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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), and your 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 (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.

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

#1 Comment By fendertweed On October 28, 2019 @ 8:48 am

Boy does this make me glad I am not applying and don’t have kids applying these days.

It was bad enough in olden times, the contemporary situation is a simmering stew of anxiety etc., even moreso.

And yes, like most of my friends and classmates and some of us here, I doubt I’d make the cut today.

The strong contra argument says we succeeded then, we’d know how to succeed now. But in the overheated environment today I wonder if I’d even want to take the same path.

#2 Comment By abl On October 28, 2019 @ 11:55 am

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.

This is terrible advice. That “other cruft” is immensely important. Only about 50% of AR1s are admitted. How do you think those determinations are made? I promise you: it’s not literally a coin flip. And for AR2s on down, your chances are going to be determined largely based on the “cruft.”

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 28, 2019 @ 2:39 pm

Only about 50% of AR1s are admitted. How do you think those determinations are made? I promise you: it’s not literally a coin flip.

Would love to read a couple of paragraphs from you about how those decisions are made, especially among AR 1 applicants, especially applicants who do not have one of the more common hooks of athletics, race and family income. Honestly curious!

#4 Comment By abl On October 28, 2019 @ 3:22 pm

@DDF –

It’s what you’d imagine. Adcoms look at the “cruft” to try to put together some sort of story about the applicant. In some instances, the ‘soft’ side of the application is unimpressive and incoherent, or red flags emerge (distinctively mediocre references for an AR1, for instance, is a red flag). In other instances, a powerful story comes through sufficient to overcome an otherwise borderline AR rating.

This generally comes down to some sort of a ‘gut’ feeling, usually shaped by conversations within the team–both about general priorities and about specific candidates. I’d guess that the decisions that the team makes actually align pretty well with what common sense would indicate, such that if we subbed you in for an adcom, you’d mostly reach the same decisions, given the agreed-on priorities. That’s in large part supported by the fact that most students admitted to Williams (at any AR level) are also admitted to many if not most peer schools, and most students rejected by Williams (at any AR level) are also rejected by many if not most peer schools. E.g., outcomes are highly correlated between schools in a way that suggests that idiosyncrasy and chance play a small role.