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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.

[UPDATE: Data removed at the request of the College.]

> 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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Official Notification Letters for Class of 2021

For future historians, below is how Williams informed admitted students.

Early decision:

earlyd

Early write:

early

Regular decision:

regular

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Williams Uses Racial Goals in Admissions

Williams, as the College would be quick to tell you, does not use racial “quotas” in admissions. It does not require that there be, exactly, 50 African-American students in each class. But Williams does have ethnic/racial goals. It wants a class that looks like America.

From the Record in 1998:

There are no specific quotas to be filled in the admissions process at Williams, Director of Admissions Thomas Parker explained. Rather, the admissions Office tries to admit a class that reflects national populations.

From the Record in 2012:

[Former Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Mike Reed ’75] explained that the College tries to model its student body on an “approximate mirroring” of the country, which requires recruiting students of color who otherwise would not apply.

A faculty friend reports, after talking with newish Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’03, that the same policy is true today. Creighton believes that ethnic/racial breakdown of US students at Williams should match, as close as possible, the ethnic/racial breakdown of the college-age US population, at least when it comes to African-Americans and Hispanics.

This is true, not just at Williams, but across elite higher education in the US. Occasionally, uninformed people don’t realize this or naive people deny it. Purpose of this post is to document that they are wrong.

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1,200 Academic Rating 2s

President Falk is not as transparent as former President Schapiro was about admissions statistics, but he does, on occasion, provide some interesting details. Mary Dettloff kindly provided this background on a Falk speech from several years ago.

In 2013, the number of applicants with an AR2 rating was 1,269. I am confirming that number for you since Adam did mention it at a private, not public, event that you attended. The information for the Class of 2021, however, is not information we have to report publicly anywhere, so I will not be providing that information.

Fair enough! And thanks, as always, to Mary for all her help with our endless questions.

1) “AR2″ — which is the insider abbreviation for “Academic Rating 2″ — is a standard designation in the ranking system that the Admissions Department uses. A reminder:

  • 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;

2) We know from the 2005 Alumni Review article that any applicant without a “hook” [1] is rejected if their Academic Rating is below a 2 — that is why the raw number of AR2s is so important. Williams could fill its entire class with AR1s and AR2s! [2]

3) Recall the details from the latest Common Data Set (pdf):

scores

It is a coincidence (?) that the 1450 combined math/verbal SAT average marks the cut off for AR2. But it sure is convenient! Speaking very broadly, half of every Williams class is admitted based on their academic ambition/talent/conscientiousness. The other half would not have been admitted were it not for their race/income/athleticism.

4) If it were me, I would place a lot more emphasis on academics and a lot less on everything else. What would Williams look like if we only admitted AR2s and above? Assume that we still cared about race/income/athletics. That is, we still give preference to AR2 hockey players over AR1 non-hockey players. What would our racial numbers look like? How well would our sports teams do?

[1] Almost all hooks are involve race/income/athletics. There are 66 athletic “tips” who would not have been admitted were it not for a nod from a Williams coach, and another 30 or so “protects” whose chances of admissions were only 50/50. Williams, like all elite schools, has huge problems finding enough qualified black/Hispanic applicants, and so is happy to take plenty who are AR3 or 4. Williams, especially via Questbridge, seeks applicants from poor families. (And the Development Office creates spots for (how many?) children of big donors.)

[2] Of course, it is hard to know for certain that this is true. We would need to know two other pieces of information: How many AR1 applicants are there and how well Williams yields among AR1s and 2s? Contrary opinions are welcome, but my strong sense is that, with so many AR2s (hundreds of whom Williams rejects outright), Williams could easily fill a class in which every student scored above 1450 in math/verbal SAT (with high school grades to match).

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Black/White SAT Scores at Amherst

From page 22 of Race and Class Matters at an Elite College by Amherst professor Elizabeth Aries.

p22

There was more than a 200 point difference (1284 versus 1488) in combined SAT scores between blacks and whites at Amherst. Although this data is a decade old and for Amherst, I believe that the same is true today and at places like Williams. Has anyone heard differently? And, as you would expect, students with lower SAT scores do much worse in Amherst classes:

p155

Interesting stuff! Should we spend a week on other highlights from this book?

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Outreach by Williams to Prospective Students

TJHSST     I just received an e-mail from the College and Career Center at my son’s high school (he is a freshman this year).  He attends the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which is public high school in Alexandria, Virginia which draws students from around Northern Virginia through a competitive admissions process each year.  TJ is well known regionally and nationally for the extreme rigor of its curriculum, and in particular for its science, math, and technology offerings.  Demographically, TJ is about 65% Asian-American, 25% non-Latino whites, and 10% everything else.

Among the items in the e-mail was the following tidbit which caught my eye:

Juniors, Want to Know More about Williams College, a highly selective Liberal Arts college in rural Massachusetts with a fantastic math department and Oxford-style tutorials?  Consider visiting Williams in the fall through the Windows on Williams program.  This is an all-expense-paid 3-day visit to Williams, with priority given to low-income students. To apply, go to: https://myadmission.williams.edu/register/WOWApplication2017  Deadline: August 1.

I thought this was very interesting.  Traditionally, despite its academic strength, TJ is not a big feeder to Williams or other highly selective liberal arts colleges, as many of its graduates are focused on engineering.  Among the popular college destinations for TJ grads are MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, and others.  Nevertheless, Williams is obviously making an effort to reach out to the school in hopes of attracting more of its students (note the pitch for the great math department at Williams, since TJ students are selected based on the mathematical abilities more than anything else).  TJ does not have very many low-income students, however, so I’m not sure how well the WOW program will work there.  I hope this outreach effort is successful however, as I think more TJ students at Williams would benefit both places.

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Improving International Yield

An e-mail on the effort to improve our yield of accepted international students:

Hi everyone,

Thank you to all those who came to the meeting tonight! It was wonderful meeting you in person. For those who could not make it, below are some of the topics we talked about and information I shared.

Spring Yield Initiatives for Class of 2021 –

1) Connecting via email – All newly admitted international students will be connected to a current international student, ideally based on common interest or geography. I will reach out to you with the information of the students you will be connecting with.

2) Phone/Skype – a – thon – calling all admitted international students who have not yet made a decision on their admission offer. Calls will be made by interested current students and myself. I (Misha) will send out an email listing the dates and times for these calls.

Some helpful links with information about Williams.

How to get to Williams – https://admission.williams.edu/visit/getting-here/
Student Profile 2016-17 – https://admission.williams.edu/files/Student-Profile-2016-2017.pdf
Williams Viewbook – https://admission.williams.edu/viewbook/
Course Catalog – http://catalog.williams.edu/
Community engagement and learning – https://learning-in-action.williams.edu/
Events Calendar – https://events.williams.edu/

A few things to remember when connecting with new admitted students:

Please do not offer any visa advice. All visa related questions should be directed to Dean Pretto. With the changing immigration policies, the experiences of those applying for the F-1 visa this summer may be different from yours, so it is imperative that none of us (including me) offer any advice on visas or visas process.
If you do not have the answer to a question, please send it my way. I would be happy to answer it on behalf of you.
As you reflect on your time at Williams and share your insights, please be honest and positive. There may have been time when the weather or the small size of the town or something else may have been a less than ideal experience, but please think of the bigger picture and focus on the positives. If you receive any especially difficult questions that you do not feel comfortable answering, please feel free to send them to me.
All questions regarding orientation schedule and flights can be directed to Dean Pretto.

Once again, thank you for being willing to yield the class of 2021! We hope that as many students as possible will choose to Williams and join our thriving international community.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,
Misha

My anonymous correspondent bolded the section above.

What other efforts does Williams make to improve its yield? I would assume that special efforts are made in areas where Williams yields particularly poorly — especially among African-Americans, but also, I bet, among Hispanics and lower income families — but I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

What advice would you have for Williams about how to improve yield?

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Choose Williams Over Harvard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) You would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for the paper or sing in an a cappella group at Harvard, it is difficult to do much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class, with each student being top notch in something. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely.

¹The first post in this series was 11 years ago, inspired by a newspaper story about 18 year-old Julia Sendor, who was admitted to both Harvard and Williams. Julia ended up choosing Williams (at least partly “because of the snowy mountains and maple syrup”), becoming a member of the class of 2008, winning a Udall Foundation Scholarship in Environmental Studies. Best part of that post is the congratulations from her proud JA.

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African-American Yield Comparison

Williams yields African-American accepted students at a lower rates than (some of) its peers.

frosh-2014W-B

Thanks to a commentator (who should join us as a blogger!) for pointing this out. He also shared (created?) this analysis:

QtPa0Ak - Imgur

1) Thanks for doing this! We need more peer comparisons at EphBlog. This topic would also make for a good Record article and/or senior thesis.

2) Although we compare poorly with Pomona, we do fine relative to many other colleges. So, maybe the glass is half full? I know that the Admissions Office has devoted a lot of time/money/personnel to African-American enrollment.

3) The unknown factor here is standards. The easiest way to get a very high yield among African-American students is to have much lower standards than your peer colleges. If Pomoma lets in a lot of low quality African-American applicants — high school students that Williams/Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth all reject — then Pomona is going to do very well in yielding those students.

4) The most outlier strategy among elite LACs when it comes to African-American applicants is Middlebury’s: admit/enroll fewer. In the class of 2020 (pdf), only 4% of the students are African-American. Thoughts on this?

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Class of 2021 Admissions Data IV

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:

admi2

Today is Day 4. For me, the most interesting unknown is: Does Williams discriminate against Asian-American applicants and, if so, by how much? That Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford discriminate is beyond dispute. Indeed, the best historical parallel is with the rampant bias against Jews hundred years ago. (See The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel for a magisterial history.) But Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College argues — fairly conclusively, I think — that Williams did not discriminate against Jews, either at all, much less to the same extent. The basic reason was not primarily that Williams was more well-disposed towards Jews than Harvard/Yale/Princeton. Instead, Jews were less likely to apply to Williams and/or attend Williams if accepted.

Might the same dynamic apply in the case of Asian-Americans? The lower yield for Asian-Americans might provide some indirect evidence for such a claim. At the very least, I would predict that Williams has been doing less discrimination for fewer years than HYP. At the same time, the table we discussed last week is worrying:

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

If about the same raw number of Asian-Americans and whites have Williams-caliber SAT scores, we would expect about the same number of whites/Asians in each Williams class. If the ratio is actually 4:1, and if Williams does not discriminate, than Asian-Americans must be much less likely to apply and/or less likely to enroll if accepted. Thoughts?

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Class of 2021 Admissions Data III

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:

admi2

Today is Day 3.

Will the College really yield less than 10% of the 187 black students it accepted during regular admissions? That would be a shockingly low number. Perhaps a close read of Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis on matriculation decisions would tell us if this number is typical. The 43 number for the class of 2020 is not unusual, but there is a fair amount of volatility. The last few years have been 51, 35, 64 and 59.

I believe that there is a significant gender skew on African-American admissions, with women outnumbering men. Does anyone have the exact numbers? In the class of 2010, it was 13 men and 31 women.

Any suggestions for how the College should do better with African-Americans? It seems like more ought to be done with some of the African-American faculty? If I got a private lunch with, say, Neil Roberts, I would be more likely to choose Williams. Also:

One of the great problems that Williams faces in admissions is attracting enough/any African-American applicants will Williams-caliber credentials. Partly, this is because Williams, because of its location and size, is less attractive (on average) to African-American applicants than it is to other applicants. (The same is probably true for international students). But, much more important is the intense competition for elite African-American students from schools like Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford. Almost any African-American applicant with the high school grades and standardized test scores which would place her in the normal range for academic admission (AR 1 and 2) will be accepted at one or more of HYPS. (This is not true of, say, Chinese-American applicants.) Since 90% of applicants (and probably a higher percentage of African-American applicants) admitted to the College and one of these 4 choose HYPS over Williams, this means that Williams has little choice but to accept many African-American applicants who we would not accept were they Chinese-American.

The only practical solution to convince such students to choose Williams is to make it worth their while. And the Tyng (money for graduate school and extra money while at Williams) is the best method available. Therefore, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-American applicants, thereby luring 4-8 African-American applicants away from HYPS and to Williams each year. (With luck, HYPS won’t feel compelled to match our offers.) For legal reasons, Williams might need to make an occasional offer to someone who was not African-American, but I doubt that the Department of Justice would be making trouble against these sorts of efforts anytime soon.

As true now as it was in 2009.

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Class of 2021 Admissions Data II

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:

admi2

Today is Day 2.

No one should be surprised that Williams yields whites better than it yields any other group. Is that a problem or an opportunity? I bet that white students from rich families who attended elite high schools are, on average, the happiest students at Williams. If so, should we admit more of them?

A similar analysis applies to legacies, the vast majority of whom are white. (Note that the legacy numbers are much iffier because the College does not (regularly) publish the exact numbers. President Falk usually provides an estimate of 1/7th but that certainly varies year-to-year. Indeed, the exact definition of “legacy” matters. We always include the children of alumni, never (?) the nieces/nephews and sometimes (?) the grandchildren. In any event, the 79 here is my estimate, equal to 1/7th of the 553 students in the class.)

I am amazed that we yield so well among legacies. Will 79 or so of the 86 legacies we admitted choose to enroll. That seems much too high to me. I know, just in my personal circle of friends, two legacy children admitted to Williams who went Ivy instead. Then again, perhaps the vast majority of those 86 were admitted early decision? Informed commentary welcome.

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Class of 2021 Admissions Data I

Let’s discus admissions data for the class of 2021. Key table:

admi2

Today is Day 1.

The data is derived from the early decision news release, the regular decision news release and the 2016-2017 Common Data Set (pdf).

From the latest news release:

Of the [1,253] admitted students, 95 are international students representing 47 different nationalities. Among American students, 50 percent identify as students of color: 220 students are Asian American, 214 are black, 175 Latino, and 17 Native American. Thirty-seven percent identify as white and five percent opted not to identify. A total of 274, or 22 percent, are first-generation college students, and seven percent (86) have a parent who attended Williams.

Note that all these numbers include the 257 students admitted via Early Decision in December. So, Williams only accepted 996 students via regular decision: 1,253 – 257 = 996.

Caveats: This is the first time I have attempted an analysis like this. Mistakes are likely! In particular, I did lots of algebra in my head and made some simplifying assumptions. The “Projected Yield” is the percentage of admitted students in each category which would need to enroll in order to match the totals for the class of 2020.

That 700 admitted students turn us down — overwhelmingly for schools like Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford and significantly for the next tier (Dartmouth/Brown/Amherst/Swarthmore) — is a sign of the gap we face in becoming the best college in the world. We need more of these high quality students to choose Williams.

Among students that both we and HYPS accept, we yield only 10% or so. Of course, many of those students are making the right choice when they turn down Williams. Anyone who hates the snow would be happier at Stanford. But many (10%? 25%, 50%?) of the students who turn us down are making a mistake. They would have been happier at Williams. We need to do a better job of selling Williams to them. Suggestions?

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Legacy Admissions Play No Meaningful Role at Elite Colleges

legacy

tl;dr: Legacy status does not provide a meaningful advantage in admissions to elite colleges like Williams. People like Sam Altman and Arjun Narayan ’10 are wrong, either because of genuine ignorance or because of a (unconscious?) refusal to confront the major beneficiaries of admissions preferences: athletes and (non-Asian) racial minorities. (If Sam has complained about extra considerations that Stanford gives football players and African-Americans, I must have missed it.)

Hasn’t Arjun Narayan ’10 ever read EphBlog? We have been documenting these facts for over a decade. From 2008:

Morty [then Williams President Morton Schapiro] noted that a decade or so ago [or perhaps when he arrived?], the average legacy was a 3.3 on the 1-9 scale of academic ranks while the average non-legacy was 2.3. Morty did not seem to be a huge fan of this gap, or of giving legacies such a preference. He then noted that the latest statistics show that legacy and non-legacy are now equivalent (both at 2.3). Morty confirmed, consistent with all the analysis I have done, that being a legacy is not a meaningful advantage in getting into Williams.

Director of Communications Mary Dettloff kindly provided this update for 2017:

I had a conversation with Dick Nesbitt about this, and he says it has long been our policy not to release academic standing information for specific subgroups of students. That said, he also shared that for at least the last 20 years, the legacy students have had equal, if not marginally stronger, SAT scores and Academic Rating when compared to the rest of their classmates.

Case closed.[1]

More importantly, should we be surprised that students whose parents went to elite colleges are much more likely to win admissions to elite colleges themselves? No! Nature and nurture are passed down through the generations now, just as they always have been.

Consider professional baseball. From the New York Times:

baseball

A random US man has a 1-in-15,000 chance of playing in the MLB. The son of an MLB player has a 1-in-75 chance. In other words, your odds of playing in the MLB are 200 times higher of your father played. Given that fact, should we be surprised if your odds of coming to Williams are 200 times higher if your parent is an Eph?

The mechanisms in both cases are the same. Genetics play a major role. The specific genes — probably thousands of them — that help you to hit a curve ball are passed from father to son. The genes that aid in doing well in school and on standardized tests are passed on just as easily. Nurture matters. Baseball players probably provide their sons with a better than average environment in which to learn baseball. Ephs who become parents do the same. You should no more be surprised at the high numbers of legacies at elite colleges than at the high numbers of baseball children in the Majors.[2]

However, it is interesting to consider how legacy admissions have evolved in the last 30 years. In the 1980’s, it was tough for Williams to find 75 high quality legacies in drawing from Williams classes of the 1950s. First, the college was much smaller than, with fewer than half the current student population. Second, Williams was much less academically rigorous. (That is, there were plenty of not-very-smart students.)

In the 80’s, there were 500 academically accomplished students per class. Judging/guessing from what we see at reunions, the total number of children of a typical class is at least 500 and probably closer to 1,000. But only 75 or so find spots at Williams! Do the other 425 go to Stanford? Nope. And the same harsh mathematics apply to the children of other elite schools. Since smart people have smart children, the pool of legacies that the College has to choose from is very impressive. Williams does not need to lower standards at all to find 75 good ones.[3]

—————-
[1] To be fair to Altman/Narayan, there are some subtle counter-arguments. First, if it is the case that legacies, as a group, differ from non-legacies on other dimensions besides academic rating, then it might not be fair to compare the two groups directly. Instead, we should compare legacies with non-legacies who “look” like legacies. For example, if legacies are more likely to be white and non-poor, then comparing them with non-legacies is makes no sense. Instead, we should compare them with similarly white/non-poor non-legacies.

Second, it could be the case that legacies come in two flavors: over-qualified and under-qualified. The over-qualified ones are exceptional candidates who turn down Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford for Williams. The under-qualified ones receive substantial preferences in admissions. Combining the two groups creates an overall legacy group which is similar to non-legacies but which “masks” the substantial advantages given to under-qualified legacies.

[2] Of course, legacy students are much more likely to attend their parents’ alma mater than legacy baseball players are to play for the same team as their fathers. Exercise for the reader: Explore the industrial organization of elite colleges and major league baseball to explain this difference. Perhaps a better view is to consider all the legacy students as a whole, in the same way that the New York Times considers all the legacy baseball players. But this post is already long enough . . .

[3] sigh, an EphBlog regular, points out this study (pdf) on “The impact of legacy status on undergraduate admissions at elite colleges and universities.” The author argues that legacy status matters a great (or at least did matter in the fall of 2007). I have my doubts. Let’s dive into the details in the comments!

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Asian Versus Black SAT Scores

This Brookings Report highlights the continuing gaps in performance on the SAT and similar IQ tests among racial groups. Former Economics Professor Mike McPherson also gets a mention. Key chart:

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

Several Ephs tweeted out a link to the related New York Times story:

“Race gaps on the SATs are especially pronounced at the tails of the distribution,” the two authors note. In math, for example,

among top scorers — those scoring between a 750 and 800 — 60 percent are Asian and 33 percent are white, compared to 5 percent Latino and 2 percent black. Meanwhile, among those scoring between 300 and 350, 37 percent are Latino, 35 percent are black, 21 percent are white, and 6 percent are Asian.

Translating those percentages into concrete numbers, Reeves and Halikias estimate that

in the entire country last year at most 2,200 black and 4,900 Latino test-takers scored above a 700. In comparison, roughly 48,000 whites and 52,800 Asians scored that high. The same absolute disparity persists among the highest scorers: 16,000 whites and 29,570 Asians scored above a 750, compared to only at most 1,000 blacks and 2,400 Latinos.

There should be a way to combine this data with what we know about college admissions and applicant preferences to get a more up-to-date estimate of racial distribution of SAT scores at Williams. Start with the latest available Common Data Set (pdf):

scores

Full analysis left as an exercise for the reader! Comments:

1) About 2/3s of Williams students score above a 1400 combined. Speaking very roughly (and using hand-waving as my statistical estimation method of choice), whites and Asian Americans have about the same raw numbers in this pool. (There are, of course, many more white than Asian 17 year-olds in the US, but the whites do much worse on the SATs (and most other IQ tests)). So, why is the ratio of whites to Asians among Williams students almost 4:1? This suggests that Williams might discriminate against Asian-Americans in admissions. Now, there are many other plausible explanations other than discrimination which might explain this, mainly involving student/family preferences. But there is an interesting Record article (or senior thesis!) to write about this topic.

2) The ratio of Asian-Americans (74) to African-Americans (43) in the class of 2020 is not quite 2:1. But the ratio of students with Williams caliber SAT scores between these two groups is at least 20:1. The only thing that could possibly explain this discrepancy is massive preferences for African-Americans (relative to Asian-Americans) in Williams admissions. Taking another hand-waving guess, I would estimate that at least 70 of the Asian-Americans scored higher on the SAT/ACT than at least 40 of the African-Americans. In other words, the two distributions probably have almost no overlap, looking something like:

Rplot001

That couldn’t cause any problems on campus, could it? Below is an example of the sorts of “conversations” that students with radically different SAT scores have at Williams.

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Welcome Class of 2021

Welcome to those admitted to the class of 2021! If there are any aspiring writers in the class, please contact EphBlog. We would love to host your prose. (Could a reader post this offer to the class of 2021 Facebook group?)

From the news release:

Of the [1,253] admitted students, 95 are international students representing 47 different nationalities. Among American students, 50 percent identify as students of color: 220 students are Asian American, 214 are black, 175 Latino, and 17 Native American. Thirty-seven percent identify as white and five percent opted not to identify. A total of 274, or 22 percent, are first-generation college students, and seven percent (86) have a parent who attended Williams.

Note that all these numbers include the 257 students admitted via Early Decision in December.

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