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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 is the application, which is due August 1. In recent years, there have been around 2,000 applicants, with 200 or so students accepted.

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 Federal Pell Grant for the 2019–20 award year (July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020) is $6,195.

Williams doesn’t care about that $6,195, 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 13 (!) 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.) 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!

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Atlantic on Admissions, 2

This Atlantic article about legacy admissions is a mess, but it does have a couple of interesting data points. Day 2 of 2.

From the article:

Yale is an interesting case study. The school currently gives the children of alumni an admissions bump, but from 1980 to 2010, the proportion of students in its freshman class with a parent who also attended dropped from 24 percent to 13 percent.

1) Just because Yale tells a gullible Atlantic reporter something — like that it does not discriminate against Asian-Americans — does not make that something true. Yale has many reasons, mostly related to fund-raising, to claim that it gives legacies a “bump,” even if — especially if! — the bump is so small as to be invisible.

2) I don’t think the drop at Williams has been so dramatic, but there has been a drop. I think a recent class was only 10% legacy, whereas the usual number was closer to 15%. I don’t know what it was in the 80’s, although that information is available in the library in the annual letters that the Admissions Office used to produce for the trustees. On my list of projects for reunion week-end!

3) The numbers for Yale help to explain the dramatic increase in legacy quality at Yale. (We don’t have Yale data but there is no reason why the trends would not be the same there as at Harvard/Williams.) First, if you only take half as many legacies, you can reject the really stupid ones. Second, the doubling of the Yale undergraduate class size from the 60s to the 80s means that there are, more or less, twice as many legacies to choose from. Third, Yale students in the 80s are much smarter than those from the 50s, so their children will form a much more academically accomplished pool to choose from.

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Atlantic on Admissions, 1

This Atlantic article about legacy admissions is a mess, but it does have a couple of interesting data points. Day 1 of 2.

Applying to college as a legacy is like having a superpower. It has been estimated to double or quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective school, and has been found to be roughly equivalent to a 160-point boost on the SAT.

I need to re-work my annual post on legacy admissions to deal more directly with (excellent!) comments/criticisms from folks like abl. In the meantime, can we agree that the above is incredibly misleading? The average SAT score for Williams legacies is higher than the average for non-legacies. Nor is this only a Williams phenomenon:

And a Harvard spokesperson told me that admitted legacies tend to have higher median test scores and grades than the rest of admitted students. This doesn’t make the admissions advantage that legacies are given defensible, but it’s possibly another reason that the status quo of legacy admissions persists.

Now “admitted students” are not the same as “enrolled students,” which is the real comparison we want. But Harvard enrolls 80%+ of its admitted students, so the statistics for admitted students are very likely to be similar to those of enrolled students. Moreover, it is not obvious which way any differences would go.

The question is that same as before. If, among enrolled students, the average Harvard legacy scores 1500 (or whatever), and the average non-legacy scores 1480, how much of a preference could being a legacy possibly be?

Entire article below the break:

Read more

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The Purple Rubble

The College Council has removed from its Facebook account a controversial video. This video captured an example of profane, incendiary, anti-white bigotry directed at white student representatives by one of the most prominent black student leaders at Williams College on June 9, 2019.

The video featured a long, stream-of-consciousness rant saying, in part, “…to be here is like sucking white d*** every f***ing day.”

“You want a discussion and dialogue. Here’s the f***ing dialog. We don’t have dialogue, because every time we try to talk to you we get shut down by the white moderate, white liberal bull***t.”

A link to the video was published on Ephblog on April 15, 2019. A partial transcript appeared at the Anonymous Political Scientist blog on that same day. Finally, The College Fix published a link to the video on April 19, 2019. The College Fix is a national-level conservative website where student journalists write on topics in higher education.

NOTE: A heavily redacted transcript of the June 9, 2019 meeting is still available at 4_9 Minutes.

According to the Williams Record, black student activists planned a demonstration to protest their treatment by the College Council. It was canceled, however, after links to the video rant were published at various on-line sites.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 10

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 10.

The Times’s editorial board notes that the indictments do not challenge the legal uses of money to influence the admissions process: “What the government actually is defending is private property — the right of the colleges to make their own decisions about admissions, and collect the payments.” And my colleague Frank Bruni weighs in as well.

The Times is correct. There is nothing wrong with writing a check to get your child into Williams, c.f., Hollander Hall. But you must write the check to the correct person.

Matt Levine explains it well:

The deep point here is that the law is pretty good at protecting property interests, but not so good at protecting fairness. If there’s a thing, and someone owns it, and you take it, the law can deal with that: It’s relatively straightforward to figure out what happened and explain why it was wrong and identify the victim and assign blame to the perpetrator and so forth. Fairness is a much harder concept to pin down and enforce; my “unfair advantage” might be your “deserved reward for hard work and innate skill.” What’s odd is not that insider trading law is about theft; what’s odd is that it almost looks like it might be about fairness, and that people think it is.

There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy, except for the extremely well-known one where you donate a building in exchange for getting your kid in! “Lol just donate a building like a real rich person,” the U.S. Attorney almost said.

It is not about fairness; it is about theft. Selective colleges have admissions spots that they want to award in particular ways. They want to award some based on academic factors; they want to award others based on athletic skill; they want to award others in exchange for cash, but—and this is crucial—really a whole lot of cash.

Read the whole thing. Williams wants you to give it, or rather Megan Morey in the Development Office, $5 million. Williams does not want you to give $500,000 to women’s soccer coach Michelyne Pinard. The former gets your AR 3/4 (even 5?) child into Williams. The latter gets you arrested.

Heed EphBlog’s wisdom!

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EphBlog in the NYT, 9

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 9.

“Recruited athletes not only enter selective colleges with weaker academic records than their classmates as a whole but that, once in college, they ‘consistently underperform academically even after we control for standardized test scores and other variables,’” Edward Fiske wrote in a 2001 book review for The Times.

This might have been true in 2001, but, even then, I have serious doubts about the quality of the statistical work underlying these claims. But it was never really true at Williams. The 2002 MacDonald Report (pdf) concluded that “Athletes, to summarize, achieve lower grades than other students overall, but achieve about the same grades as students with similar academic ratings.”

It could be that Williams was a different sort of school than the others used in “The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values,” the book reviewed by Fiske in the Times. I think it more likely that authors Shulman and Bowen just did sloppy empirical work.

But, wouldn’t you know it, we now know more than we did 20 years ago! Consider this 2009 Report (pdf).

We find that the gap in academic performance, as judged by grade point average, has narrowed substantially overall and has essentially disappeared for female athletes and for male athletes in low-profile sports. The gap for male athletes in high-profile varsity sports (which we defined as football,ice hockey, basketball, and baseball; other studies include different sports, such as wrestling and lacrosse) appears to be narrowing, but persists even after we adjust for 1) academic qualifications prior to enrolling at Williams College, 2) socio-economic status, and 3) the individual’s year (e.g.sophomore, senior). Thus academic under-performance by male varsity athletes in high-profile sports continues, and cannot be attributed to academic credentials prior to Williams or to socioeconomic status.

The narrowing of the overall academic performance gap since 2002 could be due to any of number of factors (perhaps including changes in team culture during the past decade) but one likely factor is the change in admissions standards for athletic “tips”. The minimum qualifications required for admission to Williams have been raised during the intervening years, and are continuing to rise.Thus varsity athletes’ academic preparation for Williams College is increasingly similar to that of the rest of the student body. Our data indicate that academic under-performance by male varsity athletes playing high-profile sports can largely be attributed to those who are less well-prepared academically for Williams, and thus it is our sense that the “raising of the floor” for admissions tips may have been an important factor in reducing overall difference in the GPAs of varsity athletes and non-athletes.

This is somewhat sloppy and confusing. But the key point is that, for 28 of the 32 varsity sports teams at Williams, the average academic performance of athletes is indistinguishable from that on non-athletes. That is a fairly different message from “consistently underperform academically.”

Again, there are a lot of subtleties and we would all like more recent data. And it could be that Williams is different than other schools. But for Leonhardt and others to continue to pretend that athletes in general are some weird outlier group on campus, academically disconnected from their peers, is just nonsense. Might there have been, and still be, issues with the football team and men’s ice hockey? Sure! Yet those are precisely the high profile sports which were not involved in the current scandal.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 8

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 8.

It has taken 8 days, but we have finally come around to EphBlog!

At some colleges, like Williams, nearly one-fifth of first-year students are recruited athletes, EphBlog explains.

1) Thanks for the link! But who should we really thank? I doubt that Leonhardt reads EphBlog or remembered this post. It was more likely turned up via a Google search. But by whom?

2) The link is, sadly, not the best that could have been used. First, this is an annual post on How Admissions Work at Williams, and the latest version is always best. Second, the topic here is athletic admissions, covered in much more detail in this post.

3) Why “some colleges?” Large admissions preferences for athletes is an almost universal practice at elite colleges, Caltech being the most prominent exception. (There is occasional nonsense that MIT does not use athletic preferences. That is garbage. Here is the link for athletic recruiment.)

4) Also misleading is “nearly one-fifth.” Williams probably has a lower percentage than most other NESCAC schools, mainly because we have a somewhat larger student body. That is, in most of NESCAC, the percentage is higher than 20%.

5) Note the correction that Leonhardt added to the column.

An earlier version of this newsletter misstated the share of students at Williams College who are recruited athletes. It is about 30 percent, not nearly one in five.

This is just nonsense. Leonhardt has apparently decided that, since 30% of Williams students play inter-collegiate sports, every single one of them must be a recruited athlete. That is a fantasy.

Wikipedia tells us that:

The Gell-Mann amnesia effect describes the phenomenon of an expert believing news articles on topics outside of their field of expertise even after acknowledging that articles written in the same publication that are within the expert’s field of expertise are error-ridden and full of misunderstanding.

Why should I believe Leonhardt when he talks about the US budget when he can’t even describe the admissions process at Williams accurately?

But a NYT link is still much appreciated!

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EphBlog in the NYT, 7

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 1.

I’m a sports fan and long-ago high school athlete. I have a lot of admiration for students who are talented enough and work hard enough to play sports in college. But they are not a different species. It’s time to end the extreme special treatment that colleges give to so many of them. College sports can still exist without it.

EphBlog agrees. The place to start is with increased transparency, as we have discussed before.

NESCAC schools should measure and make public the academic accomplishments of their student athletes, both in high school (AP/SAT scores) and in college (GPA, majors).

Suggestions:

  • In the first (trial) year, allow each school to present the information in whatever way it prefers. (Smart presidents will simply delegate the task to their athletic directors and institutional researchers.) Since no (?) athletic conference has done this before, it is not clear what the best approach might be.
  • Any statistic should be presented in three different ways: for the entire student body, for the team as a whole and for the team weighted by playing time. (The last measure discourages coaches from stacking teams with academically accomplished benchwarmers.) FERPA prevents schools from releasing data about an individual student, but there is no law against making aggregate data available.
  • Include data from both high school and college. We want to demonstrate both the affect of athletics on admissions and, even more importantly, how athletes perform in college.

There are several benefits to greater transparency about the academic performance of NESCAC athletes. First, it would publicly demonstrate a fact that many non-athletes doubt: On the whole, athletes are similar in their academic qualifications and accomplishments to non-athletes. Second, it would encourage coaches to make academics a bigger focus in both their recruiting and their mentorship. If you (partially) measure coaches by the academic performance of their teams, you will get better academic performance. Third, it will prevent coaches/schools from complaining, inaccurately, about the behavior of their peers. Right now, coach X loves to claim that school Y unfairly lowers standards for its recruits. Who knows? With transparency, we can observe institutional behavior easily.

Leonhardt wants to decrease the admissions advantages for athletes. The first step in that politically-fraught process is greater transparency about exactly what the admissions advantage is, and its effect on subsequent academic performance.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 6

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 6.

“Athletic recruiting is the biggest form of affirmative action in American higher education, even at schools such as ours,” as Philip Smith [’58], a former dean of admissions at Williams College, has said. It’s a relic of the supposedly character-defining role that sports played in elite colleges a century ago.

Why should we trust anything that Leonhardt says when he demonstrates his dishonesty so clearly here? You, naive reader, probably think that this quote from Smith is “true,” that Leonhardt called up Smith, discussed the recent news and Smith said these words to Leonhardt. But that is not what happened! (The “tell” is in the use of “has.”)

In fact, this quote is from 18 years ago. Leonhardt wants you to think that he is performing the ancient and time-honored craft of “reporting” when, in truth, he is just slapping things together in order to fit a pre-arranged narrative. EphBlog does that all day long, but at least we are honest about it!

The good news here is that I am glad that Phil Smith is no longer (one hopes!) talking to New York Times reporters. Anyone who took showers in the men’s locker room during the 1980s knows that there are certain parts of Williams history that are best left unexamined in this MeToo era . . .

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EphBlog in the NYT, 5

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 5.

I thought of that study yesterday, after the Justice Department announced it had indicted 50 people for trying to rig the admissions process. The alleged scam involved payments funneled from parents to college coaches, who in return would falsely identify applicants as athletic recruits to the admissions office. Just like that, the students then become virtual shoo-ins for acceptance.

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous.

I admit that I was shocked to see this happening at Yale. (The coach at issue is married to the Wesleyan head women’s soccer coach.) But why is this “outrageous” when, every single year, families write million dollar checks to Williams (and Yale and Harvard) to get their children accepted? Leonhardt expresses no outrage about that common practice.

But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

First, what, precisely, is the “scam?” Leonhardt has no problem with Development Admissions, in which you write a check and your kid gets in. That is OK! But writing a check to the wrong person at Yale is a “scam?”

Second, how does Leonhardt know that other parts of the admissions process don’t have similar scams? Sports matter in admissions, no doubt, but so does race. Is Leonhardt certain that there are no similar racial scams yet to come to light?

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments.

Uhh, no they are not, or at least not in anything other than trivial numbers. Richard Nesbitt explained this to us 15 years ago.

As for the comparison with music, here’s a reality check: We are able to admit roughly 120 top rated musicians each year from the top of the academic reader rating scale–what we refer to as academic 1′ and 2’s (broadly defined as 1500+ SAT’s and very top of the class).

In other words, even if you only used academic standards, you would gets tons of great musicians. And that means that being a great musician does not matter much.

But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part.

True. If you are on the coach’s list, you are in — subject to meeting certain minimum academic standards, which the coach knows about ahead of and, so, would not put you on her list if you did not meet them. If you are not on the list, you are rejected.

But race, for 100+ students at Yale each year, also serves as the “defining part” of their application. If they did not check that box, they would be rejected. I can’t figure out if Leonhardt is too ill-informed to know that all his complaints about athletics also apply to race or if he knows and is too cowardly to report the truth. Which would be worse?

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EphBlog in the NYT, 4

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 4.

With the last three days of discussion as background, we can now go through the article line-by-line.

Getting a peek inside the college-admissions process isn’t easy.

What nonsense! There are a dozen or more excellent books on the college admissions process. (EphBlog recommends The Gatekeepers and A is for Admission.) We provide a detailed summary of how admissions works at Williams, updated each year for your convenience. There are scores of academic articles.

But a team of academic researchers managed to do so several years ago.

Leonhardt is such a hack! What does the word “several” imply to you, dear reader? Three? Six? Eight? Try 14! And that is just when the book was published. The underlying information is from the (impressive!) College and Beyond database, constructed in the mid 1990s. Leonhardt uses the phrase “several years ago” to describe a study conducted with data more than 20 years old!

It helped, no doubt, that two of the researchers were former college presidents — William Bowen of Princeton and Eugene Tobin of Hamilton.

Bowen has made a nice post-presidencies career of writing books with suspect empirics and minimal replicability. Nice work if you can get it.

The researchers were given access to anonymous admissions records at 19 elite colleges and then analyzed how admissions offices treated different groups of students. Low-income students, for example, were no more likely to be admitted than otherwise similar students with virtually identical academic records. So-called legacy students — those whose parents attended the same schools — received substantial boosts. So did underrepresented minorities.

Much of this was probably true in the 1990s. But Leonhardt is passing it off as being true today when, on many dimensions, things are vastly different. First, legacy advantage matters much less today than it did in the 1990s, for reasons that we have explored ad nauseum. Second, there has been a big push in favor of low-income students. Third, note how Leonhardt pretends that legacies and URMs both received “substantial boosts,” when, in fact, the boost for URMs was much bigger in the 90s than that for legacies, and that is even more so today.

The average legacy at Williams has a higher SAT than the average non-legacy. The average African-American at Williams has an SAT score 200+ points lower than the average non-African-American student. These two things are not comparable!

But the biggest boost went to recruited athletes: An athlete was about 30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record.

I realize that the academic research uses terminology like this, but it no longer captures how admissions works, to the extent it ever did.

Assume that Williams has a 20% admissions rate. The only way for that “30 percentage points more” formulation to make sense is if someone (who?) puts together 200 athletes that they (who?) want to come to Williams. This list of 200 goes to Admissions, and 100 are accepted. This 50% acceptance rate is, indeed, 30% more than the 20% baseline, but the theoretical process which allows that statement to make sense is not how Williams (or Yale) athletic admissions work. This is how they work.

Summary: If you are on the coach’s list, you are (almost) 100% going to get in. Any statistical model which does not account for that process will produce nonsense numbers.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 3

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 3.

As we have discussed over the last two days, Leonhardt — and every elite college president, including Maud Mandel — does not want a system in which only academics is used for admissions because it would admit too few African-Americans. Nor do they want a system with explicit racial norms, even if such a system is the easiest way to solve that problem. This is the necessary background to any discussion of athletic admissions. Leonhardt writes:

It’s time to end the extreme special treatment that colleges give to so many of them. College sports can still exist without it.

EphBlog agrees, at least in the context of making Williams the best college in the world. But EphBlog also wants to decrease the (even greater!) advantages given to racial minorities. Leonhardt doesn’t want to do that. Leonhardt still wants Yale/Williams to have non-trivial numbers of African-Americans, without making it overly obvious how academic talent varies across races. Large admissions advantages for athletes achieves that goal. Consider the latest Williams common data set:

The bottom 20% of the Williams class, about 100 students, is overwhelming composed of three groups: recruited athletes, Blacks/Hispanics, and low income. (To be honest, I am not sure how large that last group is and, certainly, there is a great deal of overlap among racial minorities and low income students.) What would happen if Leonhardt’s proposal were instituted at Williams, if recruited athletes got no more of an advantage in admissions than great violin players?

1) The bottom of the Williams class would become dominated by racial minorities, in a way which made the magnitude of the preferences they receive obvious to everyone. Athletes, who are overwhelming white, now add a highly desirable degree of racial diversity to the set of students who struggle academically at Williams. Look at the students on academic probation, the bottom 5 students in a given introductory course, students with GPAs below 3.0, today, you will see white/brown/black (and a handful of Asian) students. And that is a pretty desirable state of affairs.

2) The gap between the average academic performance of black/Hispanic students and white/Asian students would increase. With athletic preferences, the average white/Asian academic credentials (high school grades and test scores) and Williams performance (GPA, thesis honors) is X above the average credentials/performance for black/Hispanic students. If we get rid of athletic preferences, X gets (much?) larger because we replace all the 1350 athletes with 1450 athletes. Since there are 100 recruited athletes, only a few of whom are black/Hispanic, this will have a big impact on X.

Leonhardt is correct that we can still have college athletics with much smaller athletic preferences in admissions, especially if all the schools in a given league (e.g., NESCAC, Ivy) change their policies at the same time. But he has failed to confront the implications for that change in the racial variation in academic credentials/performance. Does David Leonhardt really want a Yale at which 90% of the students in the bottom of the class academically are black/Hispanic? If he does, then fine! But he ought to explain to his readers that this would be the inevitable result of significantly decreasing the preferences given to athletes.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 2

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 2.

Leonhardt, as we discussed yesterday, does not want an academics-only admissions system because such a procedure, however “fair” it might be, would lead to, at least, 40 Asian-American students at place like Williams and Yale for every 1 African-American student.

A simplest way to avoid that fate would be with racial quotas. Is Leonhardt in favor of that? Just specify that 10% of Yale would be African-American and use objective academics-only criteria to fill those slots. (This is, in fact, more or less what Yale/Williams do.) No need for anything else, whether it be athletics or music or legacy-status. No need for the rigamarole of holistic admissions.

My guess is that Leonhardt would be against this plan for several reasons. First, it is definitely illegal, at least for public universities like Michigan and Berkeley. Second, it is probably illegal even at private universities like Yale and Williams. Third, it would make the discrimination against Asian-Americans too obvious. There would either need to be different standards for whites and Asian-Americans or a place like Yale would be 40% to 50% Asian.

Most importantly, it would make too obvious the difference in academic credentials across races, something that people like Leonhardt prefer to hide. Under this plan, the average African-American would have SAT scores 150 to 200 points lower than the average Asian-American at a place like Yale, and 250 points at a place like Williams. (The difference arises from Yale “stealing” all the African-American candidates with Williams-caliber credentials.) Unless we use the smokescreen of holistic admissions, the disparities become impossible to miss.

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EphBlog in the NYT, 1

New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 1.

The problem with folks like Leonhardt is that they have failed to think clearly about what sort of admissions system they favor in place of the current system of holistic admissions. Let’s help them over the first three days of this series before diving into the confusions of the article itself.

What system does Leonhardt (a Yalie) prefer? One option would be the test-only procedures of countries like China, France and Japan. You take one (long) test and then the top 1,600 go to Harvard, the second 1,600 go to Yale and so on down the chain. (If Leonhardt wants to include high school grades and create an overall measure of academic talent/achievement, then that is straightforward as well.)

The problem with this system is that, under it, only 1% or so of Yale would be African-American. Would that be OK with Leonhardt? Would it be OK with Yale President Peter Salovey? Would it be OK with the Yale faculty? Of course not! The faculty would go insane, just for starters.

Consider the expert testimony (pdf) from the recent Harvard admissions trial. Key table:

The ratio of Asian-American to African-American students in the 10th (best) academic decile is almost 70 to 1. The current situation at places like Williams is even worse because (almost?) all the African-Americans with Williams-caliber academic credentials are enrolled at Harvard/Yale/Princeton.

Leonhardt has never, that I have seen, mentioned this inconvenient truth. Is he so ignorant as to be unaware of it? If not, then why not explain reality to the readers of the New York Times? Isn’t that, you know, his job?

Entire article below the break:

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Legacy Admissions Play No Meaningful Role at Elite Colleges

legacy

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:

baseball

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.

EphBlog reader KSM writes:

What they don’t tell you is that whites and Asians lacking the legacy hook need to be a lot better than “equal, if not marginally stronger” than the school average. Without a legacy, a student applying to a selective LAC should aim for the 75th percentile, which I take to be approximately the bottom end of AR 1. In terms of the old SAT, this would be 770 on the Math (vs 708 Williams average) and 780 on Critical Reading (vs 720 averages). These 75th percentile scores are each about a half-standard deviation higher than the average scores. So, a half-standard deviation in academic ability is what legacy status buys you at Williams.

Hmm. This is not obviously implausible. I should spend more time on this topic and reader pointers are welcome.

But, first, just how “white” are legacies. Williams was just as Black 30 years ago as it is today and Black Ephs have children too. I would assume (contrary evidence welcome) that the white/black ratio in legacy admissions is similar to the white/black ratio in the general student body. Why wouldn’t it be? (The same argument does not apply, obviously, to Hispanic/Asian admissions.) Second, plenty of legacies are also athletes, at least some of whom are recruited. Indeed, so many Williams sports are really rich-northeastern-elite pastimes that it would hardly be surprising if legacies were over-represented in sports like crew and squash.

So, I agree with KSM that comparing legacies to the overall pool is not perfectly fair but nor it is fair to compare them only to non-athlete white/Asian applicants.

The second subtle counter-argument: 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, pointed out this study (pdf) on “The impact of legacy status on undergraduate admissions at elite colleges and universities.” The author (an Eph!) argues that legacy status matters a great (or at least did matter in the fall of 2007). I have now read (and taught!) this reasonable article, although I remain unconvinced, for reasons which will need to await for next year’s version of this post.

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College Admission Bribery Scandal

From the Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Charge Dozens in College Admissions Cheating Scheme

From the New York Times: College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged

1) This is the biggest college admissions scandal of the last 20 years. Crazy stuff!

2) Alas (???), there is not (yet?) a Williams connection, unless someone can identify an Eph in this list of the (so far!) indicted.

3) I could spend a week or two parsing these articles and connecting them to various EphBlog themes. Worth it?

Full articles below the break:
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The Parable of the Privilege Pill

This comment from abl leads to the Parable of the Privilege Pill.

Imagine a family with twin sons, just entering 9th grade. The boys are average, both in their natural abilities and in their academic inclinations. Son 1 goes through high school with average grades and average test scores. According to Williams Admissions, he has an Academic Rating of 9. If he applies, he is rejected, as are all AR 9s. Note that Williams is not punishing him for bad performance in high school. The purpose of admissions is neither to punish nor reward. Williams rejects Son 1 because AR 9 high school students, on average, do very poorly at elite colleges.

Imagine that Son 2, on the other hand, takes a magic Privilege Pill on the first day of 9th grade, a pill which dramatically increases his academic performance for four years. He will receive excellent grades in high school and do very well on the SAT. Williams Admissions will rate him an AR 1 and, probably, admit him if he applies.

Williams would not (and should not) admit Son 2 if it knew about the Privilege Pill. By assumption, the pill only lasts for four years. After that, Son 2 becomes identical to Son 1, an AR 9, highly unlikely to perform well in an elite classroom. Admission to Williams is not a reward for strong performance in high school; it is a forecast of academic success in college.

The same reasoning applies to the Anti-Privilege Pill. Imagine a different family with twin daughters blessed with academic talent. Daughter 1 does very well in high school, is rated AR 1 by Williams and (probably) admitted. Daughter 2, unfortunately, takes an Anti-Privilege Pill at the start of high school and does much worse in terms of grades/scores than she would have done if she had not taken the pill.

Williams would (and should) admit Daughter 2 if it knew about the Anti-Privilege Pill. Recall that the pill, by definition, only lasts 4 years. Daughter 2 is, in truth, an AR 1 student whose underlying abilities have been masked in high school. We expect her to do as well at Williams as Daughter 1. Rejection from Williams is not a punishment for poor performance in high school; it is a forecast of academic struggles in college.

Things are different, however, in the case of a Privilege Pill (or Anti-Privilege Pill) which is permanent in its effects rather than temporary.

Consider a car accident in 9th grade which, tragically, leaves Daughter 2 with permanent neurological damage. Through no fault of her own, she will do only average in high school and will be scored as an AR 9 by Williams admissions. She will be rejected because, on average, high school students with AR 9, regardless of how they came to have an AR 9, do poorly at elite colleges. Even though she would have been an AR 1 (like her twin sister) were it not for the car accident, that sad fact does not influence Williams admissions.

The same reasoning applies to a Privilege Pill whose effect is permanent. If the Pill turns an average 9th grader into an AR 1, then Williams should admit her because she will, we expect, do as well as all the other AR 1s. The source of student ability — genetics, parenting, schooling, luck, wealth, special tutoring, magic pills — does not matter. Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom.

With this framework, we can evaluate abl’s question:

If there are two students alike in every material respect (1450 SATs / 3.8 GPAs at the same school with comparable resumes), and you know that one student achieved her SAT scores after working with a private tutor with a long history of success stories while the other student did not have that opportunity — who would you accept?

The student without the tutor, obviously! In this scenario, the tutored-student has taken a Privilege Pill which, by assumption, is only temporary. She isn’t truly an AR 2. She would have scored 1300 without the tutor. She is really an AR 4 (or whatever). She is likely to do as well as other AR 4s at Williams. So, we should reject her (unless she is an AR 4 that we really want).

I honestly don’t see how any rational, clear-minded person can say that they aren’t going to accept the student who achieved her score on her own. That’s not because we are prejudiced against the student who got help: it’s that we don’t (or, at the very least, we shouldn’t) believe that her 1450 represents the same level of accomplishment and potential as the 1450 of the student who took the test cold.

Exactly how do you propose that Williams admissions determines “the student who achieved her score on her own?” While I am happy to answer your hypothetical question, the sad truth is that Williams has no (reasonable) way of determining which students achieved on their own and which did not. High quality SAT tutoring is available for free at Khan Academy, for example. How could you possibly know if a given applicant “took the test cold?” Answer: You can’t.

There strikes me as being a reasonable debate to be had about how and whether admissions officers should take these sorts of advantages into account in the admissions process. There is no reasonable debate to be had about whether or not privilege plays a role in student achievement as measured by SAT scores and by GPAs.

Perhaps. But the key question becomes: Are the advantages of privilege temporary or permanent? Does the Privilege Pill last through 4 years at Williams? If it does, then we can ignore it. Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom.

Fortunately, this is an empirical question! Define “privilege” however you like, while using data available to Williams Admissions. I would suggest: A privileged applicant is one who attends a high quality high school (top decile?), will not need financial aid at Williams, and comes from a family in which both parents attended an elite college. (Feel free to suggest a different definition.) We can then divide all AR 1 Williams students into two groups: privileged and non-privileged. If you are correct that privileged students benefit from things like high quality SAT tutoring which makes them look temporarily better than they actually are, we would expect the privileged AR 1 students to perform worse at Williams than the non-privileged AR 1s. The same would apply to privileged versus non-privileged AR 2s, AR 3s and so on. Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade could answer this question in an hour.

But don’t expect that analysis to be made public anytime soon. Courtney, and the people who do institutional research at Williams and places like it, are smart. They have already looked at this question. And the reason that they don’t publish the results is because of the not-very-welcome findings. Privileged AR 1s do at least as well at Williams as non-privileged AR 1s, and so on down the AR scale. The effects of the Privilege Pill are permanent. If anything, the results probably come out the other way because the AR scheme underestimates the benefit of going to a fancy high school like Andover or Stuyvesant. But let’s ignore that subtlety for now.

The last defense of the opponents of privilege is to focus on junior/senior year. Yes, the poor/URM AR 3s and 4s that Williams currently accepts don’t do as well as the AR 1s and 2s in their overall GPA. But that is precisely because of their lack of privilege, or so the argument goes. After a couple of years, Williams has helped them to catch up, has made up for their childhood difficulties and obstacles.

Alas, that hopeful story isn’t true either. AR 3s/4s do worse than AR 1s/2s even after two years of wonderful Williams.

Summary: Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom. It does not matter why you are an AR 1: intelligent parents who value education, luck in your assignment to a charismatic 8th grade teacher, wealth used to pay for special tutoring, genetics, whatever. All that matters is that your status as an AR 1 provides an unbiased forecast of how you will do at Williams. The Parable of the Privilege Pill highlights why the source of academic ability is irrelevant.

If Williams wants better students — students who write better essays, solve more difficult math problems, complete more complex science experiments — it should admit better applicants.

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Questbridge

Via Instagram:

williamscollege: Did you know QuestBridge students made up 15% of the Class of 2022? #aimhigh #williams2022

The use of Questbridge is the most important change in Williams admissions in the last decade. I suspect that it now accounts for the vast majority of both low-income and first-gen students in each Williams class.

But how well do Questbridge students do at Williams, compared to the students we used to admit before Questbridge existed? The fact that the College doesn’t like to talk about this comparison speaks volumes . . .

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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), 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.

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Asian-American Admissions

From abl, someone I think worked in admissions at Williams 10 years ago:

At least a decade ago, Williams did not have any sort of quotas for Asian-American applicants of which I was aware, nor did Williams actively discriminate against these candidates. I can’t imagine that’s changed. That said, I think there are number of admission biases that, probably unintentionally, favor wealthier white applicants — and, in the process, disfavor other demographic groups, including (but not limited to) Asian-American applicants. These biases are more cultural and are not racial, but I suspect that they account for the disproportionately poor outcomes for Asian American applicants at most elite schools.

Another interesting point along these lines: Williams is somewhat different from most of its peers, in that for a complicated number of reasons (including its location, size, culture, and reputation), Williams’ Asian-American yield relatively lags (or at least it did a decade ago). As such, even if the Williams admission process was not culturally biased, we should not expect to see the explosion of Asian-American matriculants that might present at a place like Harvard.

I have no reason to doubt abl’s testimony. Indeed, my preferred simile is that Asian-American admissions to elite schools today is like Jewish American admissions a century ago: significant quotas at places like Harvard but no discrimination at Williams.

However, just because a story is flattering does not mean that it is true. Does Williams really not discriminate against Asian-Americans today? And, if it doesn’t, how long can that happy state of affairs continue, the math being what it is. If Asian-Americans are 6 times more numerous than African-Americans/Hispanics in the upper reaches of high school academic achievement (and they are), how long before Williams needs to start discriminating to avoid imbalance?

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de facto Spokesperson, 3

Excellent, albeit naive, Record article by Arrington Luck ’22 about Michael Wang‘s ’17 role in the debate over discrimination against Asian-Americans in elite college admissions. Day 3 of 3.

The New Yorker article concludes with:

When [Michael] Wang [’17] and I finished lunch, we returned to his office. We stopped to get bubble tea. As we waited, I asked him about the purple button-up shirt he was wearing—wasn’t that the color of Williams? He smiled, and began rhapsodizing about his time at the college: Thanksgiving dinner with his professors; making Asian food with friends; his twenty-first birthday, when a professor took him out to a bar. He started to talk faster, and the rote stiffness with which he’d recounted his complaint suddenly melted away. “The education I got at Williams was incomparable to what I would get at Harvard,” he said. “I still would have gone to Williams, even if I had gotten into those other schools, now that I’ve been at Williams.”

Good stuff! Record reporter Arrington Luck might get the details behind these stories, especially the professors who had such an impact on Wang. Tell us their names! Interview them about their students, especially those who were rejected by places like Harvard.

EphBlog believes that at least half the students accepted to both Harvard and Williams would be better off at Williams.

The night before Wang’s graduation, he and his friends stayed up late talking about the past few years, cherishing a few more hours together. He had spent all day packing up his room. The next morning, he and his friends listened as the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered the commencement address. “Her message was, you know, when you go out into the world, do things that you won’t regret,” Wang said. “You’ve been given the tools to make an impact and change the world for the better. Go out there and do it.” He thought, Wow, that’s what I want to do. ♦

EphBlog’s advice: Do not go to law school.

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de facto Spokesperson, 2

Excellent, albeit naive, Record article by Arrington Luck ’22 about Michael Wang‘s ’17 role in the debate over discrimination against Asian-Americans in elite college admissions. Day 2 of 3.

Luck described Wang’s high school record as “stellar, boasting a perfect ACT score, a 4.67 GPA . . . ” Business Insider went with:

Wang’s credentials are impressive. Academically, he was ranked second overall in his class and graduated with a 4.67 weighted grade point average. He scored a 2230 on his SAT, placing him in the 99th percentile of students who took the exam. . . . Wang still feels as if he was unfairly rejected from the Ivies.

“I think I deserve better than what I got,” he said.

No, you didn’t.

1) Perfect (i.e., 36) scores on the ACT are common. One of the big problems with the ACT is how “coarse” the grading system is. A 36 corresponds to anywhere from 1520 to 1600 on the SAT (math + verbal).

2) We do not know what the breakdown is on Wang’s SAT. The Writing score was, by far, the least important, which is why it has been discontinued. If we just divided the 2230 total by 3, we get an average score of 743, which equated to 1480 or 1490 on the math+ verbal. Although those scores are above average for Williams, they are nothing more than average at Harvard.

3) Wang went to James Logan, a not very good California school. He may have graduated as the #2 student in his class, but what matters is your ranking at the time of college applications. I believe he was ranked 4th or 5th then. Either way, this case highlights that resume items like GPA and class rank are meaningless without the context of school quality. Being the #4 student at Stuyvesant or Boston Latin or Andover is deeply impressive. Such a ranking, plus good test scores, gets you into Harvard. But being #4 at an average (below average?) high school is little to brag about. Places like Harvard (and Williams) regularly turn down the valedictorians from such schools.

Summary: I waited till after Wang graduated to write about him even though he has been in the news for years because I was embarrassed for him. His high school record would probably result in rejection from Harvard even if he were white.

There are rejected-from-Harvard Asian-Americans, many of them at Williams (several of them Michael’s friends and roommates!), who have a legitimate beef with the current system. They probably would have been accepted at Harvard were they white, and definitely if there were African-American or Hispanic. But Michael Wang ’17 is not one of them, which may help to explain why he is only an “informal” spokesperson for SFFA.

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de facto Spokesperson, 1

Excellent, albeit naive, Record article by Arrington Luck ’22 about Michael Wang‘s ’17 role in the debate over discrimination against Asian-Americans in elite college admissions. Day 1 of 3.

1) I no longer trust the Record to maintain an accurate on-line presence so, going forward, I will always save a copy of each story I discuss below the break.

2) Luck begins with:

On Monday, a trial regarding anti-Asian discrimination at Harvard was brought to the United States District Court in Boston. The plaintiffs, along with the Department of Justice (DOJ), allege that Harvard’s admissions practices intentionally discriminate on the basis of race. Filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the lawsuit is expected to last approximately three weeks and have consequential outcomes potentially impacting affirmative action policies. Michael Wang ’17, a graduate of the College and an informal spokesperson of the SFFA, alleges discrimination by numerous other colleges to which he applied but was rejected.

This is a good summary of where we are at. Glad to see that the Record is attracting reporters with potential, like Luck. But the first warning sign is “informal spokesperson.” Just what does that mean? SFFA is a serious organization, spending millions of dollars over a decade of activity, with plans on spending many millions more. SFFA has an official spokesman. They hardly need an “informal” one as well. And just how does Luck know that Wang has this role? Did he check with anyone at SFFA? Should he?

3) Luck continues with:

Michael Wang ’17 was unsure about what he could’ve done better after rejections from Yale, Princeton and Stanford. His high school resume was stellar, boasting a perfect ACT score, a 4.67 GPA, a founding role in his high school’s math club and a piano performance at President Obama’s inauguration, according to The New Yorker.

Hmmm. He played piano at Obama’s inauguration? That would be impressive! But let’s just cross-check that claim with the New Yorker article.

In 2012, Michael Wang, a senior at James Logan High School, in the Bay Area, was confident that he had done enough to get into one of his dream schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. He had the kind of G.P.A.—4.67—that looks like a typo to anyone older than thirty-five. He had aced the ACT and placed in the ninety-ninth percentile on the SAT. But Wang didn’t want to be seen merely as a bookworm—he was an accomplished member of the speech-and-debate team, and he had co-founded his school’s math club. He played the piano and performed in a choir that sang with the San Francisco Opera, and at Barack Obama’s first Inauguration.

Now I am confused. Obama’s first inauguration was in 2009. Wang was 13 or 14. And he was good enough to play piano for Obama!? Anyone else starting to smell the embellishment? Or should there really be a comma after piano in the New Yorker article? And just how does one sing “with the San Francisco Opera?”

As best I can tell (disagreements welcome!) what really happened (YouTube here and here (with, perhaps, a shot of the young Wang)) is that Wang was a member of the San Fransisco Boy’s Chorus which, along with the San Fransisco Girl’s Chorus, was invited to sing at the inauguration. Good stuff! But he was just one of 75 children to do so, nothing that Williams (or Harvard) would ever care about in the context of college admissions.

But do you see how far away from the truth Luck is? Wang did not play “a piano performance at President Obama’s inauguration.” Will the Record print a correction?

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 5

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 5.

The Harvard Crimson‘s coverage of the trial has been excellent. My favorite article so far:

Getting into Harvard is hard. But it’s a lot less hard if your family promises to pay for a new building, according to internal emails presented in court on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial.

Same for Williams. You really think that applicants named Hollander or Horn are treated the same as everyone else? Ha! My best guess — and I don’t have good information on this one — is that between 5 and 20 of the students in each Williams class would not have been admitted were it not for their families being major donors, or potential donors. Other estimates? abl?

The handful of emails — most of them sent between administrators and admissions officers — hint at the College’s behind-the-scenes fondness for applicants whose admission yields certain practical perks. Hughes referenced the emails as he quizzed Fitzsimmons on the “Dean’s Interest List,” a special and confidential list of applicants Harvard compiles every admissions cycle.

1) Never put something in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want to be read out loud by your worst enemy in open court.

2) At Williams, the lingo is “development or future fundraising potential,” although, back in the day, folks in the admissions office used to refer to a rich-but-not-very-qualified applicant as a “Morty Special.”

“Once again you have done wonders. I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit,” Ellwood wrote in the email. “[Redacted] and [redacted] are all big wins. [Redacted] has already committed to a building.”

If you don’t think that there are similar e-mails floating around the Williams computer system, you are naive. Helpful advice to new General Counsel Jamie Art: Time for some spring cleaning before Williams gets involved in this sort of litigation.

Yet another email Hughes read aloud Wednesday offered a window into how Harvard courts candidates whose families have deep ties to the University — and even deeper pockets.

After the family of an unidentified applicant donated $1.1 million to the school, former head tennis coach David R. Fish ’72 treated that candidate to a special tour of campus.

Who remembers this fun discussion from EphBlog 13 years ago?

For Sam Dreeben ’06, the July 12 campus tour was already unusual. With a tour group of undercover College dignitaries — President Schapiro and the Schow family — and unsuspecting prospective students, his job as a guide was to make Williams seem an idyllic mountain paradise of academic excellence.

Which, of course, it is. But big donors make the paradise possible, so take care of them we must.

Read the rest of the Crimson‘s coverage for more fun details.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 4

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 4.

Yesterday, I wrote (slight edit):

If admitted students in a category, like legacies, have similar academic qualifications than other students in the class then, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.

This seems obvious to me. Now, a nihilist might disagree, might claim that the “holistic” admissions that Harvard and Williams practice make it impossible to compare categories. The galaxy brain of Admissions Director Sulgi Kim ’06 is a multi-splendored emerald of infinite complexity. Mere mortals can no more discern its inner workings than dogs can interpret the movements of the heavenly spheres. I think this position is nuts — and both sides of the Harvard case disagree with it, hence all the regression modelling and expert testimony — but it is logically consistent.

abl, one of EphBlog’s best writers, disagrees with me about legacies:

That’s not true. If literally every legacy applicant was an AR1 and AR2, and legacies were guaranteed admission, you would simultaneously see (1) that legacies have, on average, higher academic credentials than the average student (because the average student at Williams is not an AR1 / AR2); (2) that legacies received a large boost in admissions (because a 100% acceptance rate would represent a very significant advantage for AR1 and AR2 applicants).

[A]ny proportionate (or disproportionately high) number of legacy high performers in the class does not imply that legacy applicants are given no meaningful advantage in the process.

abl continues:

My point is that, without inside knowledge of the process, or without very good knowledge of the applicant pool and relative admit rates, it’s difficult to look at the class of admitted students and draw these sorts of inferences about the advantage of applying as a legacy student.

This is dangerously close to the Sulgi Kim Inestimable Galaxy Brain view of admissions. I have (almost) no “inside knowledge” of the process and not “very good knowledge” of the applicant pool. Almost all my information comes from public statements by college officials. Are you claiming that I can’t know — without inside knowledge — that Williams provides significant advantages to recruited athletes and African-Americans? And, if you agree that I can make those judgments, just what is stopping me from making a judgment, using the same tools and analysis, about the lack of advantages given to legacy applicants?

abl is certainly correct (and he uses a similar example later in his excellent comment) that weird stuff might be happening behind the scenes. There are 55 legacies in the class of 2021. Perhaps 35 are AR1 geniuses, applicants who were also accepted at HYPS but turned them down to come to Williams. The other 20 are AR4 chuckleheads, who never would have gotten in if it were not for their legacy status. This scenario would create a group (55 legacies) with similar academic credentials to the class as a whole, but it would still be the case that 20 of them received a “meaningful” admissions advantage (and 35 did not).

I agree that this is possible, but it also strikes me as highly unlikely. The world is a continuous place.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 3

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 3.

In the last two days, we have established two key facts about legacy students at places like Williams and (?) Harvard. First, legacies — meaning the children and grandchildren of graduates — are about 10% to 20% of each class. Second, legacies as a whole have more impressive academic credentials — meaning test scores and high school grades — than non-legacies.

Is legacy versus non-legacy an apples-to-apples comparison? Probably not. Legacies are whiter, richer and less athletic than the class as a whole. Since all those things make it harder to gain admissions, we really ought to compare legacy students to a “matched” group of non-legacy students, a group with the same distribution of characteristics like race, family income and athletic ability. That would help us to determine if legacies get an advantage or not.

Note that the argument can also go the other way. Consider the case of “development” admits, students who would not have gotten in if their families were not major donors, or at least potential donors. Such admissions are much more likely to be legacy students. But they aren’t getting accepted because of their legacy status. It is their families wealth that is getting them in. They still would have gotten in, regardless of where their parents went to college. Without the family wealth, however, they would have been rejected.

The expert testimony in the Harvard trial tries to tease apart these effects using a regression analysis. We can dive into the details, if anyone is interested.

For me, the key point is the following: Any category of applicants which receives a meaningful advantage in admissions — recruited athletes, racial minorities, billionaire families — will have lower academic qualifications than the class as a whole. If a category, like legacies, has similar academic qualifications than, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 2

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 2.

Yesterday, we confirmed that 10% to 20% of each class at elite colleges like Harvard and Williams are “legacy,” meaning students with a parent (or sometimes just a grandparent) who attended the college. Today, we review how much being a legacy affects one’s chances at admissions.

The brute fact is that the average Williams legacy is more academically impressive — higher SAT/ACT scores, better high school grades, more impressive teacher recommendations, et cetera — than the average non-legacy. Whatever advantages legacies have in the admissions process is de minimus. The same is almost certainly true at places like Harvard. Razib is wrong when he writes:

I think the current lawsuit may win on the merits, but the “Deep Oligarchy” is more powerful than the judiciary or the executive branch. If, on the other hand, Harvard gets rid of legacies and special backdoor admissions, I’ll admit I was wrong, and the chosen have lost control of the system. As long as legacies and backdoor admissions continue, you know that the eyes are on the prize of power and glory.

Harvard and Williams have, already, gotten “rid of legacies” in terms of this being something that matters significantly in admissions. Let’s review the story at Williams.

1) Back in the 1980s and before, legacy was a significant advantage in admissions, partly because there were so few high quality legacy applicants. These were the children of the 50s graduates, an era when lots of not-too-smart men attended Williams.

2) Things began to change in the 90s and 00s. First, the raw number of alumni grew significantly. (Williams doubled in size, mainly as a result of the move to co-education.) The pool of legacies doubled in size as well. Second, the academic quality of the students was much higher in the 60s and 70s, which led to smarter children. Rising numbers and quality of legacy applicants meant that Williams could become more choosy. And so we did. From 2008:

Morty [then-President of Williams] 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. Morty noted that the way that some people measure this — by comparing the general admissions rate (16%) with the legacy admission rate (40%?) — was misleading because legacy applicants are often told ahead of time that they have no chance. So, they don’t apply and/or withdraw their applications, thus artificially increasing the legacy acceptance rate. Non-legacies with no chance are not given this inside scoop. They just apply and get rejected.

3) All those trends have continued to this day. From 2017:

I [Director of Communication Mary Detloff] had a conversation with [Director of Admissions] 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.

4) I have had off-the-record conversations which suggest that, for the class of 2021, the 10% of students who are legacy have meaningfully stronger academic credentials than the 90% who are not legacy. This is precisely what the trend over the last 30 years would have led us to expect. Williams classes in the late 1980s were filled with smart people. Although I can’t find fecundity data, I bet that there are at least 500 (or more like 1,000?) 18-year-olds each year who are Eph legacies. Regression to the mean is brutal, but it only occurs on average. It is hardly surprising of 50 to 100 of those children would be as smart (or smarter) than their parents. Williams won’t get all of these, of course, but it will have scores of great applicants to choose from. (And the exact same math applies at Harvard.)

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 1

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 1.

How much does being a legacy matter? First, the Harvard Crimson causes confusion with charts like this:

This suggests that more than 1/3 of Harvard students are “legacy” since it implies that everyone not in the first bar belongs in that category. But that is nonsense! Legacy, at places like Williams and Harvard, has a fairly precise meaning: one or both of your parents attended the college. (Admittedly, sometimes having a grandparent (but not a parent) will get you included as well, but no one counts you as a legacy if all you have is an aunt or twin sister at the school.) The Crimson’s chart presentation, which includes double-counting, makes it hard to see the truth. (I also suspect that some (many?) students misunderstand the Crimson’s wording and answer “Yes” if their mom went to Harvard Law School. Having a parent who attended a university’s professional schools does not make you a “legacy” for the purposes of undergraduate admissions.)

Williams admissions (pdf) are 10% — 15% legacy.

Harvard and Yale have a similar percentage of legacies, as The Crimson reported in 2011:

[Harvard Dean of Admisssions William] Fitzsimmons also said that Harvard’s undergraduate population is comprised of approximately 12 to 13 percent legacies, a group he defined as children of Harvard College alumni and Radcliffe College alumnae. . . . [Yale Dean of Admissions] Brenzel reported that Yale legacies comprise less than 10 percent of the class, according to Kahlenberg.

This is, obviously, very consistent with what Williams has been doing for (at least!) 30 years. I can’t find a clear statement of the percentage of legacies in the 6 Harvard classes covered by this trial, but my back-of-the-envelope calculation puts it at around 12%, similar to what the Crimson reported in 2011 and what we know about Williams.

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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 week’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 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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How Admissions Works at Williams

Williams admissions work the same as admissions at most other elite colleges. If you understand the process at Swarthmore or Princeton, then you understand 99% of what happens at Williams. There are a variety of books about admissions at elite colleges, e.g., The Gatekeepers and A is for Admission. They capture 90% of the details. (These books are somewhat dated and may guild the lily a bit when it comes to race.) Williams Magazine published (pdf) an excellent 2005 article, “Recipe for Success,” about admissions. Virtually everything in it is true, but it also leaves out many of the more controversial aspects.

The purpose of this post is to explain how the Williams admissions process works in reality, not how it should work.

First, the most important part of the admissions process is the “academic rating,” often abbreviated as “AR.” From the Recipe article:

The full-time admission staffers, plus a handful of helpers like Phil Smith ’55 (Nesbitt’s predecessor as director), pore over the folders. Two readers examine each folder independently, without seeing each other’s comments, and assess them in three major ways. Each applicant gets an academic rating from 1 to 9 that focuses heavily on his or her high school grades, standardized test scores, the rigor of his or her academic program within the context of the school setting and the strength of teacher recommendations.

Nurnberg ’09 et al (pdf) provide a similar description:

After evaluating the applicant’s SAT scores, high school grades, essays, class rank, high school academic program, support from the high school administration, AP test score — or IB test scores — and teacher recommendations, admissions readers assign the applicant an academic rating from the scale 1 — 9, with 1 being the best.

Amherst, and all other elite colleges, use essentially the same system. The College does not like to reveal the details of these ratings, but we know from Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis that:

While the academic reader ratings are somewhat subjective, they are strongly influenced by the following guidelines.

  • 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;
  • Academic 5: top 20% of HS class / B record / demanding academic program / 1260 – 1320 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 6: top 20% of HS class / B record / average academic program / 1210 – 1280 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 7: top 25% of HS class / mostly B record / less than demanding program / 1140 – 1220 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 8: top 33% of HS class / mostly B record or below / concern about academic program / 1000 – 1180 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 9: everyone else.

These ratings are high-school-quality adjusted. At an elite school like Boston Latin or Exeter, you can be in the top 5% or even lower and still be an AR 1. At a weaker high school, you need to be the valedictorian. At the weakest high schools (bottom 25%?), even the valedictorian is almost never considered smart enough to go to Williams, at least in the absence of top standardized test scores.

Note that the working paper (pdf) from which these details are taken was co-authored by then-Williams president Morty Schapiro, so one hopes that it is accurate! Nurnberg’s senior thesis included a copy of the “Class of 2009 Folder Reading Guide, Academic Ratings,” which provided these details:

      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

Williams, and all other elite schools, use this system because academic rating does a wonderful job of predicting academic performance at Williams and elsewhere.

Perhaps the main reason that this post is necessary is that Williams, when politically convenient, likes to deny the fundamental realities about how it decides who to admit and who to reject. Consider then-President Adam Falk and Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 writing in the Record:

[T]he very notion that the “quality” of students can be defined on a single linear scale is preposterous

Academic rating is, precisely, a “single linear scale” and it is, by far, the major driver of admissions decisions. This is true both for the process as a whole and within sub-groups. For example, African-American applicants with academic rating 1 to 3 are virtually certain to be admitted while those with academic rating of 9 are almost always rejected. The College may have different standards across sub-categories but, within each subcategory (except athletes and development prospects), the academic rating explains 90% of the variation.

Second, students with an academic rating worse than 2 (i.e., 3 or higher) are summarily rejected unless they have a specific “hook” or attribute.

The Recipe article is explicit:

In general, all applicants with a combined academic rating of 3 or higher are rejected at this point, unless the first and second readers have identified one or more “attributes” that warrant additional consideration.

Details:

The readers also assign any of more than 30 “attributes” that admission uses to identify exceptional traits. Some of these are easily quantified, such as being the child or grand-child of an alumnus, a member of a minority group, an “impact” athlete or a local resident. Other more subjective “tags” draw attention (usually but not always favorably) to something special about a candidate, like a powerful passion or aptitude for scientific research or an interest in getting a non-science Ph.D.

From Nurnberg ’09 el al, attributes (in addition to race/ethnicity/gender) include:

alumni grandparent, alumni other, alumni parent, alumni sibling, studio art, development or future fundraising potential, dance, institutional connection,
intellectual vitality, local, music, politically active, religious, research science, economically disadvantaged, social service, theater, top athlete, tier 2 athlete, and tier 3 athlete

The naive reader will assume that all these attributes have a similar effect. Being a great musician or a great athlete will help some AR 4s get into Williams, and that is OK. (And the College wants you to think that.) In fact, some attributes matter much more than others. Recall (from 2004!) Admissions Director Dick Nesbitt ’74:

We are able to admit roughly 120 top rated musicians each year from the top of the academic reader rating scale–what we refer to as academic 1′ and 2’s (broadly defined as 1500+ SAT’s and very top of the class).

For most attributes, the College does not need to dip below AR 1s and 2s. Yes, being a top musician may help you in the competition with other outstanding students, but, if you are AR 3 or below, it won’t. You will be rejected. And the same applies to other attributes. Top students are also, often, deeply involved in social service or theater. In high school, they often excel in research science or political activism. If Williams were to admit only AR 1s/2s, it would have plenty of students in all these categories.

Third, for applicants with AR 3 or below, the attributes that matter most are race, income and athletics.

Does this mean that no other attributes ever matter? No! It is certainly the case that the daughter of a prominent alum could get into Williams as an AR 4 or the son of a Williams professor as an AR 3. But the major categories, the ones that account for the vast majority of AR 3 and below admissions are race, income and athletics.

Don’t want to read all the posts from those links? Here is a brief summary:

1) There are 100 or so admissions decisions which are driven by a Williams coach. You are either on her list or you are not. These “tips” and “protects” are, by definition, only used for students with AR 3 and below. Best single post overview of the topic is here.

2) In the class of 2020, Williams has (pdf) 115 African-American/Hispanic students. Many of these are AR 1 or 2 applicants who would have been accepted at Williams regardless of which racial box they checked. But a majority, probably a vast majority, are AR 3 or below. Recall this discussion of SAT scores:

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

Asian-Americans in the 700+ range are at least 6 times more common than African-Americans/Hispanics. So, how can Williams have more African-Americans/Hispanics than Asian-Americans enrolled? (Hint: It isn’t because there aren’t 100+ Asian-Americans among the AR 1/2 applicants who are currently rejected by Williams.) The reason is that Williams admits scores of African-American/Hispanic applicants with AR 3 and below. Williams does this because it wants a class which “mirrors” or “reflects” the US population, at least when it comes to African-Americans and Hispanics. Note that the average African-American student at Amherst has an SAT score consistent with AR 5. It is highly unlikely that Williams does a better job than Amherst at attracting highly rated African-American students.

3) Unlike athletics (which the college is, sometimes, transparent about) and race (on which there is good data), family income and parental education are trickier. The College reports (and is proud of the fact) that about 20% of students are eligible for Pell Grants and that about 20% of students are first generation college students, meaning that they come from families in which neither parent has a 4 year BA. (Of course, there is a big overlap between these two groups, and, to a lesser extent, between these two groups and African-American/Hispanic students.) The problem is that all standardized test results (and, therefore, academic rating) are much lower, on average, for such students. So, in order to get to 20%, Williams must admit scores of such students with AR 3 or below.

About 1/2 of a Williams class is AR 1 or 2. (The median math+verbal SAT score at Williams is 1450, which is the bottom of AR 2.) There are 100 recruited athletes (all of whom, by definition, are AR 3 or below), 100+ African-American/Hispanic students, 100+ first generation and 100+ Pell Grant recipients. That adds up to 400+ in a class of 550! Many students fall into more than one category. Many (outside the athletes) are AR 1 or 2. But, given that we only have 275 spots left beneath AR 1/2, a large majority of the bottom half of the class are members of at least one of these 4 categories. The bottom 100 students in each class (approximately AR 5 and below) is almost completely dominated by these students. And, in the categories outside of athletes, academic rating drives the decisions. Williams is much more likely to accept an African-American and/or a first generation student and/or a future Pell Grant recipient if her academic rating is 1 to 3. Every single AR 9 applicant is rejected, regardless of her other outstanding attributes.

And that is how admissions works at Williams, and at almost all other elite colleges.

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