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Guide to Athletic Admissions

The purpose of this post is to provide a guide to athletic admissions at Williams. Read Playing the Game: Inside Athletic Recruiting in the Ivy League by Chris Lincoln for all the messy details. (Despite the title, Lincoln covers NESCAC athletic admissions thoroughly.) See this three part series from the Bowdoin Orient. Williams is no different than other elite schools when it comes to athletic recruiting. Check out EphBlog’s prior coverage. See also last month’s review of Williams admissions as a whole.

1) General athletic ability/accomplishment does not matter. No one cares if you won the high school Judo state championship because Williams does not compete in Judo. No one cares if you were captain of your high school soccer team if you aren’t good enough to play for Williams.

2) Only the coach’s opinion matters. Even if you play a sport that Williams cares about at an elite level, it won’t matter unless the coach wants you. If the field hockey coach already has 2 great goalies, you could be an amazing goalie, perhaps even better than the current Ephs, and it would not matter for your chances at Williams because you would not be on the coach’s list. (She only has so many spots and wants to use them for positions that need more help.)

3) There are approximately 100 students in each class who would not have been admitted were it not for an Eph coach’s intervention. There are 66 “tips,” students whose academic qualifications are significantly below the average for the class as a whole. There are also 30 or so “protects” — perhaps currently terminology is “ices”? — who also would not have gotten in without coach intervention, but who are only slightly below average for the class as a whole in terms of academic ability. I believe that protects are academic rating 3s, while tips are academic rating 4s and below.

4) The number of tips/protects varies by sport as do the minimum standards. Football gets the most, by far, followed by hockey. Certain sports — crew, golf, squash — receive much less leeway. Football and hockey can let in (some) AR 5s. Other sports can’t go below AR 4 or even AR 3. Coaches have some flexibility in terms of using these spots, taking 4 people this year but 6 next year.

5) The biggest change in athletic admissions in the last 20 years followed the publication of the MacDonald Report, with support from then-president Morty Schapiro. Those changes both decreased the raw number of tips and, perhaps more importantly, raised the academic requirements, especially at the low end. In particular, there are very few athletic admissions below academic rating 4 — top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score.

6) Despite coach complaints and predictions of disaster, Williams athletics have been as successful in the last decade as they were in the decade prior to these changes.

7) My recommendation to President Mandel: Create another committee to revisit this topic. Fewer preferences given to athletes would raise the quality of the student body as a whole. The MacDonald Report made Williams a better college. Do the same again.

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6 Comments To "Guide to Athletic Admissions"

#1 Comment By 1980 On October 21, 2019 @ 12:56 pm

From an athletic perspective, no one cares if you were captain of your high school soccer team, but from an admissions perspective, it can help support an application otherwise demonstrating leadership ability. Obviously it isn’t going to get you in.

#2 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 21, 2019 @ 1:51 pm

I think was 1980 says above is correct.

Are all “protects” AR3’s? As we have discussed before, plenty of AR1 and AR2 applicants are rejected. Do coaches get as a limited no. of protects for those kinds of applicants? Or can a coach get as as many AR2’s and AR1’s in as he or she wants?

#3 Comment By abl On October 21, 2019 @ 2:25 pm

but from an admissions perspective, it can help support an application

Yes! This is true everywhere, but it’s especially true at Williams. Looking well rounded and interesting can be very beneficial for students. It’s good to be brilliant at math. It’s better to be brilliant at math and a high school soccer star–even if you’re not good enough at soccer to pique the interest of the team. You don’t need to be good enough to have a shot at making a varsity team at Williams for athletic skills to move the needle at a place like Williams (or elsewhere).

#4 Comment By abl On October 21, 2019 @ 6:52 pm

Incidentally, this is a great example of systemic racism — of how the admissions system discriminates against Asian Americans even without in any way being intentionally anti-Asian American.

Different cultures put different emphasis on the value of being well-rounded, or have different understandings of what it means to be “interesting.” U.S. admissions systems are pretty tailored to a Western European version of this. And so for a student who is already exceptional at, say, violin (say, #5 in the state), the marginal value of an additional hour of practice per day may not be huge for admissions purposes — but the marginal value of spending that time playing soccer might be. That trade-off, between fostering a breadth of interests as opposed to depth, will often have serious ramifications for admissions. This is all true despite the fact that I don’t think there’s anything innately more valuable about one path than the other. There are some cultures–including some Asian cultures–that value depth and single-area expertise relatively more highly than is otherwise true in Western European U.S. culture. This means that some of the top students from these cultures might look somewhat ‘one dimensional’ or ‘uninteresting’ to a Western European eye, not because they are less capable (or interesting) in any material respect, but because their backgrounds and interests have been shaped toward a somewhat different definition of success.

Is any of this intentionally anti-Asian American? No, or at least I don’t think so. But the result is that some students, disproportionately including Asian-American students, are systemically disadvantaged in the admissions process.

#5 Comment By Current Student On October 21, 2019 @ 8:18 pm

That’s very interesting, abl. Do you think there is a way to equally admit both types of students (depth vs. breadth)? Do you think colleges should? I could imagine that it will be very difficult to compare those two types of students (comparing apples to oranges).

#6 Comment By abl On October 24, 2019 @ 12:11 am

Current Student —

Sure, there’s nothing inherent about a competitive admissions process that says that Williams must favor one type of student over another. But I do think that these sorts of value judgments are pretty deeply engrained, especially at a place like Williams, where there’s a strong shared sense of what a Williams student should ‘look’ like.