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Williams Uses Racial Goals in Admissions

Williams, as the College would be quick to tell you, does not use racial “quotas” in admissions. It does not require that there be, exactly, 50 African-American students in each class. But Williams does have ethnic/racial goals. It wants a class that looks like America.

From the Record in 1998:

There are no specific quotas to be filled in the admissions process at Williams, Director of Admissions Thomas Parker explained. Rather, the admissions Office tries to admit a class that reflects national populations.

From the Record in 2012:

[Former Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Mike Reed ’75] explained that the College tries to model its student body on an “approximate mirroring” of the country, which requires recruiting students of color who otherwise would not apply.

A faculty friend reports, after talking with newish Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, that the same policy is true today. Creighton believes that ethnic/racial breakdown of US students at Williams should match, as close as possible, the ethnic/racial breakdown of the college-age US population, at least when it comes to African-Americans and Hispanics.

This is true, not just at Williams, but across elite higher education in the US. Occasionally, uninformed people don’t realize this or naive people deny it. Purpose of this post is to document that they are wrong.


1,200 Academic Rating 2s

President Falk is not as transparent as former President Schapiro was about admissions statistics, but he does, on occasion, provide some interesting details. Mary Dettloff kindly provided this background on a Falk speech from several years ago.

In 2013, the number of applicants with an AR2 rating was 1,269. I am confirming that number for you since Adam did mention it at a private, not public, event that you attended. The information for the Class of 2021, however, is not information we have to report publicly anywhere, so I will not be providing that information.

Fair enough! And thanks, as always, to Mary for all her help with our endless questions.

1) “AR2″ — which is the insider abbreviation for “Academic Rating 2″ — is a standard designation in the ranking system that the Admissions Department uses. A reminder:

  • Academic 1: at top or close to top of HS class / A record / exceptional academic program / 1520 – 1600 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 2: top 5% of HS class / mostly A record / extremely demanding academic program / 1450 – 1520 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 3: top 10% of HS class / many A grades / very demanding academic program / 1390 – 1450 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 4: top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score;

2) We know from the 2005 Alumni Review article that any applicant without a “hook” [1] is rejected if their Academic Rating is below a 2 — that is why the raw number of AR2s is so important. Williams could fill its entire class with AR1s and AR2s! [2]

3) Recall the details from the latest Common Data Set (pdf):


It is a coincidence (?) that the 1450 combined math/verbal SAT average marks the cut off for AR2. But it sure is convenient! Speaking very broadly, half of every Williams class is admitted based on their academic ambition/talent/conscientiousness. The other half would not have been admitted were it not for their race/income/athleticism.

4) If it were me, I would place a lot more emphasis on academics and a lot less on everything else. What would Williams look like if we only admitted AR2s and above? Assume that we still cared about race/income/athletics. That is, we still give preference to AR2 hockey players over AR1 non-hockey players. What would our racial numbers look like? How well would our sports teams do?

[1] Almost all hooks are involve race/income/athletics. There are 66 athletic “tips” who would not have been admitted were it not for a nod from a Williams coach, and another 30 or so “protects” whose chances of admissions were only 50/50. Williams, like all elite schools, has huge problems finding enough qualified black/Hispanic applicants, and so is happy to take plenty who are AR3 or 4. Williams, especially via Questbridge, seeks applicants from poor families. (And the Development Office creates spots for (how many?) children of big donors.)

[2] Of course, it is hard to know for certain that this is true. We would need to know two other pieces of information: How many AR1 applicants are there and how well Williams yields among AR1s and 2s? Contrary opinions are welcome, but my strong sense is that, with so many AR2s (hundreds of whom Williams rejects outright), Williams could easily fill a class in which every student scored above 1450 in math/verbal SAT (with high school grades to match).


Black/White SAT Scores at Amherst

From page 22 of Race and Class Matters at an Elite College by Amherst professor Elizabeth Aries.


There was more than a 200 point difference (1284 versus 1488) in combined SAT scores between blacks and whites at Amherst. Although this data is a decade old and for Amherst, I believe that the same is true today and at places like Williams. Has anyone heard differently? And, as you would expect, students with lower SAT scores do much worse in Amherst classes:


Interesting stuff! Should we spend a week on other highlights from this book?


Outreach by Williams to Prospective Students

TJHSST     I just received an e-mail from the College and Career Center at my son’s high school (he is a freshman this year).  He attends the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which is public high school in Alexandria, Virginia which draws students from around Northern Virginia through a competitive admissions process each year.  TJ is well known regionally and nationally for the extreme rigor of its curriculum, and in particular for its science, math, and technology offerings.  Demographically, TJ is about 65% Asian-American, 25% non-Latino whites, and 10% everything else.

Among the items in the e-mail was the following tidbit which caught my eye:

Juniors, Want to Know More about Williams College, a highly selective Liberal Arts college in rural Massachusetts with a fantastic math department and Oxford-style tutorials?  Consider visiting Williams in the fall through the Windows on Williams program.  This is an all-expense-paid 3-day visit to Williams, with priority given to low-income students. To apply, go to:  Deadline: August 1.

I thought this was very interesting.  Traditionally, despite its academic strength, TJ is not a big feeder to Williams or other highly selective liberal arts colleges, as many of its graduates are focused on engineering.  Among the popular college destinations for TJ grads are MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, and others.  Nevertheless, Williams is obviously making an effort to reach out to the school in hopes of attracting more of its students (note the pitch for the great math department at Williams, since TJ students are selected based on the mathematical abilities more than anything else).  TJ does not have very many low-income students, however, so I’m not sure how well the WOW program will work there.  I hope this outreach effort is successful however, as I think more TJ students at Williams would benefit both places.


Improving International Yield

An e-mail on the effort to improve our yield of accepted international students:

Hi everyone,

Thank you to all those who came to the meeting tonight! It was wonderful meeting you in person. For those who could not make it, below are some of the topics we talked about and information I shared.

Spring Yield Initiatives for Class of 2021 –

1) Connecting via email – All newly admitted international students will be connected to a current international student, ideally based on common interest or geography. I will reach out to you with the information of the students you will be connecting with.

2) Phone/Skype – a – thon – calling all admitted international students who have not yet made a decision on their admission offer. Calls will be made by interested current students and myself. I (Misha) will send out an email listing the dates and times for these calls.

Some helpful links with information about Williams.

How to get to Williams –
Student Profile 2016-17 –
Williams Viewbook –
Course Catalog –
Community engagement and learning –
Events Calendar –

A few things to remember when connecting with new admitted students:

Please do not offer any visa advice. All visa related questions should be directed to Dean Pretto. With the changing immigration policies, the experiences of those applying for the F-1 visa this summer may be different from yours, so it is imperative that none of us (including me) offer any advice on visas or visas process.
If you do not have the answer to a question, please send it my way. I would be happy to answer it on behalf of you.
As you reflect on your time at Williams and share your insights, please be honest and positive. There may have been time when the weather or the small size of the town or something else may have been a less than ideal experience, but please think of the bigger picture and focus on the positives. If you receive any especially difficult questions that you do not feel comfortable answering, please feel free to send them to me.
All questions regarding orientation schedule and flights can be directed to Dean Pretto.

Once again, thank you for being willing to yield the class of 2021! We hope that as many students as possible will choose to Williams and join our thriving international community.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

My anonymous correspondent bolded the section above.

What other efforts does Williams make to improve its yield? I would assume that special efforts are made in areas where Williams yields particularly poorly — especially among African-Americans, but also, I bet, among Hispanics and lower income families — but I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

What advice would you have for Williams about how to improve yield?


Choose Williams Over Harvard

In celebration of previews, reasons why you should choose Williams.

There are several hundreds high school seniors¹ who have been admitted to both Williams and Harvard (and Yale and Princeton and Stanford and . . .). Fewer than 10% of them will choose Williams over these more famous schools. Some of them are making the right choice. They will be better off at Harvard, for various reasons. But at least half of them are making the wrong choice. They (you?) would be better off at Williams. Why?

1) Your professors would know your name. The average Harvard undergraduate is known by name to only a few faculty members. Many students graduate unknown to any faculty. The typical professor at Harvard is primarily concerned with making important contributions to her field. The typical professor at Williams is primarily concerned with educating the undergraduates in her classes. Consider this post by Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, who teaches EC 10, the equivalent of Williams ECON 110/120, to over 750 students each year.

Being an ec 10 section leader is one of the best teaching jobs at Harvard. You can revisit the principles of economics, mentor some of the world’s best undergraduates, and hone your speaking skills. In your section, you might even have the next Andrei Shleifer or Ben Bernanke (two well-known ec 10 alums). And believe it or not, we even pay you for this!

If you are a graduate student at Harvard or another Boston-area university and have a strong background in economics, I hope you will consider becoming a section leader in ec 10 next year. Applications are encouraged from PhD students, law students, and master’s students in business and public policy.

Take a year of Economics at Harvard, and not a single professor will know your name. Instead, you will be taught and graded by (poorly paid) graduate students, many with no more than a BA, often not even in economics! But, don’t worry, you will be doing a good deed by providing these students with a chance to “hone” their “speaking skills.”

2) You will get feedback on your work from faculty at Williams, not from inexperienced graduate students. More than 90% of the written comments (as well as the grades) on undergraduate papers at Harvard are produced by people other than tenured (or tenure track) faculty. The same is true in science labs and math classes. EC 10 is a particularly egregious example, but the vast majority of classes taken by undergraduates are similar in structure. Harvard professors are too busy to read and comment on undergraduate prose.

3) You would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for the paper or sing in an a cappella group at Harvard, it is difficult to do much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class, with each student being top notch in something. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

4) You would have a single room for three years at Williams. The housing situation at Harvard is horrible, at least if you care about privacy. Most sophomores and the majority of juniors do not have a single room for the entire year. Only at Harvard will you learn the joys of a “walk-through single” — a room which is theoretically a single but which another student must walk through to get to her room.

5) You would have the opportunity to be a Junior Advisor at Williams and to serve on the JA Selection Committee and to serve on the Honor Committee. No undergraduate student serves in these roles at Harvard because Harvard does not allow undergraduates to run their own affairs. Harvard does not trust its students. Williams does.

6) The President of Williams, Adam Falk, cares about your education specifically, not just about the education of Williams undergraduates in general. The President of Harvard, Drew Faust, has bigger fish to fry. Don’t believe me? Just e-mail both of them. Tell them about your situation and concerns. See who responds and see what they say.

Of course, there are costs to turning down Harvard. Your friends and family won’t be nearly as impressed. Your Aunt Tillie will always think that you actually go to “Williams and Mary.” You’ll be far away from a city for four years. But, all in all, a majority of the students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off if they had chosen otherwise.

Choose wisely.

¹The first post in this series was 11 years ago, inspired by a newspaper story about 18 year-old Julia Sendor, who was admitted to both Harvard and Williams. Julia ended up choosing Williams (at least partly “because of the snowy mountains and maple syrup”), becoming a member of the class of 2008, winning a Udall Foundation Scholarship in Environmental Studies. Best part of that post is the congratulations from her proud JA.


African-American Yield Comparison

Williams yields African-American accepted students at a lower rates than (some of) its peers.


Thanks to a commentator (who should join us as a blogger!) for pointing this out. He also shared (created?) this analysis:

QtPa0Ak - Imgur

1) Thanks for doing this! We need more peer comparisons at EphBlog. This topic would also make for a good Record article and/or senior thesis.

2) Although we compare poorly with Pomona, we do fine relative to many other colleges. So, maybe the glass is half full? I know that the Admissions Office has devoted a lot of time/money/personnel to African-American enrollment.

3) The unknown factor here is standards. The easiest way to get a very high yield among African-American students is to have much lower standards than your peer colleges. If Pomoma lets in a lot of low quality African-American applicants — high school students that Williams/Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth all reject — then Pomona is going to do very well in yielding those students.

4) The most outlier strategy among elite LACs when it comes to African-American applicants is Middlebury’s: admit/enroll fewer. In the class of 2020 (pdf), only 4% of the students are African-American. Thoughts on this?


Class of 2021 Admissions Data IV

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:


Today is Day 4. For me, the most interesting unknown is: Does Williams discriminate against Asian-American applicants and, if so, by how much? That Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford discriminate is beyond dispute. Indeed, the best historical parallel is with the rampant bias against Jews hundred years ago. (See The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel for a magisterial history.) But Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College argues — fairly conclusively, I think — that Williams did not discriminate against Jews, either at all, much less to the same extent. The basic reason was not primarily that Williams was more well-disposed towards Jews than Harvard/Yale/Princeton. Instead, Jews were less likely to apply to Williams and/or attend Williams if accepted.

Might the same dynamic apply in the case of Asian-Americans? The lower yield for Asian-Americans might provide some indirect evidence for such a claim. At the very least, I would predict that Williams has been doing less discrimination for fewer years than HYP. At the same time, the table we discussed last week is worrying:


If about the same raw number of Asian-Americans and whites have Williams-caliber SAT scores, we would expect about the same number of whites/Asians in each Williams class. If the ratio is actually 4:1, and if Williams does not discriminate, than Asian-Americans must be much less likely to apply and/or less likely to enroll if accepted. Thoughts?


Class of 2021 Admissions Data III

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:


Today is Day 3.

Will the College really yield less than 10% of the 187 black students it accepted during regular admissions? That would be a shockingly low number. Perhaps a close read of Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis on matriculation decisions would tell us if this number is typical. The 43 number for the class of 2020 is not unusual, but there is a fair amount of volatility. The last few years have been 51, 35, 64 and 59.

I believe that there is a significant gender skew on African-American admissions, with women outnumbering men. Does anyone have the exact numbers? In the class of 2010, it was 13 men and 31 women.

Any suggestions for how the College should do better with African-Americans? It seems like more ought to be done with some of the African-American faculty? If I got a private lunch with, say, Neil Roberts, I would be more likely to choose Williams. Also:

One of the great problems that Williams faces in admissions is attracting enough/any African-American applicants will Williams-caliber credentials. Partly, this is because Williams, because of its location and size, is less attractive (on average) to African-American applicants than it is to other applicants. (The same is probably true for international students). But, much more important is the intense competition for elite African-American students from schools like Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford. Almost any African-American applicant with the high school grades and standardized test scores which would place her in the normal range for academic admission (AR 1 and 2) will be accepted at one or more of HYPS. (This is not true of, say, Chinese-American applicants.) Since 90% of applicants (and probably a higher percentage of African-American applicants) admitted to the College and one of these 4 choose HYPS over Williams, this means that Williams has little choice but to accept many African-American applicants who we would not accept were they Chinese-American.

The only practical solution to convince such students to choose Williams is to make it worth their while. And the Tyng (money for graduate school and extra money while at Williams) is the best method available. Therefore, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-American applicants, thereby luring 4-8 African-American applicants away from HYPS and to Williams each year. (With luck, HYPS won’t feel compelled to match our offers.) For legal reasons, Williams might need to make an occasional offer to someone who was not African-American, but I doubt that the Department of Justice would be making trouble against these sorts of efforts anytime soon.

As true now as it was in 2009.


Class of 2021 Admissions Data II

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:


Today is Day 2.

No one should be surprised that Williams yields whites better than it yields any other group. Is that a problem or an opportunity? I bet that white students from rich families who attended elite high schools are, on average, the happiest students at Williams. If so, should we admit more of them?

A similar analysis applies to legacies, the vast majority of whom are white. (Note that the legacy numbers are much iffier because the College does not (regularly) publish the exact numbers. President Falk usually provides an estimate of 1/7th but that certainly varies year-to-year. Indeed, the exact definition of “legacy” matters. We always include the children of alumni, never (?) the nieces/nephews and sometimes (?) the grandchildren. In any event, the 79 here is my estimate, equal to 1/7th of the 553 students in the class.)

I am amazed that we yield so well among legacies. Will 79 or so of the 86 legacies we admitted choose to enroll. That seems much too high to me. I know, just in my personal circle of friends, two legacy children admitted to Williams who went Ivy instead. Then again, perhaps the vast majority of those 86 were admitted early decision? Informed commentary welcome.


Class of 2021 Admissions Data I

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:


Today is Day 1.

The data is derived from the early decision news release, the regular decision news release and the 2016-2017 Common Data Set (pdf).

From the latest news release:

Of the [1,253] admitted students, 95 are international students representing 47 different nationalities. Among American students, 50 percent identify as students of color: 220 students are Asian American, 214 are black, 175 Latino, and 17 Native American. Thirty-seven percent identify as white and five percent opted not to identify. A total of 274, or 22 percent, are first-generation college students, and seven percent (86) have a parent who attended Williams.

Note that all these numbers include the 257 students admitted via Early Decision in December. So, Williams only accepted 996 students via regular decision: 1,253 – 257 = 996.

Caveats: This is the first time I have attempted an analysis like this. Mistakes are likely! In particular, I did lots of algebra in my head and made some simplifying assumptions. The “Projected Yield” is the percentage of admitted students in each category which would need to enroll in order to match the totals for the class of 2020.

That 700 admitted students turn us down — overwhelmingly for schools like Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford and significantly for the next tier (Dartmouth/Brown/Amherst/Swarthmore) — is a sign of the gap we face in becoming the best college in the world. We need more of these high quality students to choose Williams.

Among students that both we and HYPS accept, we yield only 10% or so. Of course, many of those students are making the right choice when they turn down Williams. Anyone who hates the snow would be happier at Stanford. But many (10%? 25%, 50%?) of the students who turn us down are making a mistake. They would have been happier at Williams. We need to do a better job of selling Williams to them. Suggestions?


Legacy Admissions Play No Meaningful Role at Elite Colleges


tl;dr: Legacy status does not provide a meaningful advantage in admissions to elite colleges like Williams. People like Sam Altman and Arjun Narayan ’10 are wrong, either because of genuine ignorance or because of a (unconscious?) refusal to confront the major beneficiaries of admissions preferences: athletes and (non-Asian) racial minorities. (If Sam has complained about extra considerations that Stanford gives football players and African-Americans, I must have missed it.)

Hasn’t Arjun Narayan ’10 ever read EphBlog? We have been documenting these facts for over a decade. From 2008:

Morty [then Williams President Morton Schapiro] noted that a decade or so ago [or perhaps when he arrived?], the average legacy was a 3.3 on the 1-9 scale of academic ranks while the average non-legacy was 2.3. Morty did not seem to be a huge fan of this gap, or of giving legacies such a preference. He then noted that the latest statistics show that legacy and non-legacy are now equivalent (both at 2.3). Morty confirmed, consistent with all the analysis I have done, that being a legacy is not a meaningful advantage in getting into Williams.

Director of Communications Mary Dettloff kindly provided this update for 2017:

I had a conversation with Dick Nesbitt about this, and he says it has long been our policy not to release academic standing information for specific subgroups of students. That said, he also shared that for at least the last 20 years, the legacy students have had equal, if not marginally stronger, SAT scores and Academic Rating when compared to the rest of their classmates.

Case closed.[1]

More importantly, should we be surprised that students whose parents went to elite colleges are much more likely to win admissions to elite colleges themselves? No! Nature and nurture are passed down through the generations now, just as they always have been.

Consider professional baseball. From the New York Times:


A random US man has a 1-in-15,000 chance of playing in the MLB. The son of an MLB player has a 1-in-75 chance. In other words, your odds of playing in the MLB are 200 times higher of your father played. Given that fact, should we be surprised if your odds of coming to Williams are 200 times higher if your parent is an Eph?

The mechanisms in both cases are the same. Genetics play a major role. The specific genes — probably thousands of them — that help you to hit a curve ball are passed from father to son. The genes that aid in doing well in school and on standardized tests are passed on just as easily. Nurture matters. Baseball players probably provide their sons with a better than average environment in which to learn baseball. Ephs who become parents do the same. You should no more be surprised at the high numbers of legacies at elite colleges than at the high numbers of baseball children in the Majors.[2]

However, it is interesting to consider how legacy admissions have evolved in the last 30 years. In the 1980’s, it was tough for Williams to find 75 high quality legacies in drawing from Williams classes of the 1950s. First, the college was much smaller than, with fewer than half the current student population. Second, Williams was much less academically rigorous. (That is, there were plenty of not-very-smart students.)

In the 80’s, there were 500 academically accomplished students per class. Judging/guessing from what we see at reunions, the total number of children of a typical class is at least 500 and probably closer to 1,000. But only 75 or so find spots at Williams! Do the other 425 go to Stanford? Nope. And the same harsh mathematics apply to the children of other elite schools. Since smart people have smart children, the pool of legacies that the College has to choose from is very impressive. Williams does not need to lower standards at all to find 75 good ones.[3]

[1] To be fair to Altman/Narayan, there are some subtle counter-arguments. First, if it is the case that legacies, as a group, differ from non-legacies on other dimensions besides academic rating, then it might not be fair to compare the two groups directly. Instead, we should compare legacies with non-legacies who “look” like legacies. For example, if legacies are more likely to be white and non-poor, then comparing them with non-legacies is makes no sense. Instead, we should compare them with similarly white/non-poor non-legacies.

Second, it could be the case that legacies come in two flavors: over-qualified and under-qualified. The over-qualified ones are exceptional candidates who turn down Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford for Williams. The under-qualified ones receive substantial preferences in admissions. Combining the two groups creates an overall legacy group which is similar to non-legacies but which “masks” the substantial advantages given to under-qualified legacies.

[2] Of course, legacy students are much more likely to attend their parents’ alma mater than legacy baseball players are to play for the same team as their fathers. Exercise for the reader: Explore the industrial organization of elite colleges and major league baseball to explain this difference. Perhaps a better view is to consider all the legacy students as a whole, in the same way that the New York Times considers all the legacy baseball players. But this post is already long enough . . .

[3] sigh, an EphBlog regular, points out this study (pdf) on “The impact of legacy status on undergraduate admissions at elite colleges and universities.” The author argues that legacy status matters a great (or at least did matter in the fall of 2007). I have my doubts. Let’s dive into the details in the comments!


Asian Versus Black SAT Scores

This Brookings Report highlights the continuing gaps in performance on the SAT and similar IQ tests among racial groups. Former Economics Professor Mike McPherson also gets a mention. Key chart:


Several Ephs tweeted out a link to the related New York Times story:

“Race gaps on the SATs are especially pronounced at the tails of the distribution,” the two authors note. In math, for example,

among top scorers — those scoring between a 750 and 800 — 60 percent are Asian and 33 percent are white, compared to 5 percent Latino and 2 percent black. Meanwhile, among those scoring between 300 and 350, 37 percent are Latino, 35 percent are black, 21 percent are white, and 6 percent are Asian.

Translating those percentages into concrete numbers, Reeves and Halikias estimate that

in the entire country last year at most 2,200 black and 4,900 Latino test-takers scored above a 700. In comparison, roughly 48,000 whites and 52,800 Asians scored that high. The same absolute disparity persists among the highest scorers: 16,000 whites and 29,570 Asians scored above a 750, compared to only at most 1,000 blacks and 2,400 Latinos.

There should be a way to combine this data with what we know about college admissions and applicant preferences to get a more up-to-date estimate of racial distribution of SAT scores at Williams. Start with the latest available Common Data Set (pdf):


Full analysis left as an exercise for the reader! Comments:

1) About 2/3s of Williams students score above a 1400 combined. Speaking very roughly (and using hand-waving as my statistical estimation method of choice), whites and Asian Americans have about the same raw numbers in this pool. (There are, of course, many more white than Asian 17 year-olds in the US, but the whites do much worse on the SATs (and most other IQ tests)). So, why is the ratio of whites to Asians among Williams students almost 4:1? This suggests that Williams might discriminate against Asian-Americans in admissions. Now, there are many other plausible explanations other than discrimination which might explain this, mainly involving student/family preferences. But there is an interesting Record article (or senior thesis!) to write about this topic.

2) The ratio of Asian-Americans (74) to African-Americans (43) in the class of 2020 is not quite 2:1. But the ratio of students with Williams caliber SAT scores between these two groups is at least 20:1. The only thing that could possibly explain this discrepancy is massive preferences for African-Americans (relative to Asian-Americans) in Williams admissions. Taking another hand-waving guess, I would estimate that at least 70 of the Asian-Americans scored higher on the SAT/ACT than at least 40 of the African-Americans. In other words, the two distributions probably have almost no overlap, looking something like:


That couldn’t cause any problems on campus, could it? Below is an example of the sorts of “conversations” that students with radically different SAT scores have at Williams.

Read more


Welcome Class of 2021

Welcome to those admitted to the class of 2021! If there are any aspiring writers in the class, please contact EphBlog. We would love to host your prose. (Could a reader post this offer to the class of 2021 Facebook group?)

From the news release:

Of the [1,253] admitted students, 95 are international students representing 47 different nationalities. Among American students, 50 percent identify as students of color: 220 students are Asian American, 214 are black, 175 Latino, and 17 Native American. Thirty-seven percent identify as white and five percent opted not to identify. A total of 274, or 22 percent, are first-generation college students, and seven percent (86) have a parent who attended Williams.

Note that all these numbers include the 257 students admitted via Early Decision in December.


Almost 20% Low Income?

This naive and uninteresting article on elite college admissions mentions:

What top colleges and universities really have to do is reach out to students who don’t apply to them in the first place, said Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, almost 20 percent of whose students are low income, and which flies high-achieving low-income prospective applicants to its campus and teams up with a nonprofit called QuestBridge to find them.

The idea of need-blind admission “fits nicely on a bumper sticker,” Falk said. But “simply taking your admission pool and turning off your information about the financial need of students isn’t good enough. You have to go out there and find students. That means going into communities with high financial need and actively recruiting there.”

It also means supporting students from those places when they show up, Falk said.

Anyone who believes that 20% of the students at Williams are low income is a fool. Readers interested in this topic should start with this ten part rant from 2014.


Welcome to the Class of 2021

Early decision results came out on Friday. Welcome to the class of 2021!

1) If there are any aspiring writers in the class, please contact EphBlog. We would love to host your prose.

2) The College tweeted on December 1: “Welcome to the first 16 members of Class of 2021, admitted through the QuestBridge Match program. #Williams2021″ The dramatic increase in the importance of Questbridge to Williams is one of the biggest admissions stories of the last 15 years. My understanding is that around 10% (200+) of current Williams students are Questbridge. True?

3) There are at least some alums who would be happy to consider pre-frosh for summer internships. One is here. Highly recommended! Don’t hesitate to start to make use of those Williams connections. Contact the Career Center for more info.


Incredibly Diverse IV

The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 4.

Fifty percent of students will receive financial aid, with an average aid package of $53,194.

Remember last September when we mocked New York Times editor David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) for his naiveté in believing that “Williams has recently been making an effort to become more [economically diverse].” This was absurd because, for decades, Williams has been run by people who care a great deal about socio-economic diversity. For Williams to pretend otherwise — and for Leonhardt to allow them to pretend without doing any real reporting — was embarrassing.

Although we documented this absurdity then, the arrival of the class of 2020 allows us an opportunity to revisit it. Leonhardt reported, as fact, that Williams cared more about economic diversity now than it has in the passed. Perhaps the simplest measure of such caring is: How many students receive financial aid? At first glance, 50% of the class of 2020 receiving financial aid seems diverse! But, 8 years ago, fifty percent of the class of 2012 received financial aid. And, 11 years ago, 49% of the students in the class of 2009 received financial aid.

About half of each Williams class has been on financial aid for more than a decade. If “percentage on financial aid” is your preferred measure of economic diversity, then Williams is no more diverse now than it was in 2005.

Not so fast! Williams total cost has dramatically increases over the last decade, from $42,310 to $65,480 this year. (By the way, is there some official source of total costs over time at Williams?) Since US cash-incomes are largely flat over this time period, Williams has become much less economically diverse in the last decade.

In other words, in 2005, the wealth/income of the median family at Williams was large enough that they could afford $42,310. In 2016, the median family at Williams is much richer! It can afford $65,480. In all likelihood, the entire distribution of family income/wealth has significantly increased. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Williams has always been a school for the children of the rich, now more than ever.

And EphBlog does not mind! Williams should accept/recruit/enroll the most academically gifted and ambitious 18 year-old English-fluent students in the world. Some will be rich, some poor. Some US citizens, some not. The changes in the joint distribution of income/wealth/IQ in the population at large, changes forecast in The Bell Curve a generation ago, are not the College’s problem.

Studying the increase/decrease/stability of economic diversity at Williams over the last 50 years would make for a great senior thesis. Start with my ten day rant on related topics in 2014. Summary: The economic diversity at Williams has been largely constant for 50 years. There were poor kids at Williams in the 1960’s. There are poor students today.

What should the Record investigate? Easy! Start here and here for background. Then ask new provost Dukes Love the following question:

In 1998, the 426th poorest family at Williams had a family income of $63,791. What is the family income of the 426th poorest family at Williams today? How has that number changed over the last two decades?

Professor Love has easy access to this data because the College has the family incomes for every student who requests aid. He could answer this question. Is the Record smart enough to ask it?


Incredibly Diverse III

The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 3.

The students come from 42 states, represent 52 foreign countries, and two of them are military veterans.

1) Given the way that the College likes to brag about the number of states represented, it may be an advantage in admissions to come from a state (Wyoming? Mississippi?) with few applicants.

2) Recall last year’s four part series on country of origin. Read the whole thing! Highlights:

a) Since there are only about 39 international students, it is tough for them to represent 52 countries, even with dual citizenship. Or am I missing something? Perhaps the 52 number includes US dual citizens? Or perhaps a student from Zimbabwe who went to high school in Sweden counts for two? Clarifications welcome.

b) Although the biggest problem with international admission is the quota — and kudos to Jim Kolesar for explaining that the bump the last couple of years was random and that the quota was still in place — the second biggest problem is College’s desire to maximize the number of countries represented rather than find the best international students, regardless of nationality. If we used Academic Rating more seriously, we would have more students from East Asia, especially China and the Chinese Diaspora.

3) Recall our four part series on veteran admissions two years ago. My views have not changed. First, if a veteran (US or otherwise) has Academic Rating 1 or 2, he should be admitted. If he is 3 or lower, he should not be. Second, very few veterans are AR 1/2. This means that William should have few if any veterans. And that is OK. There are other ways — like veterans on the faculty — to provide the veterans’ viewpoint. Third, it is not clear to me that Williams is doing academically ill-prepared veterans any favors by admitting them. Mismatch theory applies as much to veterans as it does to African-Americans. Fourth, it is not obvious that veterans — unlike other applicants who benefit from various flavors of affirmative action — will have much if any impact on the quality of their classmates’ experiences at Williams since many/most veterans will be older, with families, living outside the dorms and eating outside of the dining halls.


Incredibly Diverse II

The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 2.

Of the 552 incoming students, 267 identify as men, 251 as women. Two identify as trans or transgender, and one identifies as non-binary. Thirty-one students did not respond to an optional question about gender identity (but did answer a required binary question that appears on the Common Application).

That sure is confusing! Can someone provide the details for parsing this?

First, I think that the Common Ap has a question about “gender at birth” which is required. If so, it would be useful for the College to report that data in the news release. Mary Detloff kindly responded to my question with the answer: female (266) and male (286).

There has been an interesting trend in gender over the last few years. A few years ago, there were more females than males among first years. In 2012 it was it was 291/256! At the time, I attributed this to either a) more competitive female than male applicants and b) a desire for the resident population to be 50/50 requiring more female students since women were (are?) more likely to study abroad. But that trend changed last year, when the split was 270/281.

There are lots of possible causes for this. First, random variation. Second, perhaps women are more likely to take gap years than they used to be, leading to a greater “melt” among female first years than was historically the case. Third, the college making an affirmative choice, perhaps because men are more likely to drop-out/transfer, so you need to start with more men in order to have a graduating class with a 50/50 split. Other possibilities?

Second, can someone provide the details of the College’s questions, and how have they changed in the last few years? Future historians will thank you! According to Inside Higher Ed:

The last year has seen many more colleges let applicants indicate that they are transgender, and — in what may be a first — Williams College included the data in its press release on the incoming class. … A spokeswoman for the college said that officials there did not know of other colleges that have included this information in press releases, but that the goal was to be inclusive.

Inclusiveness is fine, but what is Williams going to do when it files the Common Data Set in two months? It has (I think) no option other than to abide by the requirement that data be provided for men and for women. There are no other gender options. So, either Williams classifies as “female” students who told Williams they were transgender — presumably because that was the gender at birth they gave to the Common Ap — or Williams doesn’t include them at all in the Common Data Set (which would probably cause the submission to fail because of data quality checks). Tough question! Perhaps the statistically sophisticated approach would involve treating gender as missing data and using multiple imputation . . .

Third, spare a thought for our friends in Institutional Research: Courtney Wade and James Cart. What a hassle it will to deal with this complexity in future research! For example, suppose Adam Falk wants to update his claim:

And while women students and faculty are well represented throughout most of our curriculum, there remain fields such as physics and computer science where the numbers of women, both nationally and at Williams, do not reflect our nation’s distribution of talent or potential interest.

What definition of “women” should be used? Not an easy question!


Incredibly Diverse I

The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 1.

The class is also incredibly diverse. Thirty-seven percent of students in the incoming class are U.S. students of color, and another 7 percent are international students

Has the percentage of US students of color leveled off? Or even dropped? From Adam Falk, the class of 2016 has 38%. According to the current version of Fast Facts, it was 40% for the class of 2019. According to the 2011-2012 Common Data Set (pdf and only available on EphBlog!), it was 37% ((64 + 44 + 57 + 37)/546) for the class of 2015. Comments:

1) Definitions matter. Are we talking about the percentage of the entire class that is US students of color (I think this is correct) or percentage of US students that are students of color. Does the College (does everyone) use the same definition? For reference, here (pdf) are the definitions used in the Common Data Set for the class of 2019.


Note how this lines up, almost, with the 40% claim in Fast Facts: (67 + 51 + 1 + 76 + 27)/546 = 41% — with rounding. So, perhaps the big story here is that “US Students of color at Williams drop by almost 10% (222 to 204(?)) in class of 2020!”

2) Behavior matters. How honest are applicants in checking these boxes? How have their choices — honest or not — changed over time? Intelligent applicants know that there is a bias against Asian-American applicants, if not at Williams than at places like Harvard and Stanford. So, they have every incentive to check the “white” box if they can. In particular, mixed race (white/Asian) applicants are foolish if they don’t check the “white” box. There is also evidence that more applicants who used to check the “white” box are now making other choices. Background reading here. Note my prediction from a decade (!) ago:

The point is that there are significant preferences given to those who check certain boxes and that cheap genetic testing will provide many people with a plausible excuse to check boxes that, a few years ago, they did not have. How much will the admissions process change as a result? Time will tell. It will be very interesting to look at the time series of application by ethnic group over this decade. I predict that the raw number (and total pool percentage) of African-American and Hispanic applicants will increase sharply.

Has that happened?

The most depressing news about the class of 2020 is the decline in international students back down to the usual quota level of 7%. Sad! I was wrong about Adam Falk. He continues to discriminate against international students in exactly the same way that his predecessors at Harvard discriminated against Jewish students a 100 years ago.


SAT Score Changes

Interested in SAT score changes at Williams over the last 15 years? Me too! Alas, the College does not make it easy to study these things since they deleted the old Common Data Sets. Fortunately, I saved this link from 1998-1999 (although the link does not work):

C9. Percent
and number of first-time, first-year students enrolled in fall 1998 who
submitted national standardized (SAT/ACT) test scores. Does not include
partial test scores. SAt scores are recentered.

submitting SAT scores:

Number submitting
SAT scores:

submitting ACT scores:

Number submitting
ACT scores:

25th percentile
75th percentilee
SAT I Verbal


SAT I Math


ACT Composite


ACT English
ACT Math

of first-time, first-year students with scores in each range

SAT I Verbal
SAT I Math











Here is the Fall 2014 data from IPEDS:


By the way, does anyone know how to get time series data out of IPEDS?

And here is a relevant table from the 2015-2016 Common Data Set (pdf):sat

1) I apologize that this is such a mish-mash.

2) It is not clear how comparable these numbers are over time. First, the rise of score choice and/or super scoring has made it easier (and more common) for students to take a test multiple times and only report the best results. Second, students are now more likely to take both the SAT and the ACT and either only report one. (Or, they report both and the College only uses the better in its own reporting.) But ignore those complications for now.

3) Scores have increased meaningfully over the last 15 years. But, given 2), I can’t say whether or not this is because the students have gotten smarter. Opinions from readers?


Dropping SAT II Requirement

From The Boston Globe:

Several top New England colleges have joined a growing number of schools nationally that no longer require applicants to submit scores from SAT subject tests, saying the specialized exams lend little insight into students’ readiness and can work against low-income and minority students.

In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.

Did the College announce this change? Was there campus discussion? Not that I saw. I am indifferent. What do readers think?

“We want to make the application process as fair to all students as possible,” said Mary Dettloff, a spokeswoman for Williams College. “We felt like we weren’t getting any valuable data from the SAT II scores to help us.”

Current Williams requirements here. The easiest way to make the application “fair” would, obviously, to not require any information — no SAT subject tests, no AP scores, no high school grades, no nothing. Just choose applicants randomly! As the mirror on the wall reports, that would be the “fairest application process of them all!”

A handful of elite schools, including Harvard and MIT, still require SAT subject tests. …

Meanwhile, dropping standardized test requirements can help colleges in several other ways. Schools tend to receive more applications, which can drive down their percentage of accepted students, making them seem more selective. Colleges also profit from the additional application fees.

Although many experts believe the tests will eventually disappear, schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement.

MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.

The tests are undoubtedly useful, especially in looking at students from out-of-the-way high schools. At Williams, they were probably most used to distinguish among Academic Rating 1s and 2s. (Background here and here.) Key definitions:

      verbal   math   composite SAT II   ACT    AP
AR 1: 770-800 750-800 1520-1600 750-800 35-36 mostly 5s
AR 2: 730-770 720-750 1450-1520 720-770 33-34 4s and 5s
AR 3: 700-730 690-720 1390-1450 690-730 32-33 4s

Recall that most American AR 1s are accepted (and, allegedly, all legacy AR 1s) and many (half?) AR 2s. AR 3s are rejected unless they have a hook. So, this change hurts the student with high SAT II scores relative to her SAT I and AP scores and helps students with the opposite profile. How big is the magnitude of the change? I would be surprised if it changed the students in the class of 2021 by fewer than five students or more than 50.


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 as well.) 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.)

First, estimate your Academic Rating and provide the key evidence behind that estimate. (Back 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. The Academic Rating is the most important part of the process, so focus your words on that topic.

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 if 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.

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.

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.


Advice on Applying to Windows on Williams

Did you read Eph ’20’s excellent four part series on Windows on Williams (WoW)? You should! Part I, II, III and IV. Here (pdf) is the application, which is due August 1. My advice for those who want to get in (and who recognize the morally suspect nature of the college admissions process):

1) Make your family as poor as possible. (Nothing here is meant to encourage you to “lie,” per se, but you should understand what Williams is looking for and adjust your application accordingly.) income
Whatever you think your family income is, chop that estimate in half. After all, you don’t really know, do you? Also, if there is any reason to think that income is variable, tell Williams the story. Also, keep in mind that Williams cares a lot about whether or not you will be eligible for a Pell Grant.

The maximum award for the 2015-2016 academic year is $5,775. Your eligibility is decided by the FAFSA. Students whose total family income is $50,000 a year or less qualify, but most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000

Williams doesn’t care about that $5,775, and it doesn’t really care about exactly how poor you are. But it loves to brag about how many students qualify for Pell Grants. And Williams is also rated by other elites (here and here) on this criteria. So, I bet that applicants who report family incomes below $50,000 are much more likely to be accepted at WoW.

2) Make yourself as diverse as possible.race URM admissions at Williams is a fascinating topic. The two most relevant posts are probably here and here. Slightly modifying what I wrote 10 (!) years ago:

Note that the WoW application form gives you almost complete latitude in what boxes you check. It asks you to “indicate how you identify yourself.” In other words, there is no requirement that you “look” African-American or that other people identify you as African-America, you just have to “identify yourself” as African-American, just as, when she applied for a faculty position at Harvard, Elizabeth Warren identified herself as Native American.

Now, one hopes, that there isn’t too much truth-stretching going on currently. The Admissions Department only wants to give preferences to students who really are African-American, who add to the diversity of Williams because their experiences provide them with a very different outlook than their non-African-American peers. But those experiences can only come from some identification — by society toward you and/or by you to yourself — over the course of, at least, your high school years. How can you bring any meaningful diversity if you never thought of yourself as African-American (or were so thought of by others) until the fall of senior year?

The point here is not that the current admissions policy for WoW is bad or good. It is what it is. The point is that there are significant preferences given to those who check certain boxes and that cheap genetic testing will provide many people with a plausible excuse to check boxes that, a few years ago, they did not have.

Checking one of those boxes (other than white or Asian, of course!) will dramatically increase your odds of acceptance to WoW. Similar reasoning applies to the other diversity-lite questions, like first language spoken and language spoken at home.

3) Make your parents as uneducated as possible. (Relevant discussion here and here.) Back in the day, Williams measured socio-economic diversity on the basis of whether or not either parent had a four year college degree. I suspect that this matters much less now, but there is certainly no reason to exaggerate their educational credentials or, for that matter, socioeconomic status.

Good luck to all the applicants!


Windows on Williams IV

As someone who attended Windows on Williams and loved every moment of it, I’m still more than a little skeptical of its efficacy. A lot of the people I met at the program, point blank, told me they weren’t that interested in the school; for others, it was a better-than-average safety now that they pretty much knew they’d get admitted.

Ephblog has covered this question before, but, as a new author with a bit of personal experience, I’d like to take a crack at the topic myself. I shamelessly quote from the same Williams Magazine feature that lead our WOW post back in April:

The program is competitive; we get about 1,200 applicants. The students we select are very strong candidates for admission, and getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances that they apply and will choose to enroll here if we admit them.

I agree with the first bit, I can nod along to the second, the third leaves me in want of proof. Sadly, there’s almost nothing public about WOW beyond what little the college deigns to publish, so, I leave you with my thoughts and more than a little anecdote:

1) The yield rate for WOW students might not be higher than our general yield. Again, we proceed w/o especially good data, but, the numbers I were quoted went thus: 70% of two hundred WOW students apply to the college, 85% of that number are admitted, and roughly 40% of those students matriculate at the college. That’s not a “dramatic” increase in the chances that a student will enroll; 40% is maintenance on our general yield rate.

Now, perhaps, a 40% yield is good considering that WOW students are alleged to be more talented, diverse, or otherwise just more valuable to admissions than your garden variety Eph. Perhaps that sort of student is more likely go elsewhere, and thus we have to work extra, extra hard to make sure they matriculate.

But none of that seems clear from the quoted block of text! The reasonable inference to make is that a “dramatic” increase in yield rate would mean one that at least exceeds our general yield. You can wax poetic about how a relative increase in the yield rate technically satisfies the quoted statement, but, that answer leaves me a little discomfited; it seems a deceptive way to represent the data. Of course, this wouldn’t be a point of contention if the college were to release its actual figures on WOW and not speak in generalities. I eagerly await the day.

2) Is WOW even competitive with similar programs? All of our immediate peers — Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona — run their own fly-in programs. Further, because the total pool of students who attend fly-ins is pretty small, we can assume that out of the 200 students that attend WOW, at least a few will go to a program at one of our peer schools.

We could easily enough, and due credit here to regular commentator simplicio, send a survey out to students who attended WOW and ask them to check off what fly-in programs they’ve attended, as well as what school they plan to matriculate at in the fall.

If, out of students that attend both WOW and Amherst’s fly-in, we only get 20%-30% of them to matriculate here, then we know that WOW isn’t keeping pace. Of course, we’d be working with a fairly small sample size (likely no more than about ten students) but rough indicators would beat flying blind.


Windows on Williams III

Half of this year’s entering class is comprised of students who applied Early Decision. How many of those students, might you ask, went to WOW too? 13:

Thirteen students admitted through Early Decision participated in Windows on Williams, a Williams-sponsored program that provides talented, high-achieving high schools seniors from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to visit campus during the fall of their senior year.

We bring nearly two hundred students to campus for WOW and of those students that apply, we admit 85-90% of them. So how do we only have 13 students, about a 20th of the students we fly out here, applying ED? My best guesses:

1) They have no good incentive to apply ED.  That 85-90% number, while not promulgated, isn’t secret either; everyone who goes to WOW, by the end of it, has heard that number and knows that they stand a very very good chance at getting admitted to the college. Nothing stops these students from treating Williams as a safety. Those that hold the purple-and-gold dear would blanch at the thought, but, like it or not, there’s more than a few students on campus today who might have preferred an acceptance letter from Yale or Stanford to one from Williams.

2) They don’t think that they can afford to apply ED. If this is the case, then that’s something we ought to change. Perhaps WOW students, if interested in applying early, could have a “tentative” aid offer prepared by someone in the financial aid office?

Considering that we’re admitting 90% of them already, and we’ve already brought them to campus at some expense, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to close that last inch of distance and get them to apply ED. I’m sure many poorer WOW students, although not all, would jump at the chance to apply ED if they could be reasonably confident that Williams would give them enough aid.

3) They just don’t like the school that much. Decently common! You would presume that students who go out of their way to apply to WOW would be above-average in their love for the school, but, you wouldn’t be all that correct. I met more than a few people at WOW that didn’t plan to apply to the college at all; some liked other schools more, some were just in it for the free trip.

Perhaps, there’s some way we could get a slightly more enthused student body to WOW? The prompt for WOW, as it stands, is very general; perhaps we would be better off with something that’s more specific to Williams? Or, maybe, it’s just a matter of doing a better job at knocking some school spirit into our guests while they’re here.

My suggestion: teach visiting students to sing The Mountains. It’s never too early, or late, to learn.


Windows on Williams II

Welcome! We’re spending the week covering Windows on Williams. Today, I’ll be bringing you through the parts of WOW that stuck out to me as memorable:

Welcome Dinner and Introductions

Quite interesting! At the other fly-ins I went to, for the first night, you were handed a meal ticket and pretty much left to shift for yourself at one of the cafeterias. Williams, however, has a whole separate banquet type thing, with catered food and huge tanks of iced apple cider, where student interns in the admissions office mull around and answer any questions that visiting students might have.

I like this quite a bit. It gives the student hosts a break, it gives our visiting students more time in front of admissions office staff, and, it makes for a good venue to conduct introductions from.

Jamboree: Student Performance Showcase

Wretched. Awful. Needs to die, both at Williams and as a convention of the fly-in generally. For one, they almost always schedule the student performances on the first night — when everyone is jet-lagged, and cranky, and really not in the mood to watch a step routine. (And, might I add that attendance is usually mandatory.)

Any charms of the format wear thin by one’s second fly-in, usually. Mostly because there’s no variety between colleges. I visited three schools, hundreds of miles apart, in different athletic conferences and with radically different alleged styles of education; all of them subjected me to three acapela groups, two dance troupes, and some really maudlin, weirdly metered poetry.

Jamboree: Bad, Bad Trivia

What gave me the most hope for student showcase at Williams — the promise of trivia — ended up being the most disappointing. Here are the three of the questions they asked at my WOW: “What war did Col. Ephraim Williams fight in?” ; “Who is the director of admissions at Williams?” and “Williams is the second oldest college in the state of Massachusetts, what school is the oldest?”

Seriously? We, purport to, and in fact have, a very rich trivial tradition at Williams. And this is the best we can do?  I don’t want to put too fine a point on this (because WOW as a whole is great and my specific critiques should be read as footnotes to mountains of praise) but how fun is it to ask students to recall the name of an admissions director they’ve just met? And why the last question? Why are we bothering, even indirectly like this, to compare Williams to Harvard? It seems a slimy way to rub some of the Harvard prestige off on Williams. Why not ask a question about Pres. Garfield, or Leehom Wang? It might teach the youth something.

 Mountain Day

My WOW, the October session, ended up falling on Mountain Day. I couldn’t imagine a better time to be on campus; the idyllic, sexed-up Williams that we ought to be showing prefrosh comes out on Mountain Day. Can we bring future WOW classes to campus during Mountain Day without spoiling the surprise? It’s my hope we can.

Sample Classes

Very good! Surprisingly good, actually. I was worried that, at fifty students apiece, the sample classes would be overcrowded, but, evidently there exist members of the Williams faculty that can teach fifty student seminars. Prof. Leyla Rouhi, in particular, had a sort of rockstar quality; there was a line of people waiting to speak to her after she finished teaching.

Divisions Dinner

I won’t say much about it, because unqualified praise doesn’t need the space. Interestingly, two Ephblog favorites, Prof. Joe Cruz ’91 and Prof. Steven Miller, were both in attendance at the October WOW. Prof. Miller even gave the whole room a neat little demonstration of Benford’s Law.

That concludes our post today! Tomorrow, we return to the usual Ephblog listicle format as well as to reasonable standards of length.


Windows on Williams I

We’re spending a few days covering Windows on Williams, the college’s biggest little program that no one seems to know a thing about. If you, dear reader, are one of those people, best to consult our two other articles on it first before proceeding below. Today is day one, and we begin with the college’s own scanty description of the program:

WOW [Windows on Williams] gives high school seniors the opportunity to spend three all-expenses-paid days at Williams. WOW is a selective program open to high school students in the U.S. and Puerto Rico; preference is given to high-achieving students who couldn’t otherwise afford to visit Williams.

WOW participants stay in dorms with current students, attend classes, meet with professors, and learn about our admission process and our extraordinary financial aid program.

Where to start? General context first:

1) Williams is not unique, or particularly virtuous, in offering to fly students to campus. All of our peer schools — Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona (even Bowdoin) — have similar programs. Why? Easy: because it’s one of the few ways elite liberal arts schools can counter punch when they, inevitably, scrap with larger universities for students. We can’t out-spend, out-market, or out-brand a financially massive institution like, say, Harvard. What we can do is target a few excellent students, bring them to campus, and make the case that a choice between Williams and Harvard is an easy decision.

1.1) Further, we can expect most of our fly-in students will know that. Personally, I went to three fly-ins. Talking to people, I got the sense that was pretty average. About half of the people I talked to attended less than that (usually two, rarely just one) and the other half attended more. (One girl I met planned to go to twelve fly-ins; she had applied to more.)

2) Williams is, however, not not virtuous. Williams, as it should, makes its application public and welcomes all sorts of folk to apply. Some schools either put their application on a part of their website that isn’t public facing, or, even better, require that you be “invited” to apply. The amount of sleaze required, to limit access to a program designed to provide access to the poor and disadvantaged, is staggering, yet, unsurprisingly, not uncommon among the admissions staff of fancy-pants schools.

3) But, Williams does run a good fly-inThere’s a few things that spell a good, or at least prestigious, fly-in: funded travel for all admits, relatively small size, selectivity and two-night length. Windows on Williams hits pretty much all of those benchmarks: everyone gets their travel paid for, each session of WOW is around 100 students, only 16% of WOW applicants get in, and, most importantly, the program is a luxuriant three days — two whole overnights.

Tufts, on the other hand, crams 250 students into one fly-in, that accepts roughly 50% of applicants, and only lasts two days (one overnight). That sort of program, at least to students who’ve attended better ones, are treated as minimally desirable (e.g, if you had a better fly-in to go to, you’d bump the Tufts one off your schedule.) Or, if you didn’t have anything to do that weekend, you might attend as a sort of blow-off trip because it was easy to get in and the application was short.

It’s important that our fly-in students have a good time here, but, because recruiting students is a zero-sum game, it is arguably more important that they have a better time here than they have anywhere else. Is that something the administration keeps in mind? I would expect so, but I’m really just guessing. Perhaps admissions officers are less savage than I imagine them to be.

Guesses, educated or otherwise, on that topic are more than welcome in the comments.


Catholic Quota?

Fay Vincent ’60 writes:

In my college and law school classes, there were very few people of color. Indeed there was no black student in my class at Williams College, and only about 10 blacks in my class at Yale Law School. Women were admitted to Williams some 10 years after I graduated. The law schools had long admitted women, but few attended until the large-scale social revolution in the 1970s. Today people of color and women students constitute a major segment of most educational institutions. To me, single sex education always seemed artificial, and I am certain my social adjustment and education would have benefited from the more diverse current environment. Oddly, as a Catholic I was the diversity because the elite schools in my time had quotas for my religion.

1) Did Williams really have a Catholic quote 50 years ago? I have never read about it. Any pointers?

2) Was the quota a minimum or a maximum? The quotas — or, more euphemistically, admission “goals” — for black/Hispanic applicants today are minimums. Williams does not want to have too few. The quotas that elite schools — certainly Harvard but maybe not Williams — have for Asian-American applicants are maximums, just like the Jewish quotas of 100 years ago.

3) There is a great senior thesis to be written about this question, or about Williams admissions over time more broadly. Who will write it?




Sam is certainly right that the meritocracy is not perfect in the Chinese education system. But he fails to note the delicious irony that the beautiful building across for him, Hollander Hall, is not named from some great scholar or previous president. Instead, it was named after a couple of recent graduates who got in to Williams (according to a source) because their daddy wrote an 8-figure check. And then named the building after his kids!

Perhaps Sam should note the mote in the eye of Williams before being too mocking of our friends in China . . .


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