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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

enroll

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.

enroll

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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Racial Trends, 2

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 2.

What counts as Hispanic?

Recall this 2005 comment:

[Mr. Pallo, my college counselor] suggested that, on the Common Applications, I identify myself as Puerto Rican.

Depending on how you reckon, to say I am Puerto Rican is a half-truth or completely untrue. My mother was born there and raised in NYC since age six or so, and my father couldn’t be called anything but Caucasian. On other surveys, I’d sometimes checked the Puerto Rican and White boxes, sometimes just White.

I was bothered by Mr. Pallo’s suggestion, but I’d learned to trust him, and my parents supported his suggestion. A year ago, in fact, they had asked if I would use my mother’s maiden name, Reyes, hyphenated with my last name, Landsman, in my applications. I had flatly refused that. Needless to say, when I discussed my counselor’s suggestion with them, they supported him.

I asked Mr. Pallo if I could check both boxes. He responded with something along the lines of: “My fear is that that would be passed over, that someone would see ‘White’ and ‘Puerto Rican’ would be ignored.” After little more deliberation, I decided to trust him, and count it a small cost. So in that one question, I was Puerto Rican, though nothing else in my applications referred to that status.

Sure enough, I was admitted to Williams. Early freshman year, I received a letter from the Admissions Office. It stated that I had declared myself a minority on my application, specifically Puerto Rican. It asked if I still wanted to be considered so, and if not, to contact them and say otherwise. I thought about this a while. I did not particularly feel Puerto Rican, never have, and still don’t. Mom only spoke Spanish at home when she was being cute, or angry at us. I am not close with my PR family. But I saw no reason to take what I saw as a small risk of some kind of retribution, and I left Admissions with its original impressions.

So I was one of the however many “Latinos” in my year, though I doubt anyone at Williams outside of Bascom knew it.

For the class of 2016, Williams claimed (pdf) 78 Hispanics in a US student population of 516, or 15%. You can look up the names of the graduates in the 2016-2017 course catalog. Check them out! You will find lots of names that are, incontestably, Hispanic: Raventos, Cendejas, Partida and so on. But (sadly?), there are only 55 last names that are more likely than not Hispanic and only another 6 that are often Hispanic: Castellano, Moran, Sime, and so on. But 61 is not 78!

Part of the explanation, of course, is that Hispanic students are more likely to drop out than other students. But it would hardly be surprising if the scenario described above — Hispanic as far as the Williams Administration is concerned but just another white kid as far as your fellow students know — describes 20% of the Hispanic population at Williams.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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Racial Trends, 1

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 1.

Key plot:

enroll

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis.

The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans . . .

Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’03 would probably point out that the 15% number is not the relevant benchmark because, for starters, it does not adjust for the differential rate of high school graduation across races. Since only 69% of blacks graduate from high school (compared to 86% of whites), blacks do not make up anywhere near to 15% of the college-age high school graduates in America. Also relevant is that blacks are less likely that whites to take the achievement tests which Williams requires. They make up only 13% of the population in the SAT and the ACT. They are also much less likely to attend, through no fault of their own, high schools which provide adequate preparation for the rigors of a Williams education.

Put all this together and I bet that Williams would claim that our current 10% result (albeit only 8% for the class of 2020) is fairly similar to the population of high school seniors from which Williams draws its students. A similar argument would apply to the under-representation of Hispanics at Williams.

And that is hardly a surprise! Recall that Williams has an explicit goal — not an illegal quota! — to have a student body which “relects” or “mirrors” the racial breakdown of America.

Amherst [to its credit?] has a much smaller percentage of white students (51%) compared to Williams at 64%. Pomona does even better (?) at 40%. I suspect that this difference has nothing to do with the preferences of people like Creighton and Falk. They love white people no more than the folks who run Amherst and Pomona. (Contrary opinions welcome!) Even if all three schools have the same standards, Williams will always lose out because Pomona has a much easier time yielding Hispanics from California and Amherst probably does better among blacks because of its (much?) less rural location.

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Students Simply Self-Stratify

Interesting comment:

As a current student, I’m tired of the narrative that the kids who are pulled in largely through “other” factors are equally as academically qualified. This has been demonstrated to be empirically false- statistics do not lie. The validity of the op-ed thus rests upon whether or not other highly nebulous factors should supersede this lessened academic qualification. I would like to think that this could be the case- but it seems to me that the vast majority of students simply self-stratify, so that diversity based benefits are minimized. Additionally, the constant threat of being lampooned for mis-speaking makes it simply not worth it to engage on controversial issues. I would love to have discussions about what white privilege is and about the extent to which it pervades our society, for example. I think that’s really interesting. But why would I ever do that? The benefits are dwarfed by the risks, especially for the people who would benefit the most!. This is why, ironically, things like uncomfortable learning would make campus in a way safer for minorities- there would be a culture that made white people’s “cost benefit analysis” differently weighted, so that they might be willing to engage and might learn something from discussion! Additionally, this would go a long way towards increasing the actual benefits of diversity, as is discussed above.

Good points. I miss the WSO discussion section! Ten years ago, a student would have left this comment there, and started off a thoughtful discussion among Ephs with a wide variety of views. Now, nothing.

There is a great senior thesis to be written about self-stratification among Williams students.

Here [Data removed by request from Williams.] is Williams housing data for this year. Do you see much self-stratification? Should we spend time going through it?

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Athletic Admissions Details

Purpose of this post is to gather together (and save) some relevant links/commentary related to athletic admissions. The best EphBlog introduction is still this 2008 post. Key background readings include the 2002 MacDonald Report (pdf) and the 2009 Athletics Committee Report.

Summary: There are 66 “tips” — recruited athletes in each Williams class. These are students specifically selected by coaches and promised admission, almost always via early decision. They would not have been accepted by Williams if they did not appear on the coach’s list. There are also 30 or so “protects” — perhaps currently terminology is “ices”? — who also would not have gotten in without coach intervention, but who are only slightly below average for the class as a whole in terms of academic ability. I believe that protects are academic rating 3s, while tips are academic rating 4s and below. The biggest change in athletic admissions in the last 20 years followed the publication of the MacDonald Report, with support from then-president Morty Schapiro. Those changes both decreased the raw number of tips and, perhaps more importantly, raised the academic requirements, especially at the low end. In particular, there are very few athletic admissions below academic rating 4: top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score. Despite coach complaints and predictions of disaster, Williams athletics have been as successful in the last decade as they were in the decade prior to these changes.

Back in 2009 I had an off-the-record exchange with a Williams coach about some of these details. Much may have changed in the interim, but these are some of what I was told (slightly edited for clarity):

President Morty Schapiro cut slots, raised the standards for athletes and lowered the yield for athletic priority slots to 1 for 1. Before Morty coaches were allowed 2 admits for every matriculant (as long as they applied regular admission vs. early decision). Coaches were not penalized for over-yielding. Before Morty protects were 4’s. Before Morty certain higher profile sports were given 7’s. After Morty tips were cut from 72 to 66 (the cut was actually much deeper as the 72 number was more like 90 with the over-yield). Protect level was raised to 3. Yield was lowered to 1 for 1. Free alumni athletic level was raised from 4 to 3. No 7’s and very few 6’s for any team other than football and football 7’s/6’s had to be socio-ec (don’t think the socio-ec part was enforced). Minority admits were not effected by these changes.

Football got the most lower academic-rated kids, followed by men’s and women’s hockey and then all the other sports were pretty much the same with crew, tennis and squash having the highest standards. If memory serves, football got 14, men’s and women’s hockey 5 each, men’s and women’s soccer 3 each and every other team 1 or 2 (baseball-2, softball-2, men’s and women’s lacrosse-2, men’s and women’ basketball-2, men’s and women’s tennis-1, field hockey-2, squash and crew-protect only. all teams got a “protect” (high band) in addition to the tips…..not sure if men’s and women’s swimming, skiing and track got 2 or 3

Men’s hockey was the only team without a protect (not sure about the women). That happened when the department slots got cut and Bill Kangas gave up the protect to keep 5 tips. Men’s and women’s tennis get 1 tip and 1 protect.

Athletic 2’s were admitted free as were alumni 3’s. As a general rule of thumb under represented minorities (black/Hispanic) that were admissible on an athletic priority list by white standards did not count against the coach a long as they were “embracing their ethnicity.” My experience was that URMs did not count as tips unless they were really low in a level 1 sport. Hispanics were a little dicier as I recall. Caribbean, or inter city American types more likely to qualify vs Mexicans, Europeans or South Americans of Spanish ancestry.

Comments from current Williams coaches on the accuracy of these details would be much appreciated!

Best recent overview of NESCAC athletic recruiting is this three-part 2014 series from the Bowdoin Orient: 1, 2, and 3. All the articles are below the break, saved since the Orient’s does not archive them.

From a 2013 article about lacrosse recruiting:

NESCAC institutions use a banding system that the athletic and admissions departments use to rank players who seek admission. The banding breaks players up based on GPA, Class Rank, SAT (or ACT) and SAT 2 and then categorizes them as A Band, B Band or C Band. Over a 4 year period, schools slot a certain amount of players per band. The system allows for more flexibility than the Ivy’s Academic Index but limits weaker academic applicants. Schools are generally given 4-7 slots per year. At a school like Williams, the class may be made up of 4 A Band students and 2 B Band students. The same B Band student at Williams could be considered an A Band student at a slightly less selective school like Bates.

So here is a general outline of A, B and C Bands for NESCAC schools.

A Band
SAT Scores 700+ average all above 670
SAT II 710
GPA: 92+ GPA, Almost All As
Class Rank: Top 5%
Courses: 4+ APs, Honors Classes

B Band
SAT scores 650+ average, all above 620
SAT II 640
GPA: 88+ GPA, Mix of As, Bs
Class Rank: Top 15%
Courses: Few AP Courses, Honors

C Band
SAT scores 630+ average, all above 590
SAT II 600
GPA: 85+ GPA, Mix of As, Bs, occasional Cs
Class Rank: Top 20%
Courses: Honors

Athletic preferences in admissions can be confusing because of the insider terminology. Within Williams, we talk about “tips” and “protects.” Across NESCAC, the discussion centers around “bands.”

See more complete discussion from this 2010 presentation (ppt) about hockey recruiting.

Summary: No one really cares if you are a star athlete in a sport for which Williams does not field a team. No one cares if you are a star athlete in a sport we do compete in unless the coach puts you on her list. (If the field hockey coach already has 2 great goalies, you could be an all-state goalie and it would not matter for your chances at Williams because you would not be on her list.) If you are on the coach’s list, then she will expect you to apply early decision. (That way, she can be certain that you are coming.) If she tells you that you will be accepted than, 95%+ of the time, you will be. Williams coaches have a reputation, which they have every incentive to maintain, of playing these straight with applicants. Read Playing the Game for more details.

Below the break are the full text of the articles from the Orient. Highly recommended.

Read more

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To the Record Editorial Board: Do Your Job

The most annoying aspect of the debate over admissions is the College’s refusal to be honest with the community over the standards/processes that it uses. The second most annoying aspect is the Administrations laziness in not trying hard enough to recruit hard-to-enroll groups like high scoring African-Americans. The third most annoying aspect is today’s topic: the Record‘s failure to report the news.

Consider the Record‘s editorial on the infamous Best-College-in-the-World (BCW) op-ed:

The piece’s categorization of the College’s current admissions process as one in which student are labeled as “academic” or “other,” and where those comprising the “other” category are athletes, racial minorities or low-income students, is both misguided and, more crucially, demeaning.

“Misguided” and “demeaning” are, perhaps, relevant adjectives to include in an editorial. But intelligent readers are looking for adjectives like “inaccurate” or “incomplete.” Does the op-ed provide an accurate description of how the admissions process works at Williams or doesn’t it? Without that information, it is hard to judge anything else. And, if it is accurate, then adjectives like “demeaning” are confusing at best.

And it is the Record‘s primary function to inform its readers about how Williams works, to report, you know, the News. Hint to Record reporters: Start here. A fair complaint about Williams, relative to schools like Harvard, is that much of our conversation occurs at the level of an (excellent!) prep school, a place where, not only is the Administration rarely challenged (recent examples here and here) but where the details of actual policy are kept secret. Compare news stories in the Crimson versus those in the Record. It is too weep.

Of course, the Crimson has more people and resources than the Record. It is a daily, not weekly, effort. But there is no excuse for the Record to devote three pages of commentary to admissions at Williams while, at the same time, not explaining to its readers how admissions works.

The editorial concludes with:

Additionally, it is well understood that SAT scores are a poor metric of the quality of academic work that will be undertaken when a student comes to the College.

Then why does Williams use them! I don’t control Williams admissions. Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03 and Dick Nesbitt ’74 do. Why do they not only use the SAT/ACT but actually require that all applicants take these, and similar, standardized tests? Again, I am not so much angry with the Record as I am embarrassed for them. And, for the record, SAT scores (and Academic Rating) are an outstanding predictor of the grades that students will get at Williams.

Almost every sentence in the editorial is either factually suspect or childishly naive. Worth a week to go through it line-by-line?

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Historically Waspy Campuses

Two interesting comments from Muddy:

And this can be accomplished only if the “others” on these historically Waspy campuses exist is such a critical mass that they feel empowered and heard in a meaningful way. My feeling (I’ve worked my entire career on college campuses) is that the current numbers of kids of color at Williams and elsewhere is pretty much at the minimum it needs to be in order for the entire community to benefit from the immeasurable good their presence adds to the educational quality everyone enjoys.

If you really mean “at a minimum,” then I have a deal for you! Let’s replace 25 (or 50!) of the white students in the bottom admission bands (say, AR 4 and below) with 25 (or 50!) Asian-American (or Asian-Asian) applicants with AR 1 that the College currently rejects. This would increase the “current numbers of kids of color at Williams” while, simultaneously, improving the academic quality of each class. Since many (most?) such white admits are athletic tips, the cost might be a few more losses in certain sports, but, even then, Williams would still have an above average athletic programs.

I am honestly curious what you think of this proposal.

The best, most aspiring, most intrinsically interesting white kids will not generally feel compelled by a campus that minimizes the kinds of values I am talking about or one that is seen to be backtracking on its commitment to diversity. Less kids of color means less high value students of every background.

Perhaps, but I doubt it. Consider Middlebury and Caltech, two very different schools, both of which place much less emphasis on African-American enrollment than Williams currently does. Middlebury is at 4% and Caltech at 2% for the class of 2020. I have never heard of a white (or Asian-American!) student reporting that such low African-American enrollment was a reason why they turned down Middlebury/Caltech. Have you? I find the whole thing absurd because the number of white/Asian students who are even aware that Williams is 8% (twice as much as Middlebury!) and Amherst is at 12% (6 times more than Caltech!) is, essentially, zero.

But, as always, contrary opinions welcome. Do you know a white/Asian-American student who turned down Middlebury or Caltech because there were too few African-Americans?

The most subtle argument involves critical mass. While I have never met a white/Asian-American student who knew/cared about differential percentage of African-American enrollment across Middlebury/Williams/Amherst, I know that many African-American students themselves care a great deal. So, perhaps if we didn’t accept 20 or so African-American students from AR 6 and below, we would not be able to enroll the AR 3 and above African-American students whom we most want. Perhaps. Informed commentary welcome!

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Comments on International Admissions

This comment merits further discussion.

There are two issues with that [loosening the international quota]. The first is that international students have considerably lower graduation/retention rates than any other demographic group at the top schools. That’s not a consequence of ability but rather of uncertainty: financial aid for international students often doesn’t increase in later years, there is a geographic barrier, and foreign political/economic situations can complicate their coming back.

False. Here is the latest data on graduation rates:

gradu

International student 6-year graduation rate is about the same as that of white/Asian students, as we would expect. African-American/Hispanic students are about twice as likely to fail to graduate from Williams in 6 years.

Now, this data has evolved over time and you may be right about both earlier periods and about 4-year graduation rates. But, even then, a big driver is “diversity” among the international students. Not all international students are AR 1, after all. Indeed, I would not be surprised if some (many?) international students are AR 3 and below, if they come from the sorts of countries (not China, South Korea, England, et cetera) that Williams likes.

When I recommend increasing international enrollment, I mean for AR 1 students. Speaking roughly, I would start with about 25 more students from China/Korea/Japan.

The second issue is that the international pool is not as strong as it is constantly made out to be. Many of these students are not informed about how competitive US colleges are, so you get a lot of weak applicants applying when they have no chance of getting in. This is backed by the statistics of need-blind for international students schools like MIT and Amherst: the international acceptance rate is a third of the domestic one, even though these colleges have made assurances to not let ability to pay influence the likelihood of getting in. Many colleges (Williams, Wesleyan, Swarthmore) report a similar pattern: an international acceptance rate 1/4-1/2 that of domestic students.

Is the acceptance rate low because the pool is weaker or because these schools, like Williams, have a quota on international students?

Everyone that I have discussed this with — although contrary opinions are welcome — suggests that there are, at least 50 AR 1 international applicants (many not requiring any financial aid) who are currently rejected by Williams but who would enroll if given the chance. Do you disagree?

Even if students stand out academically, it isn’t enough. Prominent international universities like India Institute of Technology and Tsinghua University admit solely by performance on a test. The UK institutions- Cambridge, UCL, LSE, Oxford- don’t care about extracurricular activities at all. On the contrary, The top US colleges don’t just want perfect scorers. Williams doesn’t either. As a residential college, it wants committed students who will engage critically and meaningfully with their peers and their community. As a distinguished and scholarly place, it wants those who are committed to learning and open to having their viewpoints expanded and challenged across a broad spectrum of fields. Those things can only be evaluated by subjective perspectives, not the SAT.

False. First, there is no evidence that AR 1 applicants are, relative to AR 4 applicants, any less willing to “engage critically and meaningfully with their peers and their community.” If anything AR 1 students are more willing, or, at the very least they are much more willing to engage in academic work, and with a talent for doing so.

Second, are you arguing that the current Williams admissions process uses “subjective perspectives” in evaluating candidates? As if! Or are you arguing that it should? Perhaps. I am always happy to entertain a discussion of changes in the admissions process.

Not to say that Williams has done enough or that it should be content with where it is- the simple fact that you have 8400 students applying compared to 40000 at some top universities means that there is a significant cohort of good fit, high stats international students who should apply and largely be admitted. But here’s another question: how will Williams convince them to apply and attend over HYPS + other Ivies + other top 20 universities? The LAC name brand is virtually non-existent outside of the States, even for Williams and Amherst (beyond maybe Oxford/Cambridge/London).

Williams doesn’t need to convince 40,000 (or 40) high schools students (who don’t apply) to apply. We have plenty of applicants already! We just need to change who we admit and who we reject.

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There are Hundreds of Rejected AR 1s

Some readers doubted whether or not there were enough high quality applicants (currently) rejected by Williams who could be admitted as part of this plan. Allay those fears! There are hundreds of rejected AR 1s (and even more AR 2s) who would love to attend Williams if we were to accept them. Evidence:

Recall the 2005 Recipe (pdf) article:

The admission staff wait-listed or rejected nearly 300 of the 675 applicants to whom they had given their top “Academic 1” rating — a pool of students that, on average, ranked in the top 3 percent of their high school classes and had SAT scores of 1545.

Note Adam Falk’s report that, in the fall of 2013, Williams received more than 1,200 applications from students with academic ratings of 2. Since Williams accepts many fewer than 1,000 students in total from this bucket, there must also be hundreds of AR 2s who are rejected.

Amherst, to its credit, is much more transparent with its admissions data. Consider:

am4

Amherst admissions are not Williams admissions and SAT verbal scores are not the same thing as academic ratings. But, if there are almost 2,000 students with 700 and above verbal SAT scores who are rejected by Amherst, then there must be at least a few hundred AR 1 students rejected by Williams.

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How Admissions Works at Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Academic 1: at top or close to top of HS class / A record / exceptional academic program / 1520 – 1600 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 2: top 5% of HS class / mostly A record / extremely demanding academic program / 1450 – 1520 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 3: top 10% of HS class / many A grades / very demanding academic program / 1390 – 1450 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 4: top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 5: top 20% of HS class / B record / demanding academic program / 1260 – 1320 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 6: top 20% of HS class / B record / average academic program / 1210 – 1280 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 7: top 25% of HS class / mostly B record / less than demanding program / 1140 – 1220 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 8: top 33% of HS class / mostly B record or below / concern about academic program / 1000 – 1180 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 9: everyone else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic rating is, precisely, a “single linear scale” and it is, by far, the major driver of admissions decisions. This is true both for the process as a whole and within sub-groups. For example, African-American applicants with academic rating 1 to 3 are virtually certain to be admitted while those with academic rating 8 or 9 are almost always rejected. The College may have different standards across sub-categories but, within each subcategory (except athletes and development prospects), the academic rating explains 90% of the variation.

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

The Recipe is explicit:

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

Details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

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

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

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

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

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Admissions Data

An anonymous source sent me this file (csv) of data related to Williams admissions.

> library(readr)
> x < - read_csv(file = "http://ephblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/admissions.csv")
> x
# A tibble: 2,110 x 10
   class enrolled state       country      ethnicity   sex   act reading  math writing
                                    
 1  2017        0    AZ United States Asian American     M    NA     770   790     770
 2  2019        0    AZ United States Asian American     F    35     730   770     760
 3  2019        0    AZ United States Asian American     M    NA     800   720     800
 4  2019        0    BC        Canada Asian American     F    NA     800   750     750
 5  2013        1    CA United States Asian American     F    NA     790   800     800
 6  2013        1    CA United States Asian American     M    NA     760   780     790
 7  2013        1    CA United States Asian American     M    NA     790   800     710
 8  2013        1    CA United States Asian American     F    NA     650   590     670
 9  2014        1    CA United States Asian American     F    NA     790   780     720
10  2014        1    CA United States Asian American     F    35     750   800     700
# ... with 2,100 more rows
> 

Comments:

1) Does this look real to you? It does to me, although it is obviously just a sample. Opinions welcome.

2) Should I spend a week exploring this data?

3) The sample is a strange subset of what the “complete” data must look like. For example:

> table(x$class, x$enrolled)
      
         0   1
  2011  86  99
  2013  96 119
  2014 123 105
  2015 124 116
  2016  77 125
  2017 232 159
  2019 172 143
  2020 164 170

a) Note that there is no data for the class of 2018. Perhaps removing this data is one way that Williams keeps track of who it gave this data to and, therefore, who it can go after for leaking it to me.

b) The numbers of students range for 185 for the class of 2011 to 391 for the class of 2017. Since around 1,250 applicants are admitted to Williams each year, we definitely don’t have the complete data.

c) It is interesting to see data for applicants that we admitted — I assume that everyone in this data was admitted — but who chose not to enroll.

d) Would you believe a 230 point difference between Asian-American and African-American SAT scores among Williams students?

> x %>% filter(enrolled == 1) %>% group_by(ethnicity) %>% 
     summarise(count = n(), act = round(mean(act, na.rm = TRUE)), 
               sat = round(mean(reading + math, na.rm = TRUE))) %>% 
     arrange(desc(sat))
# A tibble: 7 x 4
        ethnicity count   act   sat
               
1  Asian American   186    34  1506
2    Unidentified    18    34  1488
3           White   569    33  1480
4          Non-US    24    31  1374
5 Hispanic/Latino    99    30  1341
6 Native American     7    26  1302
7           Black   133    29  1274

That is what the data suggest . . .

Can’t resist adding an image:

density

Code for generating this below the break.
Read more

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Best College, 5

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is the last day.

Let’s finish our discussion by going through the four specific recommendations given in the op-ed and providing some links to prior discussions.

First, we need to loosen the admissions goal for international students, which is currently at 8 percent. Besides the problematic morality of a policy that is indistinguishable from the Jewish quotas implemented by elite colleges a century ago, treating an (English-fluent) applicant born in Shanghai differently from one born in St. Louis makes little sense. The best college in the world will have the best students, regardless of the color of their passports.

International admissions (and the quota thereon) has been an EphBlog topic for more than a decade. Classic posts here and here. Although an informed reader provides some interesting comments here, there is no reason that Williams could not go from 8% international to Harvard’s 11%. International admissions should also focus less on country diversity and more on academic qualifications. You can be sure, for example, that a lot of the accepted students from places like Afghanistan and Botswana were less qualified than dozens of rejected applicants from places China and South Korea.

Second, we need to significantly decrease the admissions preferences given to athletes. The College has been decreasing these preferences for 15 years. Despite much grumbling from coaches and predictions of mediocrity from fans, the Director’s Cup trophies continue to roll in. It turns out that Williams coaches are excellent recruiters even when admissions standards are raised. Let’s raise them some more.

Key documents in the history of athletic preferences in admissions include the MacDonald Report and the 2009 Update. Read this useful summary of the debate. Despite decreasing admissions preferences for athletes significantly over the last 20 years, William still wins the Directors Cup almost every year!

Third, we should decrease the preferences given to under-represented minorities (URM) and to students from low income families. Of course, there are scores of such students with top-notch academic credentials. They would still be admitted and, eagerly, enrolled. But, given a choice between a URM or poor student with a 620 SAT average and a non-URM (perhaps an Asian-American?) or non-poor student (perhaps the middle class child of public high school teachers?) with a 770 average, we should prefer the academically more talented applicant.

Who recalls my ten part series on the incoherence of the preferences that Williams, and other elite schools, provide to poor families? Good stuff! (Especially the last post.) At his recent talk in Boston, President Falk reported that about 20% of the class of 2021 were from a family in which neither parent had a four year BA and that 20% were from a family poor enough to qualify for a Pell Grant. (Of course, there is a big overlap between these two groups.) Many of these Ephs are AR 1s (often coming to us via Questbridge), among the smartest students at Williams. We need more like them! But, at the other end of the spectrum are weak students, AR 4s and 5s. We need more AR 1s and, if those students happen to be middle class or have parents who graduated from college, so be it.

Fourth, we need to recruit more seriously. The number of Tyng Scholarships should be increased and their use should be focused on the most desirable applicants, almost all of whom will be African-American. Rather than offering them for incoming first-years, we should use the Summer Science Program and Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program to target high quality poor and URM high school juniors, potential applicants that we currently lose to HYPS. Senior faculty at the College should devote as much effort to attracting excellent students as our coaches do to recruiting excellent student-athletes.

The second biggest annoyance of the entire debate is the refusal of Falk, and the rest of the Williams administration, to take recruitment seriously. Not a single critic mentioned this paragraph. Williams desperately needs more AR 1/2/3 African-American students. We get some, but we lose many more to Harvard et al. Why don’t we do more? First, as I proposed 8 years ago, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-Americans, thereby luring 4 to 8 high quality students away from our elite peers. Second, Williams should use SSP/SHSS as a recruitment tool, not a preparation tool. Imagine that we invited 30 (or 50 or 100!) of the smartest poor and/or URM students in the country to Williams during the summer after their junior year in high school, thereby showing them what a magical place Williams can be, giving each of them the experience of a Williams tutorial. Then, in August, we tell the best of them, with a wink-and-a-nod, that they will be accepted to Williams if they apply early decision.

That is just part of what we would do if we were seriously interested in recruiting the best African-American/Hispanic and/or poor students in the country to come to Williams. We don’t do those things because . . .

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Best College, 4

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 4.

The portion of the op-ed least likely to be confronted by its critics:

[W]e are not the best college in the world today.

The average SAT section score for the Class of 2020 is about 720. At Macalester and Wesleyan, it is 690. At Yale and Princeton, it is about 750. Macalester and Wesleyan are fine schools. Yet every Eph considers Williams, correctly, to be a cut above – not because our dining hall food is tastier, our professors are more learned or our facilities are more sumptuous, but because our students are smarter.

Yet that same reasoning applies to Yale/Princeton relative to us. A 30-point difference in the score on a single SAT might not seem like much. Can anyone really say that an applicant that scored 750 is meaningfully “smarter” than one who scored 720? But, to the extent that we think that the quality of the College’s student body is better than that of Macalester/Wesleyan, we need to admit that it is worse than that of Yale/Princeton. As long as that is true, we will never be the best college in the world.

Note that this judgment does not depend on using only the (potentially flawed) metric of SAT scores. Williams is worse than Yale/Princeton and better than Macalester/Wesleyan on any reasonable measure of academic performance, whether that be the ACT, SAT II Subject Tests, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, high school grades, teacher recommendations and so on. Elite schools rank applicants using, more or less, the same criteria. SAT scores are a handy, and public, summary statistic which demonstrates the relative quality of our student body.

Critics quibble about what the “best” college is while, at the same time, recommending that virtually any student admitted to both Williams and Wesleyan should choose Williams, as more than 90% of such students actually do. Indeed, perhaps this implies a theorem:

EphBlog Maxim #5: College X is “better” than College Y if a large majority of high school seniors admitted to both X and Y choose X.

Obviously, this does not mean that X is better than Y for every student in the world. Lots of students won’t even apply to X because it lacks something (an engineering major, warm weather) which they value. Nor does it imply that X is better than Y for the (relatively few) students who choose Y over X. They probably had good reasons for doing so. Yet this definition captures, in a well-specified fashion, what it means for one college to be “better” than the other. It also provides a plausible metric for Williams to aim for:

EphBlog Maxim #6: The best college in the world is the college that is chosen most often by students admitted to both it and to one of its competitors.

Readers: How do you tell if one college is better than another college? If a high school senior was admitted to Williams (or Amherst/Pomona) and to Weslesyan (or Macallister/Bates), wouldn’t you recommend that she choose Williams (or Amherst/Pomona)? If not, then why do 90% or more of such dual admittees choose the Williams/Amherst/Pomona option?

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Best College, 3

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 3.

The Record butchered both the title of the op-ed and its opening paragraph. It should have been:

The Best College in the World

The mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world. “Best” means two things: First, we want the most academically talented students. Second, we want those students to thrive at Williams more than they would have at an alternative institution. Ignore the second criteria and focus on student quality. We are not the best college in the world today.

1) Williams does have an official “mission and purposes” statement. Alas, it is too long, too vague and too littered with the parochial political concerns of our era. I think we should replace it with the simple “best college in the world” formulation, but that is a debate for another day.

2) Whatever else it means, being the “best” college means having the “best” students. Of course, plenty will differ, will argue that, for example, it is more important, or as important, for Williams student body to be “diverse” — for various conflicting measures of diversity — than for it to be academically excellent. But the nice thing about academic excellence is that we all (mostly!) agree on what it means. Other metrics of “best” will always be too contested to provide a shared meaning.

3) I would leave the definition of the “best” students to the Williams faculty and the professionals in the admissions department. For example, the College could, each year, provide each faculty member with a list of all the students in the graduating class that she has taught and then ask her which of these students were her “best” students. Leave it to her to decide if “best” means highest grades or most engaged in class discussion or most original writing or whatever criteria she prefers.

When you do this, you will find that the vast, vast majority of students judged as “best” by the Williams faculty are academic rating 1 or 2, as determined by the admissions department. Very, very few of the students with academic rating below 4 are ever considered to be the “best” by Williams faculty. So, we should have more AR 1s and fewer AR 5s..

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Best College, 2

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 2.

The key recommendation from the op-ed:

In order to create a Williams with students as smart as those at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford (HYPS), we need to replace about 100 of these “other” admits with “academic” admits.

Recall the data (pdf) for the class of 2020:

sat2

Williams should reject about 100 students (who it currently accepts) in that lowest academic bands (math+verbal SAT below 1300, composite ACT below 31, academic rating below 4). We should accept 100 students (who we currently reject) from the highest academic bands (math+verbal SAT above 1520, composite ACT above 34, academic rating of 1). Speaking roughly, this would cause the average academic quality of Williams students to match the average quality of Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford students. (Math left as an exercise for the reader.) The op-ed concludes:

A Williams whose student quality matched Yale’s would be halfway to meeting its mission of being the best college in the world. Such a Williams, at least in the short-term, would have about as many URM students as Middlebury, as many Pell Grant recipients as Colby and athletic team winning records similar to Hamilton’s. That seems a reasonable trade-off.

There are costs to doing the 100-student-swap. Williams might go from 8% African-America to 4%, just like Middlebury. We might go from 20% Pell Grant recipients to 10%, just like Colby. Our sports teams might go from amazing to average, just like Hamilton’s. If you think that Middlebury/Colby/Hamilton are horrible colleges because of these metrics then, obviously, you wouldn’t want to make that trade-off. To me, it seems worth it.

Readers: What types of students do you think Williams should admit more of? And, which students that we currently accept would you reject in order to make room for them?

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Best College, 1

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 1.

The Williams admissions process is both complex and opaque but, broadly speaking, admitted students can be placed in two categories: academic and other. “Academic” admits are students who were admitted primarily for academic reasons. “Other” admits have scores/grades that would have led to rejection if it were not for some special attribute. The vast majority of “other” admits fall into three categories: athletics, race and income. In aggregate, they make up about one-half of each incoming class.

This is an accurate (brief!) summary of the current Williams admissions process. Read this and this for more details. Key sentence (from an official Williams publication):

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

Academic rating of 2 means (1450 – 1520) Math + Verbal SAT, with high school grades, teacher recommendations and other measures to match. The 1450 score is a convenient cut off because it is the median for the class of 2020 (pdf).

sat

The pretty little lie that Williams would like you to believe is that a wide variety of attributes — amazing actress, wonder editor of the school paper, caring volunteer — matter to the admissions process, that these talents/accomplishments explain many of the admissions approvals for students with below 1300 SAT scores. Sure, Williams will admit if pressed, athletic ability, family income/education and race play a role as well, but they are just some of the factors that might cause Williams to admit a student with SAT scores 100 or more points below the median.

But that is the lie. Of the bottom 100+ students in each class, those with academic ratings below 4, with SAT scores below 1300, 95% fall into the key categories of athlete (meaning a “tip,” specifically named by a coach), race (meaning African-American or Hispanic) and family background (meaning low income and/or non-BA holding parents). These are the categories that absolutely drive admissions decisions, especially for the bottom 100 students, but more broadly for the bottom half of the class.

And that is OK! Williams is a private institution and it can use whatever metrics it likes. In fact, Williams does the same thing as the vast majority of elite colleges. There is no scandal here.

The problem is when Williams lies — either explicitly or by omission — in its descriptions of the process. Lying is bad, both in and of itself and because it makes it impossible for faculty, students and alumni to have an informed discussion about what the policy should be.

Plea to the Record: Educate your readers about the details of the current Williams admissions process. Ask Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 questions like this:

Of the 100 or so students in the class of 2020 with math+verbal SAT score below 1300 and/or ACT below 31 and/or academic rating below 4, what percentage of them also have at least one of the following “attributes”: African-American/Hispanic, athletic tip or low family income/education?

The answer will be 95% or more. Although there are a tiny handful of applicants who are admitted with such low academic credentials — major donors? college employees? veterans? — these are a sideshow compared to the main drivers of race/athletics/income.

And, again, that is OK! Williams can admit who it wants for whatever reasons it chooses. But the Record should tell us the truth, should inform us that almost no one is admitted in the bottom 100 because they are a great artist or a promising student leader. (They might also be those things but that is not the reason they were accepted.)

Once we all understand what the admissions process is today, we can discuss what it should be tomorrow.

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Paresky Meeting Today

An interesting invitation in the most recent all-faculty e-mail message:

Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2017 01:18:03 -0400
From: message@williams.edu
Reply-To: noreply@williams.edu
To: DM-FACULTY-L@listserv.williams.edu
Subject: Daily Messages for Friday, Sep 22, 2017

______________________________________________________________________

D A I L Y M E S S A G E S Friday, Sep 22, 2017
______________________________________________________________________

=== Announcements ===
1. Food for Thought Fridays: Kane’s Record editorial

______________________________________________________________________

=== Announcements ===

1. Food for Thought Fridays: Kane’s Record editorial
Do you have a reaction to alumni David Kane’s editorial in the
Record? What does it mean to be “the best”? Come talk about it.
Today, Friday, 9/22, noon-1:00 p.m., Paresky 201
MORE: http://web.williams.edu/messages/show.php?id=43718
from Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College

The same invitation appears in the Daily Messages. Comments:

1) Op-ed is here. Seems like we ought to spend next week going though it in detail!

2) TL;DR: The mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world. To be the best college, we need the best students. Right now, we lose too many of the best students to places like Harvard, at least partially because the best students want to be surrounded by the smartest possible peers. To fix this, we need to change, at least for a few years, our admissions procedures so that our students are, on average, as smart as Harvard students. We also need to recruit desirable students, especially under-represented minorities, much more seriously.

3) Williams ought to invite this Kane fellow to give a speech on campus. He has some interesting ideas! Or would that be too uncomfortable?

4) Recommended discussion questions:

Does anyone disagree with the claim that, in order to be the best college in the world, we need the best students?

Does anyone disagree with the claim that Williams is a better college than Macalaster/Weslesyan, “not because our dining hall food is tastier, our professors are more learned or our facilities are more sumptuous, but because our students are smarter”?

Does it not follow that Princeton is a better college — on average, not necessarily for every high school senior — than Williams? If not, then why do 90% of the seniors admitted to both Princeton and Williams choose Princeton?

Are any of the claims made in the op-ed about the current Williams admissions process false?

5) If any readers attend the event, tell us how it goes.

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