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Welcome Dula ’23, Cohn ’23, Altmann ’23 and Lynch ’23

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The Admissions Office was, undoubtedly, impressed by Dula’s essays and teacher recommendations.

Oh, wait! This was posted on July 5th. Dula has not written his application essays nor has he sought any teacher recommendations.

None of which is Dula’s fault. He does not make the rules. He is a subject of a system which expects him to create videos of his athletic performance while his family pays thousands of dollars to participate in various club teams and showcase events. The pay-off comes when Williams tells him, during the summer of his junior year in high school, that he has been admitted.

And I have no particular problem with this system, except with the hypocrisy which comes, not from Dula, but from Williams, from the College’s constant pretending that athletics is just one “attribute” among many, that Admissions treats exceptional violin players the same way we treat exceptional lacrosse players. We don’t.

And Dula is far from the only already-admitted member of the class of 2023. Congratulations, also, to Jacob Cohn ’23.

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Athletic admissions at Williams has very little to do with normal admissions. The vast majority of the 70 tips (and 30 or so protects) are told by a coach, in the summer after their junior year of high school, that they will be admitted to Williams if they apply early decision. No one cares about their personal essays or teacher recommendations.

Other examples of early athletic admissions this year include Nick Altmann and, lest you think this is only about male athletes, Emma Lynch.

The most offensive aspect to this whole process is how much time it takes away from under-paid high school teachers. Even though Lynch has already been admitted to Williams, the College will still require her to submit recommendation letters, so some poor Weymouth math teacher is going to get to spend an October evening writing a letter about her that no one will ever read . . .

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Karabel on the History of Admissions

“Status-Group Struggle, Organizational Interests, and the Limits of Institutional Autonomy: The Transformation of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, 1918-1940” (pdf) provides a useful overview of elite admissions between the world wars. Highly recommended for those too busy to go through his magisterial The Chosen. Williams College mentions include:

K1

K2

K3

K4

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Critical Mass

From abl:

there’s a separate question about creating a Williams environment that supports all of its students. Without a critical mass of students from under-represented groups, Williams will struggle to attract students from these groups, and students from these groups may struggle at Williams. It may therefore be beneficial or even necessary for Williams to admit more students from these groups than it would otherwise so as to build a class that “works” for everyone. This is true, even if you accept both of my above points: there’s a real happiness/satistfaction cost to adopting an admissions policy that leaves Williams looking more like Caltech–student outcomes and student satisfaction for those few URM students at Williams are likely to plummet in an isolating environment of that nature.

“Critical mass” arguments for affirmative action mostly fail:

1) They don’t apply to smaller groups. Williams has (pdf) 2 total students who are “American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic.” That doesn’t seem like much mass to me!

2) abl has no evidence — because there is no evidence — that “student satisfaction for those few URM students at Williams are likely to plummet” if we practiced less affirmative action. African-American students at Williams are almost certainly less satisfied than other students at Williams, but is the gap any greater at Middlebury, with a much smaller percentage of African-American students? Not that I have heard.

3) abl has no evidence — because there is no evidence — that “students from these groups may struggle at Williams” without a critical mass. Middlebury, and other schools, with fewer URMs don’t see this and Williams itself does not see that effect in relation to Amherst, which has a much higher percentage of African-American students than we do.

Again, the true goal of Williams admissions is to have a class that “reflects” or “mirrors” the US population. The American Indian population is small, so 2 total students is fine. No one really cares whether or not there is a critical mass of such students because critical mass is not the true goal. Proportional representation is the goal. Critical mass is just one of the ex post facto stories used to justify the goal.

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Overlap History

From MIT in 1992:

The unprecedented antitrust case had its origins in an investigation begun in 1989 by the Justice Department. The Antitrust Division of the Justice Department reportedly sent civil investigative demands to some 57 colleges, who were asked to submit thousands of pounds of records over many years. In 1989, the last full year of participation in the agreement, 23 colleges attended the annual spring meeting to discuss the relative need of commonly admitted students.

The case was fought by MIT after the eight Ivy League colleges agreed in May, 1991 – while admitting no culpability – to sign a consent decree barring such cooperation for 10 years, unless Congress passes legislation to authorize it.

The civil suit involved an agreement that MIT and the eight Ivy League colleges entered into in the 1950s. The colleges agreed to admit students solely on the basis of merit and distribute their scholarship money solely on the basis of need.

They also agreed to establish methods of determining what the applicants’ family could afford and – in the case of applicants who had overlapping offers of admission from more than one of the colleges – to discuss significant differences in the colleges’ judgements of the individual students’ financial need.

The biggest beneficiaries to the ending of Overlap were non-rich, highly desirable applicants. On average, middle class African-American students probably benefited more than anyone.

And readers wonder why I am sometimes suspicious of elite colleges . . .

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Why Not Accept These Students?

An example of the sort of AR1 student that Williams currently rejects:

SAT: 1540 (Math 790, Reading 750) Subjects: Math II 800, Chem 720
ACT: 35 (Math 35, Reading 34, English 35, Science 35)
AP: Calc. BC 5/5, Chem 5, Bio 4; Physics I/II, Lit, Lang, and Stats to be taken
~4.2 weighted GPA, top of the class
Honors track, taking all offered AP courses at my school
ECs mostly performance (theatre, speech/debate, band) and community service

I was sort of surprised by the result, but I guess I just don’t fit their class image. It’s ok because I’m in at Princeton, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Carleton, Grinnell, and Macalester.

There are scores (hundreds?) of similar examples. Why reject applicants like this?

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Chicago Drops SAT, 5

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 5.

What will Williams do?

Robert Schaeffer of FairTest: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, predicted others would follow Chicago’s decision. He said Chicago’s decision was “potentially a huge ‘ice-breaker’ for ultraselective institutions. Several other schools in this category are re-examining their admissions exam requirements but have been hesitant to go first.”

Schaeffer is a longtime critic of the SAT.

1) Williams is “conservative,” compared to its elite peers, so, if any school follows Chicago’s lead, it won’t be us. We also don’t have a history of chasing PC fads like this one. Might Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 be cut from different cloth than her predecessors like Dick Nesbitt ’74, Tom Parker ’69 and Phil Smith ’58? Might new President Maud Mandel want to make a splash? Perhaps. But EphBlog bets the other way.

2) Williams should continue to use the SAT/ACT, along with other standardized tests like the SAT subject tests, the APs, the international baccalaureates and so on. They work! They aren’t perfect. But students who score well on these tests do, on average, much better than students who score poorly.

3) Other elite schools are unlikely to follow Chicago’s lead, precisely because they are so committed to admitting weaker students. It’s a paradox, but true!

If you are happy to only take the students with strong high school transcripts, your job is easy. There are thousands of students who go to elite high schools, both public (any high school in a rich town, exam schools like Stuyvesant) or private (Andover, Exeter, Raffles). Just take the ones at the top. The problem, alas, is that such students are much less likely to have the characteristics you also want: elite athlete, poor/uneducated parents and/or black/Hispanic. These students are more likely to be found at weaker high schools, places where the transcript is hard to evaluate. SAT/ACT scores are most valuable for choosing among those students.

You can argue (incorrectly!) that the SAT/ACT is biased against, say, low income applicants relative to high income applicants. (Perhaps it is!) But, once you have made the macro decision to have 20% (or whatever) of you class consistent of such students, you should pick the ones with the highest scores (and best grades). They are much more likely to do better, at either Williams or Chicago.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 4

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 4.

James G. Nondorf is either a knave or a fool.

In addition, the university announced a new program in which it will invite students to submit a two-minute video introduction of themselves. And the university will allow self-submission of transcripts to minimize the need for students to pay fees.

“Today, many underresourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at Chicago. He added that UChicago Empower, as the initiatives are collectively being called, “levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you — you define the application.”

“You define the application”?!? What sort of gibberish is that?

Nondorf strikes me as a hustling self-promoter, using the resources of Chicago to promote his own brand. Or he’s just stupid:

Many colleges have found that students’ transcripts — their high-school grades and rigor of courses — are the most-valuable predictors of future performance. “The transcript tells such a powerful story for us,” Nondorf said. “We went from department to department to see who the stars were. Does testing tell us who’s going to be the best art historian? The answer is No.”

Restricted range, anyone? Consider height in basketball. Being tall is (obviously!) a huge advantage in basketball, at every level of the game. But, within each level, height is poorly correlated with success because everyone at that level is tall. In the NBA, for example, there is very little (any?) correlation between height and salary. The range of height in the NBA is too narrow to fully see the importance of height to success.

The same applies to the importance of SAT/ACT scores at Chicago. If 25% of Chicago students score above 1550, then SAT scores will not be a good predictor of the best student in each department, just like height is a bad predictor of who is the best player on each NBA team.

Going forward, I predict that students who did not submit their scores to Chicago when applying will almost never “be the best art historian.”

But the most annoying aspect of Nondorf’s changes is the option — which many students will consider to be a requirement — for submitting a two minute video.

1) As if the college application process is not stressful enough already!

2) As if college consultants — and the college counselors at elite high schools — will not quickly game this process, helping their clients/students produce amazing videos, especially ones that appear to be done solely by the student.

3) As if a video is a useful admissions tool. There is a reason why the vast majority of elite colleges no longer use interviews, either at all (like Williams) or as any part of their decision-making (Harvard). Interviews don’t work!

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Chicago Drops SAT, 3

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 3.

Jeff Rubel ’18 tweets:

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Rubel is an EphBlog favorite and (normally!) sophisticated observer. How can he be so naive to think that this is all about “increasing accessibility?”

1) Chicago could just put much less weight on the SAT/ACT, going so far as to accept dozens of students with very low scores. Its current reasoning is similar to the tripe from Harvard/Princeton a decade ago about how early admissions provided an unfair advantage to rich kids. It may have, but the only reason for that was Harvard/Princeton’s own policies! They could have kept early admissions and just raised the standards. A simple way to tell if policy X is pointless virtue-signaling is to see if there was an easy way to accomplish the same thing without the fancy press release.

2) Chicago could just stop accepting the SAT/ACT.

Chicago officials analyzed plenty of internal data, Nondorf explained. “You spend a lot of time looking at students who don’t do well,” he said. What parts of their applications might have indicated early on that they would struggle? “It certainly wasn’t testing,” Nondorf said.

So why are you even accepting SAT/ACT scores at all? If scores have no power in predicting who will do well at Chicago, if they are no more valid than horoscopes, then you should not accept them in the first place.

That Chicago still accepts (and uses!) SAT/ACT scores for admissions tells me that, in fact, they are predictive (which we already know) of college performance.

3) Rubel could defend Chicago by claiming that, by not requiring the SAT/ACT, they allow students who have not taken them to apply. But that is nonsense since such students, if they want to attend an elite school, will (almost) have to take the SAT/ACT since they can’t only apply to Chicago. They might (likely will!) get rejected. Chicago will get virtually no applications from students who haven’t taken the SAT/ACT.

4) Rubel most likely means to argue that, by allowing some students to not submit scores, Chicago is “increasing accessibility” because it will end up admitting a different class than it would have under its previous policy. And that is true! But it did not need to stop accepting the SAT/ACT to achieve that goal. It could have just put less weight on it, even zero weight for certain types of students.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 2

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 1.

Several experts predicted that other top universities might now reconsider testing requirements.

1) I doubt it!

2) Reporter Scott Jaschik does a nice job, but the “experts” he tends to rely on are not nearly cynical/skeptical enough for my tastes.

3) Look at history of virtue-signally by elite colleges. The most relevant example was Harvard’s decision in 2006 to end early admissions. We noted that this was PC nonsense and we predicted, at the time, that Harvard would reverse the decision as soon as it became obvious how harmful it was to recruiting the best students. And, sure enough, that was what Harvard did.

When push comes to shove, elite colleges won’t allow PC gestures to meaningfully impact their student quality.

Prediction: The University of Chicago is treating us all to a real world example of the power of adverse selection. As long as other schools use SAT/ACT scores, they will know to reject the student with a tough-to-evaluate high school transcript but low scores. Chicago won’t have that option (assuming it really implements the policy). Such students will, on average, not send in their scores. Chicago will be more likely to admit them and, perhaps even worse, yield them once they are accepted (since they won’t be accepted at any other elite school).

4) How long with the experiment last? Tough to say. Harvard/Princeton could quickly see that a lack of early decision was causing them to lose lots of highly desirable applicants to their competitors. Chicago will not get such quick feedback. Indeed, it will be hard to see the drop in student quality quickly. In fact, the professors in the tougher majors — the ones most likely (?) to complain about a drop in student quality — are the least likely to notice it because weaker students will gravitate toward easier courses/majors.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 1

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 1.

The University of Chicago on Thursday morning announced that it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

Hundreds of colleges — including elite liberal arts colleges — have stopped requiring the SAT or ACT. But Chicago’s move is the first by one of the very top research universities in the country. And the move is striking coming from an institution, known for its academic rigor, that has had no difficulty attracting top applicants.

For the class that enrolled in September 2017, the university received 27,694 applicants and admitted 2,419. The middle 50 percent of the range of SAT scores of admitted applicants was 1460 to 1550.

1) Surprising news! Elite schools almost always require the SAT/ACT because standardized test scores are a useful — albeit not perfect — tool for forecasting performance in college. This is all the more true when considering applicants from below-average high schools. An applicant being valedictorian in his 50 student senior class in Nowhere, Iowa tells you little. Such an applicant with a 1,600 SAT (math + verbal) tells you a lot.

2) The news is all the more surprising coming from Chicago. If you told me that a top college/university had dropped the SAT/ACT and asked me to predict which one, Chicago would have been about my last guess.

First, it is famously “conservative,” at least in the context of elite education, and (in)famous for mocking the politically correct pieties of its peers: safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc. Although the use of standardized testing is not exactly a political issue, I definitely associate it with more liberal/progressive schools. If forced to guess, I would have gone with Brown or Swarthmore.

Second, Chicago makes many fewer concessions to non-academic criteria than other elite schools, especially when it comes to athletic recruitment. Schools like Williams already concede that the SAT/ACT are not that important, which is why the bottom 1/4 of the class is allowed to have such low scores. The middle 50% range of SAT scores at Williams is (pdf) 1400 to 1570 (approximately). The top of the Williams distribution is higher but we are willing to go much lower in order to get students we want.

3) This decision is similar to how Williams, and many other elite schools, dropped the SAT subject test requirements a few years ago. I was indifferent to that change because, if you already know a student’s high school transcript and SAT/ACT scores and AP scores, it is plausible that the marginal information you gain from knowing the SAT II scores is close to zero.

This case is trickier because, without any standardized test scores, it is very hard to determine the quality of applicants from non-feeder high schools.

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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. Does 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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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.

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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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