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Choose Williams Over Harvard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) You would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for The Crimson or sing in an a capella group at Harvard, you won’t be able to do too much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class, with each student being top notch in something. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely.

¹The first post in this series was 14 years ago, inspired by a newspaper story about 18 year-old Julia Sendor, who was admitted to both Harvard and Williams. Julia ended up choosing Williams (at least partly “because of the snowy mountains and maple syrup”), becoming a member of the class of 2008, winning a Udall Foundation Scholarship in Environmental Studies. Best part of that post is the congratulations from her proud JA.

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Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 3

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 3 and last day.

Some college counselors said they are pleased to see the early-decision practice investigated because it puts too much pressure on young adults and the penalties for being caught breaking an early-decision agreement are too stiff.

“I don’t think it is developmentally appropriate to ask a 17-year-old to front-load a decision like this, and when colleges are taking a half or more of their class early, it demands that some kids do this,” said Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in Manchester, N.H.

Brennan Barnard is an idiot.

1) Students, especially students who don’t know their first choice school, can easily apply to one of the hundreds of colleges that use early action. You don’t have to apply early decision if you don’t want to.

2) Students love early action/decision! Barnard should ask some of the seniors at Derryfield if they would rather live in a world in which no one finds out their status until April. No way! Students, overwhelmingly, like the early process. (And even the ones who don’t (and/or don’t participate) don’t begrudge their friends the option of applying early.)

3) Yes, the college admissions process is stressful, but the more spread out it is, the more that stress is dissipated over time. Early decision helps with this dispersal, as do athletic admissions (often occurring the summer after junior year at places like Williams and even earlier for the Ivy League) and early writes in February.

4) Williams ought to take advantage of the desire of many students to relieve the stress by doing, sotto voce, even more, and more earlier, admissions. Instead of using the summer science and social science programs for accepted students, we should offer those 50 (?) slots to the most talented (and most desirable) applicants in the country. Find the smartest African-American/Hispanic/Low-Income juniors in high school, bring them to the College for 6 weeks in the summer, show them how magical Williams is, and then tell them — or at least the 90% who don’t mess up somehow — that, if they apply early decision, they will be accepted. This is probably the single (reasonably priced) thing that Williams could do to increase the quality of its poor/URM students.

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Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 2

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 2.

The investigation has perplexed some in elite-college admissions circles, who say that sharing the information serves only to ensure that schools aren’t being misled about an applicant’s intentions, given their commitments elsewhere.

The admissions dean of a New England liberal-arts college that received the Justice Department letter said that the school swaps with about 20 other institutions the application-identification number, name and home state of students admitted early decision.

That dean said it is rare to find someone who violated the binding early-decision agreement by applying to more than one institution early.

Occasionally, the person said, they come across a student who was admitted early-decision at one school and still applied elsewhere during the regular application cycle. In those cases, the second school would withdraw the application because the candidate already committed elsewhere.

The dean said the schools don’t share information about regular-decision candidates, so an offer from one school wouldn’t affect outcomes elsewhere.

1) Any chance the unnamed dean is either Dick Nesbitt ’74 or Liz Creighton ’01? Note that reporter Melissa Korn and Williams Communications Chief Jim Reische served as co-chairs at a conference for media relations professionals. If Jim did arrange this, then kudos to him! The more that Eph administrators appear in the prestige press, the better.

2) Sure would be interesting to know the exact list of schools involved in this swap and the mechanism by which it occurs. Any “elite” school left out of this circle must feel like the kid sitting by himself in the high school cafeteria. Not that EphBlog would know anything about that . . .

3) Was this phrasing — “the second school would withdraw the application” — vetted by a lawyer? It would be one thing if Williams were to reject a student it had already accepted if that student applied elsewhere. That student has broken a promise she made to Williams, so Williams can take action. But for Harvard to reject — whoops, I mean “withdraw the application [of]” — a student just because Williams had accepted her in December seems more problematic, anti-trust-wise . . .

4) What about early action candidates? That is a much trickier issue. Does Harvard let Williams know if it has admitted a student early action? And, if so, does that fact play into the Williams admissions process? Of course, Williams knows that almost every high quality regular decision applicant (other than its own deferrals) applied somewhere else early. And you can be certain that we can (and should!) take account of that fact in making decisions. (That is, if you really love Williams so much, as you now claim, why didn’t you apply early?) But I would be shocked if schools traded early action information explicitly . . . But I have been shocked before!

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Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, I

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 1.

The targets of a new federal probe into possible antitrust violations related to early-decision college admissions include Wesleyan University, Middlebury College and Pomona College, as well as at least four other highly selective liberal-arts schools.

The Justice Department sent letters late last week notifying the schools of the investigation and asking them to preserve emails and other messages detailing arrangements they may have with other schools about swapping names of admitted students, and how they might use that information.

1) Did Williams play a role in helping reporter Melissa Korn? (Note that Williams appears in the title and is pictured in the accompanying photo.) I hope we did! The more that folks like Liz Creighton ’01 schmooze with major media, the easier it is to get our message/brand out.

2) Wasn’t this story originally broken at Inside Higher Ed? If so, does Korn have an obligation to mention this even if she got a copy of the letter independently? Inside Higher Ed provides this relevant background:

For years, some elite colleges — members of what was then called the Overlap Group — shared financial information on admitted applicants, seeking to agree upon common aid offers. But in 1991, Ivy League institutions agreed to stop sharing such information. The agreement followed a Justice Department investigation into the practice, which the universities said promoted fairness but that the department said was an antitrust violation.

Generally, college leaders have said the Overlap Group investigation discouraged them from sharing any information about applicants.

We have covered the Overlap scandal before. (There is a great senior thesis waiting to be written about that, either in history or economics.)

Back to the WSJ:

All the schools targeted offer prospective students the option to apply under binding early-decision agreements, which often have significantly higher acceptance rates than do regular-decision pools. If the applicant is offered admission, he or she must commit to attending and withdraw applications to other schools or risk having the admission offer rescinded.

Higher-education experts say it seems the Justice Department investigation is focusing on whether the schools are violating antitrust regulations by sharing the names of admitted students to enforce the rules of the programs.

Two options:

1) This is stupid and goes nowhere. Why can’t Williams tell the world who it has accepted early decision? Is there any law that would prevent it from just posting that list on the web, in the same way it records every graduate in the course catalog? Lawyer comments welcome! And, if it can post that list, why can’t it send an e-mail to Harvard admissions with the same information?

2) This is stupid and goes somewhere. Even if colleges stopped sharing these lists tomorrow, nothing would change. The number of students who try to game the system is trivial. But, since the colleges were so absurdly sleazy in their conduct during Overlap, I would not begrudge the Justice Department forcing them to stop all communications. Recall Adam Smith:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Entire article is below the break, for those without WSJ access.

Read more

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Dick Nesbitt ’74 Retiring?

How else to explain this job posting for a new Director of Admissions?

Our vote for his successor goes to Sulgi Lim ’06, always a fan of EphBlog!

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Welcome to the Class of 2022

College news release:

Williams College has extended offers of admission to 1,163 applicants for the Class of 2022. They were selected from a total applicant pool of 9,559.

Welcome to all our new Ephs. The release includes lots of data. I went through last year’s version in detail. Worth another visit?

A total of 505 identify as men, 578 as women, seven identify as trans or transgender, two as non-binary, one as two spirit, one as genderqueer, and one as another identity. Sixty-eight did not respond to an optional question about gender identity (but did answer a required binary question that appears on the application).

If you had asked me 15 years ago whether or not concepts like “spirit” or “genderqueer” would ever appear in a Williams news release, I would have forecast (incorrectly!) No. What words/concepts will appear in 2033 that will be a big surprise to future me?

By the way, the class of 2022 is the 20th (!) Williams class that has had the opportunity to interact with EphBlog. (We first appeared for the senior spring of the class of 2003.) What is the over/under on how much longer we will last?

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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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abl on Admissions, 5

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 5.

I understand that you’d like the Williams’ admitted class profile to more closely resemble schools like Harvard. But unless Williams dramatically increases its applicant pool and/or its yield, doing so will come at a cost: Williams can’t admit a class that is both as interesting and talented as Harvard’s and has SATs/GPAs as high. Increasing the focus on AR ratings, as you propose, will make the Williams class worse in some material respects even as it makes it better numerically. There is going to be some balancing and trade-offs that have to be made, regardless. I’m just trying to get a sense of what specific trade-offs you’re looking to target, and why you think Williams is not making those trade-offs in an optimal manner.

It is unclear what you mean by “interesting and talented.” AR 1 students are, almost by definition, more academically “talented” than AR 4 students. I want more of the former. Neither Williams or Harvard have a way of figuring out who is “interesting.” And they don’t really try! This is how elite admissions works today. Let me know if you have any questions.

The “specific trade-offs” I propose are simple. Williams students, as a group, must be as academically talented (and interesting!) as HYPS students. In order to do that, we need to reject 100 or so of the AR 4s and below that we currently enroll and replace them with AR 1s that we currently reject. That Williams will be less black/Hispanic (and more Asian-American/Interntional), less poor and less athletic than the Williams of today. But we would still be as black/Hispanic as Middlebury, as poor as Bates and as athletic as Hamilton.

UPDATE: Here is another way to conceptualize the scenario. I want the trustees and/or new president to say to Admissions: Make the class of 2023 as academically talented as the class of 2023 at HYPS (and much more academically talented than the class of 2023 at Amherst/Swarthmore/Pomona). I recognize that this is not what Admissions “wants” to do. Their preferences are to make a class similar to the ones that they currently produce. I am making these claims:

1) This is an achievable goal. If we measure “academically talented” as AR — and if you have a better measure than AR, you should tell Dick Nesbitt about it — then Williams has enough “slack” in the system (enough AR < 4 whom we accept and AR = 1/2 who we reject) to make that happen.

2) There is no need for anyone (me, you, the trustees, the new president) to micro-manage admissions in achieving this goal. They have the tools and the knowledge to do so.

3) There are costs to achieving this goal. If you want more academic talent than you need to give up something on other dimensions.

4) That one way, not the only way, of achieving the goal would create a Williams which was quite similar to other high quality schools on dimensions that we all care about: same URM percentage as Middlebury, same percentage of Pell-grantees as Bates, same athletic success as Hamilton. I am not claiming that you need to agree with me that this trade-off is desirable, but if you view such outcomes as totally unacceptable, that a Williams that looked like Middlebury/Bates/Hamilton would be some hellhole of alt-right lunacy, then I think your views are extreme.

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abl on Admissions, 4

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 4.

Is your issue, then, with the types of diversity that Williams is adding?

The preferences that Williams uses in admissions are indistinguishable from those used at other elite schools. The main battle I fight is with people who deny that the preferences exist and/or those who underestimate their magnitude. In theory, I have no problems with race/wealth/athletics being an advantage in admissions. In particular, when picking among AR 1/2 applicants, Williams should be largely free to use any preferences it wants.

E.g., do you believe that the marginal value to the college community of admitting students who “identify as African-American” is zero, or close to zero?

No, I think it is positive. I just value it less than the people who run Williams today. But I also believe that much of the opposition to my views is driven by ignorance about the actual size of the preferences.

Or is your issue with the way that Williams is valuing specific categories of diversity? E.g., you accept that the marginal value of “identifying as African American” is significant–but you believe it to be less significant than Williams currently acknowledges.

It is hard to talk about “marginal value” without considering “marginal cost.” Every AR 5 student you admit is another AR 1 student whom you reject. Moreover, I use Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford as a fixed marker, a standard of student quality that we have to meet. Until we meet that standard, I am unwilling to spend anything on race/wealth/income. Fortunately, Williams is successful enough that, even once we meet that standard, we will still have a reasonable amount of diversity.

And, for those who dislike HYPS comparisons, I am happy to use Amherst/Swarthmore/Pomona. Of course, Williams is, at least, as good academically as those schools. But I want it to be a full notch better, I want 90% of the students admitted to both Williams and Amherst to choose Williams. If William is — and is seen as — having a student body significantly better than Amherst, then we might get there. The reason that Williams dominates, say, Bates in such relative yield contests is not because our English professors are better than Bates’ English professors!

In that case, for example, you would argue that the marginal value added to the overall Williams experience by matriculating an additional White student with a 1500 SAT is greater than the marginal value added by matriculating an African American student with a 1400 SAT–e.g., that the value added by having a student who has scored 100 points higher on her SAT is greater than the value added by having a student who is African American? Or is it that you believe that Williams is currently undervaluing the benefit of admitting students with marginally higher SATs/GPAs (and is therefore, across the board, relatively overvaluing all categories of diversity)?

Again, I don’t think that marginal value and marginal cost are the most useful framework.

By the way, your “African American student with a 1400 SAT” example is absurd. Williams accepts virtually every applicant like this today, and would continue to do so under my plan. We would start rejecting 1250 SAT African-American applicants (and soccer stars), especially the ones from middle class (or richer families) who attended excellent high schools. Would you object to that?

Also, I am happy to keep the number of white students at Williams constant, if that makes you feel better about our “diversity.” In other words, you could make all the changes I want and not increase white enrollment at all. Williams rejects 100+ Asian-American (and international) applicants who are AR 1.

Side question: Could abl, sigh, KSM and other folks with expertise in college admissions please correct any factual mistakes I have made in describing how admissions works at Williams?

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abl on Admissions, 3

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 3.

Correct me if I’m mis-stating anything, but you presumably accept that–at least to a point–the marginal value of some/certain diversity is greater than the marginal cost of losing a couple of points off of your average SAT/GPAs. That’s why Williams shouldn’t simply matriculate the top 550 AR students.

Yes, “to a point.” So, for example, I do not want Williams to move toward a system in which we “simply matriculate the top 550 AR students.” At the very least, we need to maintain gender balance, otherwise many of the students we accept won’t attend.

I just want us to place less emphasis on race/athletics/wealth than we currently do, mainly by raising minimums across the board. Broadly speaking, we shouldn’t accept anyone below AR 4, and the few AR 4s we accept would be centered on the most important diversity, which, for me, is race.

Again, my proposal is not extreme. We would be as racially diverse as Middlebury, which is hardly a hive of Nazi villainy. We would be as socio-economically diverse as Bates, whose president, Clayton Spencer ’77, is hardly an apologist for the plutocracy. Our sports teams would try as hard as now, and have the same level of coaching support and resources. But they would only win about 1/2 their NESCAC games, about the same as Hamilton. Would a Williams that looked like this be all that different from Williams today in any way that truly mattered?

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abl on Admissions, 2

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 2.

Presumably, the benefit of this sort of non-academic weighting is that the Williams experience, both in and out of the classroom, is better when your classmates come from different backgrounds and experiences than yourself, have exceptional non-academic talents and skills, etc.

True. Again, I am not denying the benefits of diversity. Having a student from a very poor family might make the quality of class discussion in, say, POEC 301 better than it otherwise would have been. It is all a matter of trade-offs.

Consider two classes for POEC 301 (or replace with your favorite class). In one, we have perfect diversity, the maximum range of life experiences, however you define it. But the students have 1,000 math+verbal SAT scores. In the second class, we have the amount of diversity that we would have at a Williams which only admitted AR 1 applicants. (Note that this second class has diversity > 0. There are plenty of poor and non-white AR 1 applicants.) For me, the second class is much “better” than the first, meaning that current Williams students would learn more and enjoy it.

Of course, the actual trade-off we face is more subtle than that. There is no scenario in which Williams is filled with students scoring 1,000 on the SAT. I just want to move from where Williams is today toward a Williams with:

The same academic quality as Yale/Princeton/Harvard, at the cost of having:

  • The same racial diversity at Middlebury.
  • The same socio-ec diversity as Bates.
  • The same athletic success as Hamilton.

Looking at the numbers, I think this is achievable. Do anyone disagree? (I am especially interested in hearing from some of our informed commentators: abl, KSM, hmm and others.) Leave aside, for now, whether such a change is desirable. Could we, in fact, achieve it?

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abl on Admissions, 1

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 1.

Leaving aside, for a second, the question of whether AR scores alone are the optimal available metric for evaluating the best students applying to Williams, why do you think Williams puts too much weight on non-academic factors?

My syllogism is simple. The mission of Williams is (should be) to be the best college in the world. Being the best college requires having the best students. Williams students are, as a group, better than those at places like Wesleyan and Macalester, but worse than those at Yale and Princeton. The easiest way to improve the quality of our students is to put, at least temporarily, less weight on non-academic factors. It is not that I am against “non-academic factors” per se. I have nothing against, say, soccer ability or Hispanic heritage. It is just that, until we improve the academic quality of the student body, we can’t “afford” to devote as much to non-academic factors as we currently do.

By the way, there is no serious debate over the claim that “AR scores alone are the optimal available metric for evaluating the best students applying to Williams.” This is a statement of reality, not a normative judgment. AR does a better job of predicting academic performance at Williams than any other measure. You and I can disagree over how much weight to place on non-academic factors. That is a normative debate. But, when, for example, selecting among African-American applicants, we should use AR, which is why Williams does so.

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SAT Question

The latest Common Data Set (pdf) shows that the 25th-75th percentile spread on the SAT (math + reading) is 1400–1570 for the class of 2021. This is a big increase from the class of 2020, which was (pdf) 1330–1540.

Note that there are two ways to report the 25th/75th percentile spread on math + verbal. First, in some years/schools, you are given this number. For example, for the class of 2020, Williams just tells us that this is 1340–1523. Second, you can calculate it yourself by adding the 25th (75th) percentile of math to the 25th (75th) percentile of reading. For the class of 2020, this gives us 1330–1540. These two methods should be fairly similar. The difference, obviously, will depend on the correlations between scores across students. I use the second method for both years since Williams does not (why?) give us the “true” range for the class of 2021.

A commentator writes:

Something is not right with the SAT numbers. Scores don’t change as dramatically as these. Williams, like a few other schools, seems to be using the SAT concordance tables to conflate old SAT and new SAT scores to arrive at artificially high numbers.

An easy way to see why I am skeptical of thee number is to look at class of 2021 data for Stanford and Princeton and compare to Williams. Here are the links.

https://admission.princeton.edu/how-apply/admission-statistics

http://admission.stanford.edu/apply/selection/profile.html

Princeton’s middle 50 is 1380-1540
Stanford is 1390-1540

If you compare Williams’ middle 50 to Stanford and Princeton’s you can see something is amiss. Otherwise Williams is suddenly more selective than Stanford and Princeton.

And it is not that the new SAT is producing higher SAT scores. Most of the more competitive schools which have current data appear to have new SAT scores which are lower than the old SAT. The best comparison I’ve been able to make is to compare the 2015-16 (pre new SAT) scores. That is pretty close to where the new SAT scores come in.

I find this argument fairly compelling. But, at the same time, Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade (and her staff) are smart and careful. Did they make a mistake or did Stanford/Princeton?

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CollegeData

Any opinions about the quality of information at CollegeData? Here is Williams:

cd

Any service that does not even bother to gather race/ethnic data should not be taken seriously.

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Class of 2021 First Gen Students

first gen

This is a photo of the first generation students in the class of 2021, taken this fall by departing Dean Rosanna Ferro.

What is the racial breakdown of first generation students? The biggest problem that the college faces in admissions is getting “enough” qualified African-American and Hispanic students. (The term “NAM” is sometimes used for brevity. It is an abbreviation for Non-Asian Minority.) Broadly speaking there are two ways to handle that problem. First, take the very best NAM students you can find, using Academic Rating, the same scheme used for white/Asian students. Second, worry less about Academic Rating and more about checking more than one box at a time. This approach would put an emphasis on NAMs that were also first generation or alumni or athletes since admitting them also allows the College to fulfill its other goals.

I don’t have a good sense of which approach, if either, the College prefers. But this picture does not appear to be as white or Asian as the rest of Williams . . .

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College Censorship Anniversary

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8MM_4570aa_20-1

On or about two years ago today, Williams College began to censor historic artifacts founded by previous generations of Ephs. This mural in the log came from the World War Two generation. A war memorial that depicted Chief Hendrick Theyanoguin standing over a map being inspected by Ephraim Williams on the morning of the Bloody Morning Scout, during the battle of Lake George in 1755. Hendrick and Ephraim were both killed in combat during this joint reconnaissance mission.

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Let’s Have Completely Blind Admissions

Williams College is currently a need-blind in its admission process for national students (not so for international students). That by itself is a good thing, but isn’t that still leaving space for the admissions office to discriminate against potential students through other factors–say, if they’re white or black, a legacy student, or from a nice family in North Adams?

I propose that Williams expand its blind admission policy to all factors that don’t immediately relate to an applicant’s academics and (certain) extracurriculars. The school wouldn’t know if the 1580 SAT score and 4.0 GPA comes from a white, upper class student from Los Angeles or a working class black student from Chicago. Whether you share a last name with a big donor of the campus goes unnoticed by the admissions office. You won an interscholastic competition? Great, that gets considered. But they won’t know or care if you’re president of the Asian students club of your high school.

Regarding international students, the policy will affect them in the same manner. All that will be known are their academics and their status as an international applicant.

This new policy has the potential to boost the already respectable academic achievement of the campus. High school GPA correlates with college GPA, and the SAT predicts for future academic success. It follows that a selecting for students who perform and score the best in high school will likely select for the students who will get the most out of college.

I leave this idea for you to entertain.

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Parable of the Privilege Pill

This comment from “abl” leads to the parable of the Privilege Pill.

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

Imagine that Daughter 2, on the other hand, takes a magic Privilege Pill on the first day of 9th grade, a pill which dramatically increases her natural abilities and academic inclination for four years. She will receive excellent grades in high school and do very well on the SAT. Williams Admissions will rate her an AR 1 and, probably, admit her if she applies.

Williams would not (and should not) admit Daughter 2 if it new about the Privilege Pill. It only lasts for four years, by construction. After that, Daughter 2 becomes identical to Daughter 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 given 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 privileged high school like Andover. But let’s ignore that subtlety for now.

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.

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“Legacy does not matter!” The Court recently held in a 6-3 split.

EPA-USA-SUPREME-COURT-JUSTICES-MEM-170601_12x5_992

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Pell Grant, 5

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 5.

The lowest Pell share on the list belonged to Washington and Lee University — 6 percent. Will Dudley, who this year became president of the private Virginia liberal arts school, said the share rose to 11 percent this fall and he wants to lift it further. Dudley said he raised the issue of socioeconomic diversity at Washington and Lee when he was interviewing for the job. Previously, he was provost at Williams College, which had a far higher Pell share in 2015 — 22 percent. “If they didn’t want to make progress, they wouldn’t have hired me,” Dudley said.

Washington and Lee President Will Dudley said the university’s share grew to 11 percent this fall and he wants it to rise further.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t want to be a school that is near the bottom of the pack.”

EphBlog loves Will Dudley ’89, but this sort of prattle makes me less unhappy that he won’t be the next president of Williams.

First, admissions are, largely, a zero-sum game. Every high quality low-income student that Dudley brings to Washington and Lee is one less high quality low-income student who goes to school X. Does that really make the world a better place? I have my doubts.

Second, Washington and Lee is #10 on US News. Not bad, of course, but nowhere near the first tier, mainly because the quality of the student body is so much worse than at places like Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore.

wl

A better president would devote his energy toward improving the overall quality of the student body (which is not an easy thing to do!) rather than parading his virtue to the readers of the Washington Post.

Third, if I were a Washington and Lee trustee, I would challenge Dudley about his focus on Pell Grants as a meaningful measure of socio-economic diversity. It is not a bad measure, but, as we have discussed all week, it is not a particularly good measure because a) it changes over time via Congressional whim and b) it is too dependent on one specific point in the income distribution. If all Dudley has done in the last year is to replace a bunch of applicants from families who make $70,000 with other applicants whose families make $50,000 — and who would have been rejected in the past because their credentials were worse — because the latter are Pell-eligible), then he has accomplished very little, and certainly has no business bragging about it to the Post.

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Veterans in the Academy: POSSE Veterans of the Global War. Ephblog favorite Alum and Vassar President Cappy Hill has action, not words.

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Pell Grant, 4

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 4.

The quest for diversity has a long history at this school founded in Colonial America. Hurdles for Jewish and black students were torn down in the 1950s and ’60s. Princeton started admitting women as undergraduates in 1969, going coed 23 years after its bicentennial.

More puffery! How much is Princeton paying Rob Anderson to tell these happy stories? A better reporter would at least mention some of the ugliness from Princeton’s past. Our favorite story involves Radcliffe Heermance, Williams class of 1906 and Director of Admissions at Princeton from 1922 to 1950. Consider:

hr

Apologies if this is tough to read, but to describe what blacks students faced at Princeton during Heermance’s tenure as “hurdles” is insulting to the memory of American patriots like Bruce Wright.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admission, said officers also were trained to hunt for talent in “much less polished” application files — those with essays that are not quite perfect, test scores obtained without help from private tutoring, or hastily written teacher recommendations.

By 2013, the Pell-eligible share had doubled to nearly 15 percent. For the next year’s class, Rapelye took another step: She asked Princeton’s financial aid office to advise which promising applicants were likely to qualify for Pell. She noted that data in their files before making final decisions.

“It doesn’t mean that we automatically admit these students,” Rapelye said. But Pell eligibility became another factor among many in the “holistic” review of an application at one of the world’s most selective schools. Princeton’s admission rate is 6 percent.

Janet Rapelye is Williams College class of 1981. After 15 years heading admissions at Princeton, she is certainly one of the most powerful Ephs of her era. There is a great senior thesis to be written comparing her time to Heermance’s. Who will write it?

Consider how Princeton has (not!) changed during Rapelye’s tenure.

pr

There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students from the bottom 60% of the income distribution during Janet Rapelye’s 15 year tenure as director of admissions at Princeton. This is the reality that the Washington Post describes, with a straight face, as “Princeton draws surge of students from modest means.”

Of course, one counter-argument is that this data is 5 or so years old. Princeton just got the socio-economic diversity religion recently. Perhaps! And there is some evidence that Princeton has fewer students from the top 20% and more from the second 20%. But, big picture, Princeton is probably every bit as much a rich kid’s school today as it was in Heermance’s era.

Also, note the article passage that I have bolded above. Five years ago, Princeton (and Vassar and Williams and . . .) did not much care what your family income was if it was in the middle of the US distribution, say between the 40th percentile ($42,000) and the 80th percentile ($107,000). They might have given an extra break to very poor applicants, but, for a broad range, family income did not matter much. Now, it does matter, at one very specific point in that range. If you are Pell-eligible, then you have a big advantage over a student whose family makes $1,000 more because Janet Rapelye is focused on pumping up the percentage of Pell students at Princeton, so much so that she is determining whether or not you are so eligible even before she makes a decision on your application.

Smart applicants will do everything in their power to appear Pell-eligible to Princeton. Do readers have advice on the best way to accomplish this goal? I suspect that the key is to under-estimate family assets.

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AF ROTC: Uniforms on Campus … ( a reissue from 11/11/09)

 

RE: PTC’s post below and ROTC on campus …

 

It is still a day remembering service as I write this post. Perhaps some may not know that uniforms, if you so desired, were a part of campus life in the ’50’s,

honor air

During the war, V -12 programs were on campus and a few years later, the presence of returning vets was common.

A full complement of officers and enlisted men were assigned to Williams to serve as the faculty.

The appearance of a veteran on campus would not be new. I hope the appearance would be welcome.

 

NEW COPY ADDED TODAY Nov 1. 2017

I also found this  follow-up that I posted in 2010. The pictures have disappeared but the text asks the question:

http://ephblog.com/2010/12/03/the-55-56-all-stars-rotc-2/

And a post from PTC dated 28 May, 2011

http://ephblog.com/2011/05/28/rotc-returns-to-harvard-and-yale/

 

ROTC was an important part of a Williams education for 10% of the Class of 1956. Click MORE (below) to see the AF faculty. I knew Captain Taylor, a fine man and a graduate of the USNA.

Read more

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Pell Grant, 3

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 3.

Here is the happy story of Vassar.

In 2007, 12 percent of freshmen entering Vassar had enough need to qualify for federal Pell Grants. Within two years, the share had climbed to 20 percent and federal data showed it has stayed above that threshold ever since. In 2015, the Pell share for Vassar was 23 percent.

Catharine Hill, president of Vassar from 2006 to 2016, said the school’s record shows it is possible to broaden the demographic base of a selective college — drawing more students from low- and moderate-income families — without compromising standards. “In most cases, if you wanted to do more, you could do more,” Hill said. “All we had to do was go looking for kids. Our academic credentials actually went up.”

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill something fierce. She aimed to increase the percentage of Pell-eligible students at Vassar and succeeded in doing so. But did she meaningfully increase socio-economic diversity at Vassar? Consider the data:

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1) There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students who come from families in the top 1%. It was 10% 15 years ago. It around 10% now. I, obviously, have no problem with that, but the Washington Post ought to at least mention this narrative-challenging fact. Is Rob Anderson a reporter or Cappy Hill’s PR flack?

2) At the other end of the distribution, only 5.4% of Vassar students are currently from families in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Alas, the Times does not show us the time series of that statistic, but I bet that it has been fairly steady over time. Vassar has offered plenty of students full scholarships for decades.

3) In Cappy’s defense, there has been some movement lower in between the 20th and the 90th percentile of the income distribution. In essence, she replaced a bunch of students with incomes around the 65th percentile (around $70,000) with students from families making more like $50,000. The former group are not eligible for Pell, the latter are. Is this some giant victory for the forces of social justice? I doubt it.

Private colleges face their own constraints. They rely more heavily on tuition revenue, making it essential to enroll a large number of students who pay in full. They also set aside seats for children of alumni, known as “legacies.” Like public colleges, they also hold spots for athletes and chase students with high SAT or ACT scores, despite evidence that performance on admission tests is linked to family income.

How many stupidities can Rob Anderson put into one paragraph? First, the average academic credentials of legacies at Williams are better than those of non-legacies. The same is almost certainly true at Vassar and at Princeton. Second, “performance on admission tests is linked to family income” because rich parents are, on average, smarter than poor parents, and all parents pass on their genes to their children.

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Pell Grant, 2

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 2.

In little more than a dozen years, Princeton University tripled the share of freshmen who qualify for federal Pell Grants to 22 percent this fall. The grants, targeting students from low-to-moderate-income families with significant financial need, are a key indicator of economic diversity. The Ivy League school’s transformation reflects mounting pressure on top colleges, public and private, to provide more opportunity to communities where poverty is common and college degrees scarce.

If Rob Anderson were a reporter, as opposed to a stenographer, he would ask a simple question: What is the family income of the 1,000th poorest student at Princeton and how has that changed over time? (Of course, we really want to see how the whole distribution changes, but a simple number like this would tell basic story.) In the Williams context:

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

Pell Grants are only a rough proxy for (part of) what we really care about: economic diversity. But it is a proxy that Williams (and Princeton) don’t have to use because they know the family income of all the students (more than 50% of the campus) who requests financial aid. The fact that they don’t tell us these much more meaningful numbers makes me deeply suspicious.

The grants are an imperfect measure of diversity. Researchers say the Pell-eligible share of freshmen at some top schools rose at least a few percentage points in recent years because Congress expanded the maximum grant and because incomes fell during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

In other words, a college might have changed nothing about its recruiting in that time and still looked a bit better. But it is clear the Pell share has become an influential metric in the Ivy League and beyond.

Exactly right. Moreover, Anderson is (purposely?) underplaying the strength of this complaint. (And his failure to mention Raj Chetty by name is an indication of amateurism, perhaps caused by Chetty’s close connection to the New York Times. Key details (pdf):

At Ivy-Plus colleges, the fraction of students receiving Pell grants increased from 12.1% to 16.8% between 2000-2011, an increase that has been interpreted as evidence of growth in low-income access at these colleges. In Online Appendix F, we show that the apparent discrepancy between trends in Pell shares and our percentile-based statistics, which show little or no change in low-income access, is driven by two factors. First, Congress raised the income eligibility threshold for Pell Grants significantly between 2000 and 2011, mechanically increasing the share of families that qualified for Pell grants. Second, as noted above, incomes fell sharply during the 2000s at the bottom of the distribution, further increasing the number of families whose incomes placed them below the Pell eligibility threshold. We estimate that the changes in eligibility rules mechanically increased Pell shares at Ivy-Plus colleges by approximately 2.9 pp from 2000-2011, while the decline in real incomes increased Pell shares by approximately 2.5 pp (Online Appendix Figure IX). Together, these changes fully account for the observed increase in Pell shares. Accounting for these factors, the Pell data imply that there was no significant change in the parental income distribution of students at Ivy-Plus colleges between 2000-201.

There is no evidence that socio-economic diversity increased at places like Princeton between 2000 and 2011, despite the increase in the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. A competent reporter would have mentioned this fact and/or sought a quote from Chetty or one of his co-authors. The Princeton PR Department, of course, prefers the story as currently published.

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Pell Grant, 1

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 1.

The elite protect each other, which is the best way to understand how Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson ends up providing such a tongue-bath to Princeton. Start with the title:

How an Ivy got less preppy: Princeton draws surge of students from modest means

The term “preppy” comes, obviously, from the “prep” schools that have been feeding students to Princeton (and Williams) for generations. With that title, you would expect some evidence, or even a discussion, about whether (or not!) there are, in truth, fewer prep schools students at elite colleges. Surprise! There is no discussion. As best we know, there are as many students from prep schools like Andover, Exeter and Groton today as there were 50 years ago.

Consider Amherst: 34% (pdf) are from “private” schools in the class of 2020, compared to 38% (pdf) in the class of 2003. Now, you might argue that a 4% decrease is a meaningful change. Maybe. But, a decade ago, it was 35% (pdf) for the class of 2010, so whatever “progress” has been made stopped cold more than a decade ago. I bet that the (lack of) trends at Princeton (and Williams) have been similar. There is no evidence of elite colleges have become less “preppy” over the last decade.

There is, however, an increased reliance on Pell Grants to measure economic diversity.

Pell Grants, worth up to $5,920 apiece this year, are the foundation of need-based financial aid. They are awarded through a formula that assesses family size, assets, income and other factors. Most go to students whose families make less than $50,000 a year, a range that spans deep poverty to moderate income.

We have discussed before that Pell Grants are an imperfect proxy. Recall that international students are not eligible. A school with 50% of its students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. More details to come tomorrow. There can be little doubt, however, that going forward, Pell Grants will be important.

As soon as a metric becomes important, it starts to be gamed:

They even began checking family finances before deciding whom to admit. The point was not to exclude those in need but, possibly, to boost their chances.

It used to be that Princeton accepted student X (with family income of $60,000) over student Y (with family income of $50,000, and therefore Pell-eligible) if X had better test scores, grades, recommendation letters and so on. With this new policy, that changes. If Princeton thinks that you will be awarded a Pell, you now have a (large?) advantage over applicants with, for all practical purposes, the same socio-economic standing. What should smart applicants do?

U-Penn.’s dean of admissions, Eric Furda, said the university, with more than 10,000 undergraduates, also produces every year a high number of graduates who were Pell grant recipients. But he acknowledged that the school wants to have a higher freshman Pell share than its rate of 13 percent in 2016 and 14 percent in 2015, and is exploring how to do that.

“If this is going to be the measure,” Furda said, “then just what we’ve been doing for 10 years is not going to necessarily be enough.”

Indeed. Advice to applicants: Do whatever you can to convince Furda (and Princeton and Williams and . . .) that you will be eligible for a Pell Grant.

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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 the 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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Racial Trends, 5

The New York Times covered racial enrollment trends at elite colleges. Key previous posts here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss these trends for 5 days. Today is Day 5.

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Recall this New York Times article:

Alan Moldawer’s adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new DNA kit that he had heard could determine an individual’s genetic ancestry. The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they could be useful in obtaining financial aid.

And for getting into Williams!

“Naturally when you’re applying to college you’re looking at how your genetic status might help you,” said Mr. Moldawer, who knows that the twins’ birth parents are white, but has little information about their extended family. “I have three kids going now, and you can bet that any advantage we can take we will.”

Genetic tests, once obscure tools for scientists, have begun to influence everyday lives in many ways. The tests are reshaping people’s sense of themselves — where they came from, why they behave as they do, what disease might be coming their way.

It may be only natural then that ethnic ancestry tests, one of the first commercial products to emerge from the genetic revolution, are spurring a thorough exploration of the question, What is in it for me?

Quite a bit, at least in terms of admissions to elite colleges. The average combined SAT differential between African-American and Asian-American students at Williams is more than 230 points. Imagine that you are an ambitious high school senior with mid 600 SATs. Without a “hook,” you are highly unlikely to be admitted to Williams. Check the box marked African-American on the Common Application, and you improve your chances dramatically. How much do you really want to go to Williams?

Given the tests’ speculative nature, it seems unlikely that colleges, governments and other institutions will embrace them. But that has not stopped many test-takers from adopting new DNA-based ethnicities — and a sense of entitlement to the privileges typically reserved for them. Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights.

Note that the Common Application gives you almost complete latitude in what boxes you check.

ca

There is no requirement that you “look” African-American or that other people identify you as African-America. All that matters is how you “identify yourself.”

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?

Driving the pursuit of genetic bounty are start-up testing companies with names like DNA Tribes and Ethnoancestry. For $99 to $250, they promise to satisfy the human hunger to learn about one’s origins — and sometimes much more. On its Web site, a leader in this cottage industry, DNA Print Genomics, once urged people to use it “whether your goal is to validate your eligibility for race-based college admissions or government entitlements.”

If you care about the traditional notion of diversity at Williams — that it is critical for the College to have enough African-American students, students who identify themselves this way and are so treated by society — than this phrasing must make your blood run cold. What happens when hundreds (thousands?) of students with 600 level SATs take these tests and “discover” that they are African-American?

Some social critics fear that the tests could undermine programs meant to compensate those legitimately disadvantaged because of their race. Others say they highlight an underlying problem with labeling people by race in an increasingly multiracial society.

“If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven’t experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy,” said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for student affairs at the University of Michigan, which won the right to use race as a factor in admissions in a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

Still, Michigan, like most other universities, relies on how students choose to describe themselves on admissions applications when assigning racial preferences.

Up until now, we have all assumed (hoped) that applicants are mostly honest. The College does not check that you are “really” African-American or Hispanic. They take you at your word — although they certainly like to see club membership, essay/recommendation references and other signs consistent with that check-mark.

Yet what happens when every student at elite high schools gets tested? This will happen. Indeed, how can any social studies teacher resist such a test when it would serve as a great starting point for all sorts of amazing class discussions?

Then, once every junior at Exeter has taken the test, it will be time for some fun discussions in the college councilor’s office.

Uptight Parent: We would really like Johnny to go to Williams.

College Counselor: Well, Johnny is a great kid who will do well at Colby. But, with his grades and test scores, Williams would be quite a reach.

UP: If Johnny were African-American, he would get into Williams.

CC: Well, that might or might not be true, but it hardly seems relevant to this discussion since Johnny is white.

UP: But the project that Johnny did for social studies showed that he was 2% sub-Saharan African.

CC: So . . .

UP: That means that he can check the African-American box on the Common Application.

CC: Well, the traditional usage of that box is for students that have always identified themselves, and been identified by others, as African-American.

UP: But it doesn’t say that on the form, does it?

CC: No.

UP: So, Johnny can check it, right? There is no school policy against it?

CC: Correct.

UP: In fact, since the test demonstrates that, scientifically, Johnny is African-America, I can count on the school to verify that designation in all its application paperwork.

CC: Yes. [Sigh] And I hear that the fall foliage is lovely in the Berkshires . . .

Think that this is just more stupid EphBlog fantasy?

Ashley Klett’s younger sister marked the “Asian” box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European. Whether it mattered they do not know, but she did get into the college of her choice. “And they gave her a scholarship,” Ashley said.

Of course, being “Asian” does not help you when applying Williams.

The point here is not that the current admissions policy at Williams 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. How much will the admissions process change as a result?

I first wrote about this topic more than a decade ago. Were my fears justified then? Perhaps not. What about the next decade? Time will tell.

Note, however, the notable tightening over the last decade. Back then it was, “If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply.” You didn’t even have to identify yourself as African-American (as you have to now), you just had to “wish to be identified.” A reader comments [screen shot from Common Ap added by me]:

ca2There is an interesting parallel between colleges asking for full legal names and names of parents now (in 2017) vs them what was happening in 1920s. Back in 1920s, the colleges were asking for “full legal names of parents at birth”, mostly to figure out who was a Jewish person who changed their name to “pass” as a gentile. Currently, my guess is that the common application is asking for full names and places of birth of parents (again this is a recent addition to common application) primarily to:
– figure out whites who are trying to “pass” as Hispanic
– figure out Asians who are trying to “pass” as White

Comments on how much of an issue this is today? (Please save debate about what Williams policy should be for another thread. I am most interested in reports on what applicants are doing now and/or what you recommend that they do.)

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Racial Trends, 4

The New York Times covered racial enrollment trends at elite colleges. Key previous posts here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss these trends for 5 days. Today is Day 4.

The Common Ap handles race and ethnicity very differently today than it has in the past. After the standard question as to: “Are you Hispanic or Latino?” you have a lot more options. (Recall that members of any racial group can be Hispanic.)

det1

Have any readers followed the Common Ap closely? I am fairly certain that the above approach is very different from what it was five years ago. Questions:

1) Is it new this year? Anyone know how or why? My sense is that there have been three major regimes in the last 20 years of college reporting on race. First, they had the standard boxes and a requirement that you only check one. Second (starting around 2010), they added a “two or more races option.” There was a lot of discussion about what that would mean for understanding, say, African-American enrollment over time. Third, they created the current version which allows maximal choice and details. det3You can check all 5 major race groupings. In fact, you can check all the boxes under each race grouping, i.e., China and India and Japan and so on. If you select one of the “other” boxes, you can provide further details.

2) Keep in mind that the Common Ap and the Common Data Set (pdf) now approach race very differently. (And what about federal reporting requirements, as recorded on IPEDS?) On the Common Data Set (and IPEDS?) the only non-standard race option is “Two or more races, non-Hispanic” and, if a person is listed as “Hispanic,” then no other box may also be checked. So, it is not obvious how colleges should (or will) map these new Common Ap responses to their Common Data Set submissions. For example, what if a student on the Common Ap checks the Hispanic box and the African-American box and the white box? (Perhaps his father is African heritage and was born in the Dominican Republic and his mother is white.) How will the College report him on the Common Data Set?

3) Here are the detailed options for the other major categories:

det2

4) All of this will generate a remarkably rich data set which, sadly, will be difficult to connect to the results from previous years. I would be most curious about the breakdown among African-American applicants. What proportion are the children of immigrants?

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Racial Trends, 3

The New York Times covered racial enrollment trends at elite colleges. Key previous posts here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss these trends for 5 days. Today is Day 3.

Does Williams discriminate against Asian-Americans? See this New York Times article for background.

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Williams is 15% Asian-American, more than triple their share of the US college-age population. Hardly a prima facie case for discrimination. But Asian-Americans also do much better than other groups in high school grades, SAT scores and other measures beloved by Williams Admissions. Recall:

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

The raw number of Asian-Americans with Williams-caliber SAT scores (say, above 1450) is similar to the raw number of white students. (Of course, the proportion of the Asian-American student population with these scores is vastly higher.) Given this fact, shouldn’t the Williams class of 2020 have about the same raw number of Asian-American and white students? (The actual numbers are 297 white versus 74 Asian-American.)

Reasons to think that Williams does not discriminate:

First, athletes are much more likely to be white than Asian-American. As we have discussed, “tips” and “protects” are admitted outside of the normal admissions process. These 100 to 130 students should not be included as we try to understand the 297-to-74 discrepancy. Although some of these athletes are African-American/Hispanic, the vast majority are white. Only a handful are Asian-American. (We have no reason to think that, all else equal, Williams coaches favor whites.) Assume that there are 100 white athletes and 10 Asian-American. Leaving these students out of the totals means that the actual discrepancy is only 197-to-64.

Second, high quality Asian-Americans are much less likely to apply to Williams. This is surely true, right? Unfortunately, I have never seen good data on this, but, in many conversations with students at Harvard, it sure seems that the white students are much more likely to have at least considered, if not also applied to, Williams and/or other elite liberal arts college.

Third, Asian-Americans are less likely to enroll even if they apply and are accepted. This is undoubtedly true. (Contrary opinions welcome.) I have never met an Asian-American who turned down Harvard/Yale/Princeton for Williams or a place like it. I know of a dozen or more cases of white high school seniors who have done so. (Recall Diana Davis ’07 and Julia Sendor ’08.)

Could the role of athletic admissions and the preferences of Asian-American high school seniors be strong enough to explain the 297-to-74 ratio of white-to-Asian-American students? Perhaps! We now know that Williams, unlike Harvard, did not discriminate against Jews 100 years ago. Wouldn’t it be nice if we, unlike Harvard, don’t discriminate against Asian-Americans today?

Of course, the fact that Asian-Americans at Williams score about 20-30 points higher that white students on the math+verbal SAT (1505 versus 1480) does make one wonder. But maybe the athletic effect is enough to explain that? In fact, it does!

(297 * 1480 – 100 * 1430)/197 = 1505

Explanation of this calculation left as an exercise for the reader.

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