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Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 3

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

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

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

Brennan Barnard is an idiot.

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

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

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

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


Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the WSJ:

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

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

Two options:

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

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

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

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

Read more


Welcome to the Class of 2021

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

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

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

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


Windows on Williams III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Welcome to the Class of 2019 IV

See the news release on early admissions for details. There is enough good information here that we need to spend four days reviewing it. This is day 4.

Academically, the Class of 2019 Early Decision contingent rivals any in the college’s past. Standardized test score averages are in line with previous Early Decision cohorts: SAT averages of 709 critical reading, 701 math, and 707 writing, and an ACT average of 32.

“Rivals” is a polite way of saying “not as good as.” For the class of 2018, the College reported:

Standardized test score averages are higher than any previous Early Decision cohort: 716 Critical Reading, 713 Math and 724 Writing and 32 ACT.

For the class of 2017, we have:

This is reflected in the impressive standardized test score averages: 711 critical reading, 706 math, and 724 writing.

As always, the best summary statistic is Reading + Math. The trend is 2017 (1417), 2018 (1429) and 2019 (1410). A drop of 19 points in the last year may just be a blip. Or is could be a sign that the College is putting more emphasis on race/income/athletics now, at least in the ED pool. Informed commentary is welcome.

Of course, what we really need a a good time series of this data and comparisons to peer schools. Who will build this for us?


Welcome to the Class of 2019 III

See the news release on early admissions for details. There is enough good information here that we need to spend four days reviewing it. This is day 3.

Twenty-two students are first-generation college students (that is, neither parent has a four-year college degree), almost twice last year’s total, and nearly 20 percent of Early Decision admits come from low-income families. “We are especially gratified by the socioeconomic diversity represented in the Early Decision group, a direct result of the success of two expanded fall fly-in programs for high-ability, low-income students,” Nesbitt said.

1) See our Socio-Ec Admissions category for much more background on this topic. Highlights: Defining low socio-economic status is hard, both because opinions vary as to what disadvantages matter and because of a lack of data from applicants. Different colleges do it different ways. At Williams, the traditional definition is, as above, neither parent with a four year college degree and checking the need-financial-aid box. So, even if your parents are (retired) millionaires and you have gone to Milton for 12 years, you add “socioeconomic diversity” to Williams as long as the no-4-year-degree criteria is met.

2) Does the Williams definition still require checking the need-financial-aid box? Is there such a box on the Common Ap? Annoyingly, a PDF version of the Common Ap is no longer available.

3) How does the College know that 20% of students come from “low-income families?” Unless the Common Ap has changed (corrections welcome), there is no income information. I suspect that the College counts anyone who asks for a fee waiver as “low income,” but this seems highly suspect to me. Students, at least smart ones, know that Williams gives advantages to poorer applicants, so why not ask for a fee waiver? Note that the requirements for asking for (and always receiving?) a fee waiver or incredibly loose. They include:

You are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
Your family receives public assistance.
You can provide a supporting statement from a school official, college access counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader.

So, if you grab an apple from the local food bank one time (and therefore receive “public assistance”), you can check this box.

Advice to applicants: Always ask for a fee waiver.

4) As much as Williams likes to preen about the its “socioeconomic diversity,” that diversity has been decreasing dramatically in recent years, even by the College’s own (suspect) metrics. For the class of 2012, 21% of all students were first generation. In recent classes, according President Falk’s public talks, it has been around 1/7. So, there will be around 58 fewer first generation students in the class of 2019 then there were in the class of 2012. Progress, comrades!

(Yes, I see that 20% of the students in ED were first generation, but that percentage will almost certainly come down for the final pool, at least assuming that the class of 2019 is similar to recent classes.)


Welcome to the Class of 2019 II

See the news release on early admissions for details. There is enough good information here that we need to spend four days reviewing it. This is day 2.

American students of color comprise 30 percent of the Early Decision group, including 27 African Americans, 25 Asian Americans, 20 Latinos, and one Native American. Twenty-two students are first-generation college students (that is, neither parent has a four-year college degree), almost twice last year’s total,and nearly 20 percent of Early Decision admits come from low-income families.

1) How is the College counting racial minorities now-a-days? Here is key section of the Common Application.


The College has many students who consider themselves bi-racial, especially students with one Asian and one white parent. Many of those applicants — well aware that elite colleges discriminate against Asian-Americans (although it us unclear if Williams does so) — will either check only the White box or decline to provide any racial info. Nothing that the College can do about that. But how does the College count students who check two boxes, say White and Asian? Do such students get included in the 25 Asian Americans?

The College Board reports:

The ethnicity question on the Common Application has been updated to meet the Department of Education reporting requirements.

Always fun to watch different parts of the US Government disagree about racial classifications! The choices given above are very different than the choices provided on, say, the US Census. My sense is that the Department of Education did not like the Census approach because that approach makes it harder to keep track — or even minimizes (or maximizes!)? — the percentage of black students. Does anyone understand the politics? In particular, by getting rid of the “More Than One Race” option, it forces (?) black students to check the Black box and/or prevents the Colleges from claiming that the “More Thank One Race” students might be Black when, in fact, they are much more likely to be mixed White/Asian.

Answers to the ethnicity question are not required for submission.

What advice do readers have for applicants to Williams? High school students applying to, say, Harvard, should do everything possible to minimize their Asianess, but I don’t think that being an Asian American hurts when applying to Williams. (Of course, many/most students applying to Williams will also apply to schools that are likely to discriminate against Asians.)

Also, how does Williams count students who decline to answer? See extensive discussion of this topic eight (!) years ago. Back to the Common Ap.

If you choose to answer this question, you may provide whatever answer you feel best applies to you or any groups of which you feel you are a part. You can answer all or none of the questions. If you wish to answer the ethnicity question but feel that the established categories do not fully capture how you identify yourself, you may provide more detail in the Additional Information section of the application.

Bold added. Recall our discussion from several years ago, referencing a New York Times article:

The average combined SAT differential between African-American and Asian-American students at places like Williams is around 150 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. It states, “If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply.” In other words, there is no requirement that you “look” African-American or that other people identify you as African-America or even that you identify yourself as African-American, you just have to “wish to be identified.”

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?

“This is not just somebody’s desire to go find out whether their grandfather is Polish,” said Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University who has studied the social impact of the tests. “It’s about access to money and power.”

So true. Note that Duster gave a talk at Williams a few months ago. Too bad that no one on campus blogged about it. I’d bet that it was interesting.

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.

Note also that these tests often make mistakes, so many of the box-checkers will actually be mistaken.

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? Time will tell. It will be very interesting to look at the time series of application by ethnic group over this decade. I predict that the raw number (and total pool percentage) of African-American and Hispanic applicants will increase sharply. Time will tell.

Eight years later, what has time told us?


Welcome to the Class of 2019 I


See the news release on early admissions for details. There is enough good information here that we need to spend four days reviewing it. This is day 1.

Williams College has offered admission to 244 students under its Early Decision plan. The 112 women and 132 men will comprise 44 percent of the incoming Class of 2019, whose ultimate target size is 550.

A better run blog would maintain a time series of this information. How has ED data changes over time? Alas, we have fallen behind on this and many other fronts. My New Year’s Resolution is to spend much more time on EphBlog in 2015. What would readers like to read about?

Do we have any readers from the class of 2019? Let us know in the comments. In fact, tell us about yourselves! One project in 2015 will be to collect as many Twitter accounts, Tumblrs, blogs and other (public) profiles of Williams students. Recall EphBlog’s purpose: To encourage, organize and support the Williams Conversation. If you are an Eph with something to say, we want to share your words and pictures with the broader Williams community.

More to come in January . . .


Welcome to Early Decision Ephs!

Welcome to the 200+ applicants who were just officially accepted into the Williams College class of 2015 via Early Decision. (Successful Questbridge applicants found out two weeks ago and some athletic tips were promised spots by Williams coaches months earlier.)

College Confidential provides a useful discussion thread. Clicking around the usernames and their past posts — especially ones entitled “Chance Me” — will illustrate just how insanely competitive Williams admissions has become.

Openbook is a simple tool for searching Facebook updates. Here are all the recent mentions of Williams College. As of this writing, there are only two acceptances. (Decisions only became available at 8:00 PM.) Given the central role that Facebook plays in teen-age life, I expect that number to increase dramatically in the next day or two.

Any questions for the EphBlog community?


Early Decision News Release

Let’s read the College’s news release on Early Decision closely.

Williams College announced acceptance of 216 of the 533 applicants for its Early Decision program. The 216 accepted applicants represent 39 percent of the total number of students projected for the Class of 2014.

216 is 39% of 554. Bad news! Williams should be cutting costs further to get its expenses in line with its revenues. Instead, it is continuing the practice (started with the class of 2013) of having classes that are over 550 instead of the usual target of 538 or so.

Fifteen extra students may not seem like much, but that is 15 singles turned into doubles for every year. Do this for two more years, and there will be 60 students in doubles who would have been in singles under the traditional class size.

Nothing creates housing conflict more than doubles. Williams ought to aim for a slogan like: Every room a single. Or at least: Every upperclass room a single. How much worse would your Williams experience have been if you had had an extra year in a double?

The people who run Williams are unwilling to make the hard cuts, so they take the easy way out. They don’t care if students live in doubles, if popular classes are harder to get into, if limited resources like tutorials are stretched further. They just want to keep their Children’s Center and Bolin Fellows.

“Williams is once again well on its way to enrolling one of the strongest entering classes in the country,” Nesbitt said. “We have read and considered their files closely, and we’re excited about the abilities, energy, and commitment they’ll bring to all facets of life on campus.

“Although the total number of applications was down relative to last year,” said Nesbitt, “the quality of the pool was exceptional, and the admitted group was as interesting and talented as any in recent memory.”

Hmmm. I am sure that all this is true, but, in past years, hasn’t the College done more bragging about the quality of the incoming students? Perhaps not. Back in the day, Admissions Director Phil Smith ’54 was famous for telling (truthfully!) each incoming class that they were the smartest, most accomplished class in Williams history. Seniors would then ruefully remark that they must, therefore, be the dumbest class on campus.

Accepted Early Decision students include 108 men and 108 women, with average verbal and math SAT scores of 706 and 705 respectively. Nineteen of the students identified themselves as African American, 16 as Asian American, 11 as Latino, two as Native American, and 11 as non-U.S. citizens.

Recall our debates from fall 2008 about whether the economic crisis would lead to a drop in demand for a Williams education as some families choose cheaper (but still high quality) state schools over Williams. Has there been a decrease in the quality of Early Decision admitted students? From 2002:

The admitted group has average SAT scores of 712 verbal and 700 math, compared with last year’s 709 and 702.

So, the average SAT scores (for accepted Early Decision students) was 1411 for class of 2006, 1412 for class of 2007, 1419 for the class of 2010, 1417 for the class of 2012 and 1411 for class of 2014. Seems fairly stable to me!

[Needless to say, there are a lot of complexities here, the composition of the ED pool may have changed, and so on. But, big picture, there is no good evidence that demand for a Williams education has been affected by the financial crisis and, so, the quality of Williams students has stayed mostly constant.]

Factoid: Dick Nesbitt gives an annual talk at reunion about the college admissions process, with lots of Williams specific details. Highly recommended! He mentioned that 50+ of the College’s 66 athletic tips are admitted Early Decision.

Mystery: I am still confused about how much of an advantage “normal” students have in apply for Early Decision compared to Regular Decision. Does anyone care to speculate? The College claims that there is no advantage, and the similarity between these average SAT scores and those for the class as a whole would tend to support that, especially since 1/4 of the ED students are tips. But, at the same time, The Early Admissions Game argues convincingly that applying early to places like Williams (and I believe that Williams was in their dataset) is worth 100-150 SAT points (on Math/Verbal combined). Thoughts?


Early Decision

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Feb. 4, 2009 — Williams College mailed notification letters of acceptance to 231 of the 614 Early Decision applicants to the class of 2013. This year’s number of applications reached an all-time record for the college of students who chose to apply Early Decision.

The admitted group of 116 women and 115 men hail from 35 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and six foreign countries.

Of the 50 accepted, who identified as American students of color, 21 are African-American, 15 are Asian American, and 14 are Latino.

Press Release


Understanding Early Decision

Isn’t there anyone at Williams who can accurately explain what is going on with early admissions to the students? Judging from the content of Willa Marquis’s ’09 op-ed, apparently not. Into the breach once more.

On Thursday, Education Reform and Advocacy (ERA) held our first panel discussion on Early Decision and the Politics of Socioeconomic Equality in Higher Education, featuring several Williams professors and members of the administration as speakers.

Interesting. Who said what? Did anyone blog it or record it?

Other friends told me that they knew they wanted to come to Williams and wanted to take advantage of the higher acceptance rate of early applicants, but couldn’t because they didn’t know if Williams would offer them enough financial aid.

If those friends were poor, they did not need to worry. Does Marquis know that? Did the panelists explain it? If you’re family makes less than $50,000 (Is that the current number at Williams?) you go free. There is no need to comparison shop.

Now, if your family makes between 50k and, say, 200k, there may be reason to skip early decision and apply to multiple schools. For these applicants, shopping for college is like shopping for cars. You are in the land of Morty’s bazaar, and the only way to guarantee a fair deal is to shop around. I find it hard, however, to drum up a lot of sympathy for those applicants. Life is full of trade-offs. You can improve your odds by applying early or you can, perhaps, improve your aid package by applying widely. Learn the facts and make your choice.

While I understand the desire to ease the college application process – I was one of those indecisive, apply-to-ten-different-schools types – I can’t help but recognize early decision as yet another edge for students from more privileged backgrounds.

Early decision is only an edge because Williams gives these applicants an edge. The problem — to the extent that you see it as a problem — is that Williams has lower standards for early decision. The College could easily keep the early decision program and just raise the standards so that your odds of admission were the same early or regular. Did anyone point this out at the panel? If not, Marquis should find better panelists.

From a logistical standpoint, speaker Mark Robertson, Assistant Director of Admission, brought up a fascinating point during the panel: Harvard can count on an 85 percent yield from its accepted students. That means that Harvard can estimate very accurately the number of students that will attend Harvard. Williams just doesn’t have this guarantee, and since, according to Robertson, Williams can’t afford to over-enroll its small first-year class, a lot of pressure would be applied to the waitlist phase of the admissions process.

Perhaps. But, again, the key issue is not yes-early-decision versus no-early-decision; it is lower-standards-early-decision versus equal-standards-early decision. At a place like Williams, enrollment management is just not a major concern. Robertson certainly knows this. Why couldn’t he explain it more clearly?

Also, note that the issue is not the yield rate (Harvard’s 85% versus Williams 50%), it is the stability of the rate. As long as Williams rate is stable at 50%, Robertson’s job is no harder than his counterpart’s at Harvard. Which school has the more stable rate? I don’t have the data handy, but I would bet that, over the last decade, the rate has been at least as steady at Williams. I have seen no evidence to the contrary.

The rest of the piece meanders on. Does the Record no longer require its writers to have a thesis? I was struck by two other comments.

According to Alex Willingham, professor of political science, who spoke as well, the admissions office does a very good job bringing people of all backgrounds to this campus (many, of course, may find this point debatable), but the administration does not put forth the effort to make this campus truly receptive to diversity. In particular, he mentioned the appointment – or lack thereof – of diverse faculty members.

I know faculty members who think that Williams should hire the best applicants, regardless of color. Are those faculty members willing to debate with Willingham, to argue against his nose-counting? [Maybe Willingham is looking for ideological diversity? — ed. Perhaps.]

Realistically, we make assumptions about fellow students based on their appearance, or single parts of their lives, and some clubs and activities at this campus are only truly available to select members of the student population.

Which clubs are these? I realize that there are certain clubs that are, say, majority African-American, but I thought that just about every club at Williams was eager for more participants, would welcome any student with a genuine interest. Am I naive?

UPDATE: The other obvious evidence why Robertson’s claim is 95% blowing smoke (at least at a school like Williams) is that MIT, with a 67% yield, does not give any meaningful advantage to its early applicants. A school does not need Harvard’s yield rate in order to manage its enrollment efficiently. Again, I am a fan of early decision, but there is no reason to use misleading justifications in support of it.



President Schapiro has all sorts of sensible things to say about early admissions.

While a primary concern about early admissions is that it can leave financial aid students at a disadvantage, Schapiro does not see this as a particular problem for the College. “At Williams we have made enormous strides in recent years in increasing the socio-economic diversity of our early applicants,” he said. “Our recent outreach efforts along with the increased generosity of our aid packages explain the willingness of students to commit to Williams before knowing the financial aid package we will offer.”

Correct. Again, middle class students still take a bit of a risk in applying early. They might have more leverage if they applied to other schools, were accepted and then could compare offers. But I suspect that this issue is a small one (in terms of number of students affected and dollars which those students pay) and I trust those applicants to weigh the trade-offs themselves.

Schapiro also addressed the fear that early admissions may create more stress for applicants or cause students to strategize too much. “While I have been very vocal in decrying the negative aspects of the current admissions frenzy, it isn’t clear to me that moving away from early admissions really improves the situation,” he said. “Some students know where they want to go by October of their senior year and forcing them to wait until April doesn’t seem to me to do any good.”

After all, he said, “If the most selective colleges and universities all gave up early admissions, I think the frenzy will not only move to the spring, but will be increased, with students applying to even larger numbers of top schools.” Schapiro also noted that this would create uncertainty for both applicants and colleges.

Exactly correct! The stress in elite high schools would increase exponentially if the entire senior class was applying and finding out at the same time. Much better to stagger the process. Indeed, given the incentives on all sides, don’t be surprised when aggressive colleges (Grinnell? Duke?) start offering applications and acceptances to students in the spring of their junior year in high school.

At a recent board of trustees meeting, Schapiro and the members discussed early admissions, and he said that it will be a topic of October’s meeting as well. “As an empirical economist, it should be no surprise that we will be taking a close look at recent data in determining how we will move forward,” he said. “Given our position as a leader in academe, I suspect we will focus heavily on the broad social issues as well as on our narrower institutional goals.”

Hmmm. I hope that this means that Williams will wait at least two years to see what the data say. I predict that the quality of Williams students will rise. But I worry whenever anyone talks about “broad social issues.” The president of Williams shoud focus on what is best for Williams. The social issues will take care of themselves.

For now, my prediction is that Williams will keep ED, at least for 2007. I also expect Amherst to follow Harvard’s lead and end ED next year. Given all his rhetoric, how could Marx not follow Harvard’s lead on this?


Still an Option

This Berkshire Eagle article doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.

But Richard Nesbitt, Williams College director of admissions, said yesterday no similar plans are on the table at Williams, where he said generous financial aid and recruitment efforts have helped head off such issues. Early decision has been an option at Williams for about 40 years and usually selects about a third of the incoming classes.

“We’ve never really considered dropping early decision,” he said. “We’ve always felt it was something that makes sense for those students who really have done their homework and found a definite first choice.”

Good. Williams would be foolish to drop Early Decision.

Nesbitt said Williams has been able to mitigate through its financial aid record. The college promises to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need of students who are admitted, and has worked to limit the amount of student-loan debts lower-income students need to take on.

“Our need-based packages are as competitive as any in the country, so there is less worry they may get a better deal somewhere else,” he said.

This is true for the most part, but is it always true? For example, what happens when a student is admitted to both Williams and Princeton? Both meet her financial “need” but Princeton requires no loans while Williams (initially) expects her to borrow several thousand dollars. Does Williams meet the Princeton offer?


Antitrust problems in ending early admission?

Over at Truth on the Market, Thom Lambert (co-blogger of my Antitrust and Contracts II professor, Dr. Joshua Wright), notes incorrectly suggests that Williams is involved in discussions on the future of early admission that give off the unavoidable whiff of forbiddencollusive behavior of the sort that elite higher educational entities have been known.

(UPDATE: 10:10 pm)
After looking into the story more closely, it appears that I based my conclusions on some erroneous data, although I remain as firmly opposed to eliminating ED as humanly possible. The meeting discussed in the article linked from TOTM was in June, so I apologize for and withdraw any implication that this was in response to Harvard’s costless PR maneuver. Based on that, I incorrectly concluded that the presidents were meeting “to discuss, among other things, collectively eliminating their early admission programs and reducing merit-based aid.” (as TOTM described the NYT’s description of the June meeting) in response to Harvard.

Obviously, if that WERE the scenario (which it is not), the analysis below the cut would be true (if not necesarily fair or charitable), and I suspect that any such descision-making would not happen in the future.

So, again, my apologies, and I’ll leave my commentary below the cut for posterity rather than eliminate evidence of my errors.

Read more


More Admission Changes

As a follow up to Harvard’s decision to end Early Action, The New York Times noted:

Officials at many elite colleges and universities said yesterday [last week] that they would carefully consider how to respond to Harvard University’s decision to eliminate early admissions, though none were yet ready to follow Harvard’s lead.

“This will be a big topic of discussion on all these college campuses,” said Richard L. Nesbitt, director of admission at Williams College. “It is something we will consider. Will we change? I don’t know.”

At Williams, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and many other highly selective institutions, students who apply early must, in return for early acceptance, give an ironclad commitment to attend.

Nesbitt seems more open-minded to change than I would have expected. Perhaps he is being polite and/or cagey. There is almost no chance that Williams will make a change now. It has too much to lose. It also stands the potential of making some non-trivial gains. First, students who, in the past, would have applied early to and gotten accepted by Harvard/Princeton, will now be tempted by early decision at Williams. Isn’t the appeal of having the whole process done by December 15th as great now as it was 25 years ago? Second, those students will need to apply to other schools regular decision, including Williams. Many will be accepted and some will fall in love with Williams. They will end up at Williams because Harvard and Princeton no longer provide an early admissions option.

Will either effect be large? Tough to know. But if even 25 kids, who would have gone to H/P, end up at Williams instead, that would be important to the overall quality of the Williams student body.

Critics argue that this forces low-income students to commit before being able to compare financial aid offerings from that college and others.

What a crock! This debate is really quite dishonest, and it will be fun to puncture many of the misleading arguments made by these “critics.” (Also, if you’re a New York Times reporter looking for someone knowledgeable who thinks that these “critics” are full of crudola, call me! I am highly quotable.)

Anyway, every Harvard kid whose family makes less than $60,000 per year gets a free ride. The family pays nothing. Princeton is even more generous, with no loans in its financial aid package. If you can get into Harvard or Princeton, financial aid is just not that big of a deal.

But that’s not the misleading part. The key issue is:

The reason rich kids have an advantage in early admissions — whether early action or early decision — is because the institutions themselves (places like Harvard, Princeton and Williams) give them that advantage.

These colleges consciously lower the bar for early admissions. If they wanted, they could fairly easily make the standard for early admissions the same as for regular. (Yes, they don’t know what the full pool will look like until January, but the applicant pools at top schools are remarkably constant in make-up from year to year.) But H/P/W choose not to do so. They choose to accept some applicants early who they know would not make the cut in the full pool. They choose to “advantage the advantaged.” See The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite for full details.

Yet it is their choice. Instead of getting rid of early admissions, Harvard could achieve its stated goal by simply letting in fewer applicants, only those applicants who it is certain would be admitted in the spring. That way, no other applicants are disadvantaged by early admissions. It doesn’t affect their chances one way or the other.

But that isn’t what Harvard choose to do because this debate isn’t really (just) about helping poor applicants. There are much more ideological forces at work. Beware of colleges looking out for your best interest.



There is so much to write about with regard to Harvard’s decision to end Early Action that it is tough to know where to begin. Today’s project is parsing this Inside Higher Ed overview.

Harvard University, in announcing plans Tuesday to eliminate its early admissions program next year and move to a January 1 application deadline for all undergraduates, made clear that it would welcome any institution wanting to follow its lead.

“We hope other places will give up early admission,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard College’s dean of admissions and financial aid. “Plenty of institutions that are exceedingly strong [in enrollment rates] could consider this. It’s not a small number. It’s a large number.”

Good luck. As the rest of the article makes clear, lots of schools have no interest in following Harvard’s lead because EA/ED (early action/early decision) are useful programs (for them). Of course, Harvard doesn’t care what lesser schools do, but if Yale/Stanford/Princeton don’t follow suit, EA will be back in two years.

Richard Zeckhauser, a Harvard professor of political economy and co-author of the book The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite, said that if institutions such as Princeton University and Stanford University stick with early admissions programs, even non-binding ones, they will “undoubtedly enroll top students who would have applied early to Harvard and gone to Harvard prior to this change.”

Exactly correct. (Full disclosure: Zeckhauser was my thesis adviser. See here for another review of the book.)

For years, education experts have said that the practice of binding early admissions favors wealthy applicants who have the benefits of college counseling and don’t need to compare financial aid packages among institutions. Colleges are generally filling more and more of their classes with early applicants, which some feel adds increasing pressure on high school seniors to select their favorite college by late fall.

The only reason that EA/ED favor wealthy applicants is because the college’s themselves do the favoring. Harvard could easily keep EA and just ensure that the same standards were used for EA as RD (regular decision). (In fact, Harvard claims to do precisely this, but that’s a fight for another day.) No one is holding a gun to Harvard’s (or Williams’) head and demanding that EA/ED applicants be held to a lower standard. Colleges choose to do so because doing so fulfills their goals.

Love the “some feel” usage above. Who feels this? Again, the whole notion that EA/RD is, on net, bad for students (especially the students at rich schools, i.e., the only ones likely to feel this “pressure”) is mostly ridiculous. Maybe kids today are different, but the chance to get the whole process done by December, to have 4 extra months of rest and relaxation, was a wonderful deal back in the day. Am I the only one who thinks that the Let’s-Stress-Out-Every-High-Achieving-Student until April 15 is not really what students themselves want?

Richard C. Levin, Yale’s president, said in a statement that it’s unclear that eliminating early admissions would result in the entrance of more students from low income families.

Correct! The whole we’re-doing-this-for-the-poor-kids schtick is a crock because Harvard can favor poor kids as much or as little as it wants to right now. If Harvard were just concerned about letting in too many rich kids early in the process it could, you know, stop letting in so many rich kids via EA. Harvard has the power. No, the issue here is much deeper.

By the way, if Larry Summers were still president of Harvard, I bet that this change would not have happened.

Harvard’s program, which was adopted more than 30 years ago, is non-binding and allows students until May to make their choice. Fitzsimmons, the Harvard admissions dean, said the university wanted to bring attention to the country’s increasingly high stakes and high pressure admission process, which he said “has veered out of control badly in the past three or four years.”

We have mocked Fitzsimmons before. Is there any evidence that things now are more out of control than they were in, say, 2002? None that I am aware of. Moreover, Harvard could easily makes things easier on it applicants by making public the data on applicants and acceptances grouped by various criteria. For example, if you are non-URM, non-athletic-recruit, non-billionaire and have less than 1400 SATs, your chance of getting into Harvard is probably less than 1%. If Harvard published that data, it would save thousands of applicants all sorts of anxiety. But Fitzsimmons won’t publish it because he wants thousands of students, with no realistic chance of getting in, to apply.

Admissions deans at some of the highly competitive, but smaller, liberal arts colleges, said they are in a different position from Harvard when it comes to admissions. Dickinson College, for instance, gets slightly less than half of its class of about 600 students each year from early admission. Robert J. Massa, vice president for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College, said the program helps the college get an early idea of its fall enrollment, and it has no plans to eliminate the program.

Speaking of people that we have mocked, there is no reason to believe anything that Robert J. Massa has to say. Dickison needs to “get an early idea of its fall enrollment”? Give me a break! The food service people need to figure out, a year in advance how many hot dogs to order? The reason that Dickison uses ED so much is that doing so pushes up the yield numbers and the quality (and wealth) if its entering class. I don’t begrudge Dickison doing so. Indeed, if I were Massa, I would recommend the same. But try not to lie to us in an overly transparent manner. It’s insulting!

Massa said there’s a misconception among many applicants that because they are accepted to a college with a binding admission program, they must enroll. He said students should know that they can still discard the application and enroll elsewhere if the financial aid package isn’t to their liking.

Whoa! Really? That’s not my understanding. Doesn’t Williams require you not to even apply elsewhere if you are accepted ED? If so, then a students ability to “enroll elsewhere” is theoretical at best.

Thomas Parker, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College, said his institution restricts early admissions to 30 percent. Parker said “far too many colleges are taking far too great a percentage of their class” that way. He said he expects a more robust discussion about the economics of early admission in the coming months.

“We’re happy with where we are,” Parker added. “If we were to venture out there on our own among small liberal arts colleges, there would be a considerable risk. If we would do it in company with Williams and other liberal arts colleges, there would be less risk.”

EphBlog hearts Tom Parker ’69 because he tells it like it is, although you can be sure that the admissions officers at places like Dickison are thinking “It’s easy for Amherst to say that the rest of us use ED too much. If I were in Parker’s shoes, I could get away with just 30% too!”

Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions at Williams College, said that the institution has had early admissions since the early 1960s and that he would be surprised if many colleges, including his, follow Harvard’s lead. He said athletics admissions also play a role — It behooves colleges to admit athletes early, particularly if the institutions are concerned about losing the student to another college, or if the athlete is a borderline admit.

EphBlog hearts Dick Nesbitt ’74 even more, and not just because he is so patient and open with us.

There is much more to write about on this topic, but not today.


Harvard Abolishes Early Admissions

An article in today’s Boston Globe says Harvard will announce that it is ending early admissions next year. The pitch is that Yale, Tufts, and other universities wanted to do it, but only Harvard had the guts:

“Somebody has got to take the lead,” interim president Derek Bok said. “We are certainly in a strong position to take whatever risks are involved.”

It will be interesting to watch the ripple effect.


Early Decision Statistics

Here is this year’s College release on early decision admissions.

Williams College mailed its traditional notification letters of acceptance on December 14, to 221 of the 554 applicants to the Class of 2010 under the college’s early decision program. Applications for early decision increased by 5 percent over last year.

Williams early decision program has been in place since 1964. The accepted students for the Class of 2010 represent 41 percent of the projected class size of 538.

“Once again the admissions committee was extremely impressed with the strength of the applicant pool and its diversity,” Director Richard Nesbitt said. “The newly admitted students come from 39 states and 13 foreign countries. One hundred men and 121 women were accepted. African Americans comprise 8 percent of the admitted students, Asian Americans 8 percent, and Latinos 5 percent. International students account for 5 percent of the early admit group.”

Still a ways to go to meet the Admissions Department goal of hitting those national population goals, but that isn’t today’s rant.

Compare this to the release from 4 years ago.

The admitted group has average SAT scores of 712 verbal and 700 math, compared with last year’s 709 and 702.

The College provided no score information this year. (I also think that the College has released SAT statistics in the last few years as well, but can’t find the links other than this one.) Why no statistics this year? Perhaps because the new SAT makes comparison difficult. Perhaps for no reason.

But perhaps the numbers are not as good as they normally are . . .


Early Decision

The Early Decision letters should be mailed this week, perhaps tomorrow according to the nervous teenagers on College Confidential.

UPDATE: This post has been modified by request. The comments no longer make much sense, but they are left for historical interest.


Early Decision Results

Interesting article in the Williams Record about early decision results:

A few interesting things to note:

1. 26 students admitted from the lowest socioeconomic band, more than double the usual early decision figure. That is certainly an outstanding development. The Questbridge program discussed in the article looks like a fantastic way to increase true diversity on campus. Given that one in ten ED admissions came through the Questbridge program, the program has certainly had a substantial impact, most likely for the better, on the admissions process.

2. 45 (!) out of 66 athletic tips admitted early. The good news is, with an average SAT at 1417, the bulk of the 20 percent of the ED class who are athletic tips can’t have SAT’s much below the 1300 range. Either that, or nearly every non-tip had really amazing numbers. I’d imagine that with only a few tips left to admit, the regular decision class might have feature even stronger numerical credentials.

3. 14 international ED admittees as opposed to 6 in past years. Again, I view this as a positive development. When you’re talking about increasing true diversity of viewpoints and experience on campus, I’d say increasing the number of students growing up in foreign cultures, and, perhaps even more-so, the percentage of students from poor families, has a far greater impact than increasing the number of American minorities from the upper-most socioeconomic bands.

All in all, sounds like a very strong, diverse, and balanced ED class.


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