- EphBlog - http://ephblog.com -

How to Write a Chance Request at College Confidential

A regular part of the conversation at the Williams board on College Confidential is a “chance” request. A high school student wants the community to provide feedback on her chances of being admitted to Williams. Unfortunately, many of these students are uninformed about the reality of elite college admissions so they don’t provide us with the necessary information to “chance” them correctly. (They also generally provide a mass of irrelevant data.) To make the world a better place, here is EphBlog’s Guide to How to Write a Chance Request for Williams. (The same advice applies to most elite colleges. Please read How Admissions Works at Williams.)

First, estimate your Academic Rating and provide the key evidence behind that estimate. (Background information here and here.) Tell us your Math/Reading SAT scores (and/or ACT), your subject test scores and AP scores. Just tell us what you will be submitting to Williams. We don’t care how many times you took these exams or about the details of your Super Scoring efforts.

We also don’t need to know about the details of your academic program. Just provide an honest estimate of your Academic Rating and some background on your high school. (Telling us the name of your high school can be useful, but is not necessary.) We don’t care about your exact GPA. (If you did not take the hardest classes that your high school offers, admit that to us.) The best clue about the quality of your high school record can be found in the quality of schools that similarly ranked students have attended in past years, so tell us that. Even if your high school does not officially rank students, you must have a rough sense of where you stand (#2, top 5, top 10%, whatever). Tell us where the students at about your rank in the previous year’s class went to college.

The Academic Rating is the most important part of the process, so focus your words on that topic.

If all you do is just a big copy/paste of all sorts of blather (recent examples here and here) — the exact same 1,000 words that you might paste into other discussion boards, don’t be surprised if the only feedback you get is generic.

Second, cut out all the other cruft. We don’t care (because Williams doesn’t care) about all your clubs, activities, volunteer work, et cetera. Despite what your high school and/or parents may have told you, such trivia plays a de minimus role in elite college admissions. For example, your sports resume is irrelevant unless you are being recruited by a Williams coach and, if you are, they will tell you what your chances are.

Third, tell us your nationality. Williams has a quota against international applicants.

Fourth, tell us your race, or at least the relevant boxes that you will check on the Common Application. (See here and here for related discussion.) Checking the African-American box gives you a significant advantage in admissions, as does checking Hispanic, but less so. Checking the Asian box hurts your chances at Ivy League schools. There is a debate over whether Williams also discriminates against Asian-American applicants. It is also unclear whether or not checking two boxes or declining to check any box matters. So, for example, if you have one white and one African-American parent, you are much better off checking only the African-American box.

Fifth, tell us about your family income and parents background. Williams, like all elite schools, discriminates in favor of the very poor (family income below $50,000) and very wealthy (able to donate a million dollars). There is some debate over the exact dollar figures at both ends. Might Williams favor applicants whose families make us much as $75,000? Sure! Might Williams be swayed by a donation in the six figures? Maybe! Tell us whatever other details might be relevant. For example, Williams cares about socio-economic status more broadly than just income, so having parents that did not graduate from a 4 year college can be helpful. Among rich families, Williams prefers those who have already donated to Williams and/or have a history of supporting higher education.

The College loves to brag about two categories of students: Pell Grant recipients and “first generation” students, defined as those for whom neither parent has a four year BA and who require financial aid. If you can show the College evidence that you (will) belong in either category, your chances improve.

Summary: Almost all of elite college admissions is driven by Academic Rating, albeit subject to three broad exceptions: athletics, race and income. In order to provide you with an accurate chance, we need the details concerning these areas. Don’t bother us with all the other stuff.

Comments Disabled (Open | Close)

Comments Disabled To "How to Write a Chance Request at College Confidential"

#1 Comment By abl On November 14, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

Second, cut out all the other cruft.

You can listen to DDF … or you can listen to someone who’s actually worked in the Williams admissions office. There are a number of highly dubious claims that he makes above, and I would advise any potential student to take the above post with a HUGE grain of salt.

But I want to focus on the question of the importance of your extracurricular record and your story (outside of one or two nuggets you might select from a pull-down menu, like race or nationality). All of that other “cruft” is immensely important. Do as DDF suggests and folks can tell you whether you have a 50/50* chance of Williams (assuming you’re an AR1), a 30/70* chance (assuming you’re an AR2), etc. Include the “cruft” also, and folks can tell you whether you’re likely in the accepted portion of the 50% (or 30% or 15%…etc) or the rejected portion.

To me, that seems more helpful: it’s going to be relatively obvious to most folks based on their GPAs and SATs whether Williams is a long shot or not. The helpful contribution that “chance” threads make is not in telling students with 1300 SATs and 3.0 GPAs that they’re probably not getting in, but in helping AR2s and AR3s understand if the rest of their application–their cruft–puts them on relatively firm footing.

DDF is correct in a narrow pedantic sense: your SATs/GPAs will be the primary factor in whether you get in — and things like academic profile are FAR more important than whether you have an uplifting life story or are really pretty good at the cello. But the vast majority of students accepted at Williams are not being accepted based on their numbers/race/recruit alone. For every student accepted to Williams because they did very well on their SAT/GPA, there is at least one (and usually more than one) applicant with similar SATs/GPAs who did not get in. And in the vast majority of such instances, what separates out the accepted applicant from the rejected/waitlisted applicant is the “cruft.”

*These numbers are not meant to reflect the actual percentage of students at these various levels accepted to Williams.

#2 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On November 14, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

Wouldn’t it more entertaining to post a “chance request” here?

I suspect its hard to estimate a kid’s AR number without knowing more than most people do. In particular, trying to determine how rigorous a particular student’s academic program is relative to others has to be difficult without a lot more information than most people have. Similarly, don’t teacher recs get rolled into the Academic Rating? Not sure how those can be valued without having seen lots of examples.

#3 Comment By Doug On November 14, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

DDF, why are you even implying that chance threads are a practice worth improving? The whole idea should be scrapped immediately.

Any student can look at the Williams’ admissions website (or even where their similarly abled peers are going to college) and gain a working sense of their chance of admission. And that’s all you can ever hope for: a sense of your chance of admission. Strangers have no valuable input, because they also can’t predict the field for admissions that year, and they know less about the student than the student knows about themselves.

Chance threads are invariably populated by insecure students who know damn well that it’s impossible to predict someone’s chance of admission at an elite college. But they post nonetheless, wanting their feelings soothed and their egos stroked. It’s even more nauseating when it’s parents posting on their kid’s behalf (which happens more often than you’d think).

If there’s actually students so obtuse that they can’t gauge a sense of their chance of admission from the common data set or US News, they won’t get in anyways. Otherwise, chance threads are just cesspools of toxic teenage angst surrounding the college process. We are better off without them.