still be as black/Hispanic as Middlebury, as poor as Bates and as athletic as Hamilton.

UPDATE: Here is another way to conceptualize the scenario. I want the trustees and/or new president to say to Admissions: Make the class of 2023 as academically talented as the class of 2023 at HYPS (and much more academically talented than the class of 2023 at Amherst/Swarthmore/Pomona). I recognize that this is not what Admissions “wants” to do. Their preferences are to make a class similar to the ones that they currently produce. I am making these claims:

1) This is an achievable goal. If we measure “academically talented” as AR — and if you have a better measure than AR, you should tell Dick Nesbitt about it — then Williams has enough “slack” in the system (enough AR < 4 whom we accept and AR = 1/2 who we reject) to make that happen. 2) There is no need for anyone (me, you, the trustees, the new president) to micro-manage admissions in achieving this goal. They have the tools and the knowledge to do so. 3) There are costs to achieving this goal. If you want more academic talent than you need to give up something on other dimensions. 4) That one way, not the only way, of achieving the goal would create a Williams which was quite similar to other high quality schools on dimensions that we all care about: same URM percentage as Middlebury, same percentage of Pell-grantees as Bates, same athletic success as Hamilton. I am not claiming that you need to agree with me that this trade-off is desirable, but if you view such outcomes as totally unacceptable, that a Williams that looked like Middlebury/Bates/Hamilton would be some hellhole of alt-right lunacy, then I think your views are extreme.

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#1 Comment By Hi On January 26, 2018 @ 10:44 am

Another way to point this out is that Williams has much lower sat scores than WUSTL, despite the fact that WUSTL is a (1) much larger school, (2) in a worse location (3) and ranked at approximately position #20 of usnews best universities

#2 Comment By KSM On January 26, 2018 @ 11:01 am

@DDF, it still seems like you are trying to use a version of “this one weird trick” in order to provide Williams a shortcut to a higher level of prestige, on par with HYPS. But IMO you are putting the cart before the horse. The things that make HYPS the most prestigious are particular to those institutions and what they offer; the class profiles they generate are simply a reflection of this reality, not a cause of it. If Williams were to offer something very unique, then it might genuinely attract more people away from HYPS. But simplying jiggering the SAT scores won’t accomplish this.

It seems a sizable part of the “readership” likes to complain about threads that involve actual uh, reading and writing and thinking, as opposed to links to YouTube videos explaining how Trump is Literally Hitler. Yes, it can seem like an arbitrary and meaningless game. But I do think DDF is onto something here in pushing this discussion, not so much with respect to Williams in particular and making it the Best College Evarr!!, but in broader terms, regarding what it means to be an elite LAC today. The national universities seem to have more of a structural advantage today than a generation or two ago. LACs can’t morph into R1 research universities, but maybe there are some very important changes that they can make in order to maintain or increase their attractiveness to top students.

#3 Comment By anonymous On January 26, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

I agree that LACs can’t morph into R1 research universities. Instead of dissecting how Williams can improve their admission policies to compete them them, let’s discuss how we can improve the school to advertise an alternative to them. The bigger question is how can rural LACs survive as a group without proximity to such things as internships, a real career counseling department, etc? How does a rural location – particularly in an increasingly depressed environment like Berkshire County – continue to attract top teaching talent? The yield is more likely impacted by these limitations than by how many AR1s are passed over in the admissions process.

#4 Comment By Hi On January 26, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

“I agree that LACs can’t morph into R1 research universities.”

No one is suggesting that here. That would be crazy.

LACs cannot compete with research and faculty quality with R1 universities. They absolutely can compete with them in terms of average undergrad student quality. The small size of Williams here is actually a great advantage: whereas WUSTL needs to fill 1500 slots with high scoring intelligent students who want to go to #20 ranked national university, we need to fill 500 slots with intelligent students who want to go to #1 LAC.

#5 Comment By Hi On January 26, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

“I want to go to WUSTL because of its location in a thriving, vibrant urban center”, said no one ever

#6 Comment By ZSD On January 26, 2018 @ 6:17 pm

Just a sidebar and I assume Williams does not include Oxford in its’ targets:


Some of the elements of these five days but with far better writing.

#7 Comment By Baltimoreguy On January 30, 2018 @ 9:15 am

I think one big thing missing from this discussion is money.

Williams is simply not competing on a dollar-for-dollar basis with HYP for “the most interesting students.” To me, that is a matter of institutional choice – Williams certainly has the endowment per student to eliminate loans from all financial aid packages and to offer financial aid grants that are as generous as those offered by Harvard and Princeton.

Until then, Williams will never attract as interesting a student body. It’s already challenging for a teenager to make the counter-cultural decision to select Williams over Princeton. But to have to pay tens of thousands of dollars on top of that decision? Not happening.

#8 Comment By KSM On January 30, 2018 @ 2:55 pm


Another way to point this out is that Williams has much lower sat scores than WUSTL, despite the fact that WUSTL is a (1) much larger school, (2) in a worse location (3) and ranked at approximately position #20 of usnews best universities

Well, national universities are generally more competitive than LACs, so even twenty deep, they can be pretty mercenary about the scores they will accept. Unfortunately, some of the best universities are in terrible locations, but they have enough money to hire their own police departments and create a campus green zone (not sure about WashU, but UChicago has the third largest police force in the state of Illinois—one of the few factoids they don’t brag about in their promotional literature). During college tours they will tell you what a vibrant and storied place (Baltimore / Chicago Southside / St. Louis) is, how safe the campus is, and also point out all of the blue alarm posts that you can ring in a pinch. You will also be told that, “as in any big city, you need to ‘use common sense.’”