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WOW Details

As usual, the best material at EphBlog is often in the comments. Example from a member of the class of 2020:

I was a WOW attendee last year, and while I was on campus I had the opportunity to listen to a few presentations given by admissions staff that provided us w/ fairly specific statistics about the program.

Because the college itself isn’t all that forthcoming about providing this numbers, I think it might be of (some) use for me to catalog them here. First, total admittance and the sort of people admitted to WOW:

Out of 1200 applicants, Williams admits roughly 200 to WOW. That provides for an admit rate of around 1/6, which is, coincidentally, also the admit rate of the college as a whole.

Those 200 students pick between a WOW session in October and one in September, and they usually do attend. The number I was quoted by admissions staff is that only a few admitted students don’t attend the program at all. (I believe the number was 5-10, but, I can’t recall with any real certainty.)

Of the students that actually attend WOW, which is of course a touch less than the 200 admitted, 70% actually end up applying to the college. So if we’re being generous, we now have 140 WOW attendees who have actually applied to the school. Out of those applicants, 85-90% will be admitted. (I can recall this figure fairly precisely, because, as a WOW attendee desperate to get admitted to the college, it seemed important to remember)

The next piece of information is a touch discontinuous from the first several in form, but, it’s what I was told so it’s what I’ll repeat: out of all WOW attendees, 50 matriculate the succeeding fall.

So, how might we calculate a yield rate out of that number? If we do it out of total attendees 50/200, then we’re left with a yield of 25% — fairly dismal; however, if we grind through the numbers and calculate the actual yield of WOW attendees who apply to the program and then are admitted, we’re left with an imprecise yield rate of 40%

That’s not startlingly different from the college’s overall yield rate. And, while it may be so that attending WOW did increase those students’ chance of attending Williams (perhaps they would have otherwise gone to HYPS) there’s no doubt that at least some in the broader college community would be miffed to learn that the college spends a pretty penny on flying students out only to yield one in four of them.

I have some other anecdotes about the program and fly-ins I could probably share, but, as none of them are really material to what we’re discussing here, I think I’ll end this post before it gets much longer.

Thanks for the details! And, please, tell us more anecdotes. EphBlog readers are always eager to learn more about how Williams operates.


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid III

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 3.

We run a program in the fall called WOW—Windows On Williams. We’ve nearly doubled the size of this program in the last couple of years because it’s so effective. We fly in, at our expense, about 200 low-income and first-generation students to spend a couple days on campus, meet each other, meet other Williams students and attend classes. The program is competitive; we get about 1,200 applicants. The students we select are very strong candidates for admission, and getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances that they apply and will choose to enroll here if we admit them.

We have a similar previews program in the spring for admitted students who haven’t already participated in WOW and can’t afford to come here on their own. We want to make sure they get a chance to experience this place in person before they decide where to go to college. Our admission office travels to high schools where low-income and first-generation students are likely to be found. … That’s what need-seeking is: doing everything we can in a very active way to admit as many talented, low-income students as we can.

Interesting stuff. Comments:

1) There is a great senior thesis to be written about how “effective” (or not) WOW is. Recall Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 excellent thesis about predicting which accepted students will choose Williams. This is an important topic, of interest to Williams and to elite colleges more broadly.

2) Has anyone at Williams — including the dozens of capable folks who report to Dudley — actually studied this? I have my doubts. But tell us about it if you have! Note that obvious selection bias inherit in Will’s claim that “getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances” such students apply and enroll. The problem is that comparing students who do WOW with students who don’t do WOW is, potentially, useless because, almost by definition, students who do WOW are much more interested in Williams than students who don’t do WOW. They would be much more likely to apply/enroll than other students even if WOW did not exist. In fact, for all Will knows, WOW might actually decrease the percentages of such students who apply/enroll. (My bet, of course, is that Will is right and that WOW works.)

The right way to test WOW would be a standard A/B approach. Randomly select 10% (or whatever) of the students who met the criteria for WOW and then don’t invite them. If those students apply/enroll at the same rates as the WOW students, then WOW doesn’t do anything.

The College, like most modern bureaucracies, ought to do much more randomized testing to find out what works and what does not.

3) Even without a proper randomized controlled trial (RCT), you can still try to estimate the causal effect of WOW using various statistical approaches. A statistics major ought to jump on this opportunity.


Class Profiles

Before they disappear, let’s save permanent copies if the class profiles that the Admissions Office puts together each year: 2013,
2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Can anyone provide links to older or more recent profiles? Future historians will thank you!


Admissions News Release

The College’s official news release is filled with interesting details. Unfortunately, I can’t find a record of similar news releases for any class prior to 2016. Pointers? Key sections:

Class of 2016:

Of the admitted students, 609 are women and 573 are men. Ninety-four students, or eight percent of the group, are non-U.S. citizens, representing 48 different nationalities. Among American students, 163 are African American, 229 Asian American, 164 Latino, and 14 Native American. Sixteen percent (193) would be the first in their families to attend college.

Class of 2020:

Of the admitted students, 623 are women and 583 are men. One hundred are international students representing 45 different nationalities. Among American students, 49 percent are students of color: 221 students are Asian American, 186 are black, 169 Latino, and 13 Native American. Twenty-one percent (255) are first-generation college students, and 9 percent (105) have a parent who attended Williams.

1) Raw admissions numbers don’t tell the full story because yield varies. If I had more time, I might try to subtract out the data from early admissions to get a better sense of if/how regular admissions statistics have changed. Left as an exercise for the reader!

2) As you would expect, there is much stability here. Williams does not change much year-to-year.

3) Most interesting number for the class of 2020 is that “19 percent (223 students) are affiliated with QuestBridge, an organization with which Williams has partnered since 2006 to identify talented, high-achieving high school students from low-income backgrounds.” Questbridge has been the single biggest change in Williams admissions in the last decade or more. I wish that we knew more about it.

4) Thanks to Mary Dettloff, Director of Media Relations, for help with background information.


Admissions Decisions

Admissions decisions for the class of 2020 are out. An example:



1) Congratulations to all the admitted Ephs!

2) Could someone post the entire e-mail in the comments? Future historians will thank you!

3) Note that the 1,200 number includes the 250 or so admitted via early decision. So, we will be looking to get another 300 students out of the 950 newly admitted.


International Student Countries of Origin IV

Here (doc) is a listing of the countries of origin of the 155 international students in the classes of 2015 — 2018. Let’s spend four days discussing it. This is Day 4.

Recall our discussion of President Falk’s induction address five years ago. Falk said:

we must develop a deeper understanding of what it means for Williams to be an international institution. We must simultaneously be local and global, building a very specific, Berkshires-based Williams that could only be found in this valley, while reaching out far beyond to prepare our students to be effective citizens not only of this country but of the world. Many pieces of this process seem obvious – bring international students to Williams, send Williams students to study abroad – but our conception of a global strategy is still emerging. We are, after all, not a sprawling multiversity but a small college of two thousand students, each here for four years and some thirty courses. We cannot simply add every desirable experience to our curriculum or to student life. We must become global within our existing scale and scope, and without chasing fashions or being driven by our shifting anxieties about America’s geopolitical position. Grappling with this question will require the engagement of our entire community, as our strategies will encompass the curriculum and extend into so much of what we do. And we must think of the internationalization of Williams as something that happens here in Williamstown, capitalizing on what this campus and region can offer.

It has been five years. Does Falk still believe this? I don’t know. This is exactly the vision that I have for Williams, the fundamental change that I have pushed and pushed and pushed for many years. I hope that future historians will mark this as the most important paragraph in the speech.

Recall our previous discussion about how Falk might make Williams “a college for all of the United States, and of the world.” Falk is, I think, explicitly rejecting the Middlebury Model of a global liberal arts college with facilities and programs all around the world. Reread these key phrases: “Berkshires-based Williams that could only be found in this valley” and “global within our existing scale and scope” and “happens here in Williamstown, capitalizing on what this campus and region can offer.” Falk has no plans to expand programs like Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford.

2) If you reject the Middlebury Model of offering facilities/programs everywhere and if you realize that there is no way — without tilting admissions toward dramatically more wealthy students — to enroll US applicants that are more “global,” then your only option “for Williams to be an international institution” is to dramatically increase foreign student enrollment. Reasonable people might disagree with that goal, might think that a Williams with 8% non-US citizens and quality study abroad options is international enough. But if you really believe Falk’s rhetoric, then your only choice is a major change in admissions.

Yet it has been five years. If Falk really wanted to make Williams more global, he would have done more than increase international enrollment from 37 (class of 2014) to 46 (class of 2018). Maybe he is about to start now? We can hope! What should he do?

1) Hire at least one member of the admissions office to work (and probably live) in Asia. The best person would probably be a recent Williams graduate, a citizen of one of the major feeder countries. That person would work on establishing relationships with the most elite English-immersion high schools in Asia. Recall our discussion about the Daewon Foreign Language High School. There are a score (50?) of schools of Daewon’s quality in China, South Korea, and the rest of Asian. We should know them and they should know us. We don’t need everyone in China to know about Williams. We just need the students and counselors of schools like Daewon to.

2) Increase admissions from China, Korea and other countries with high quality applicants. It is absurd that there are only 16 students from China and 11 from Korea among the 2,000 Ephs. Williams, could, in the class of 2020, have 25 from both countries (call it one per entry) without either decreasing the academic quality of the class or spending anymore on financial aid. (There are plenty of wealthy (or at least not poor), highly intelligent applicants currently attending elite high schools in Asia who would love to come to Williams, especially if a Williams admissions officer explained what it means to be the #1 liberal arts college in America.

Because of my naivete, I bet (link?) a fellow EphBlogger that Williams would be 20% international by the class of 2021. This looks like a bet that I am certain to lose. That makes me sad. But the battle continues.

If, 100 years ago, you wanted Williams to be the best college in the world, you should have argued against discriminating against Jews. If, today, you want Williams to be the best college in the world, you should be against quotas for international applicants. What do you want?


International Student Countries of Origin III

Here (doc) is a listing of the countries of origin of the 155 international students in the classes of 2015 — 2018. Let’s spend four days discussing it. This is Day 3.

There seems to be some “country collecting” going on here, lots of countries with just one or two students. That is, I bet that there are much stronger students in, say, China/Korea/Canada that Williams rejects in favor students from more obscure countries.

This probably leads us to underestimate of the amount of discrimination against academically excellent international applicants. Recall previous discussions here and here. Summary: It sometimes (but not every year) seems like international students do much better in academics than US students, suggesting the possibility of bias against them in the admissions process. (Of course, there are other hypotheses.)

The relevance about this new information, however, is that we can probably divide the international population into two groups: competitive countries (China, Korea, Canada, . . . ) and non-competitive countries. Applicants from competitive countries, with academic credentials significantly above the Williams average, probably do much better at Williams (and are more discriminated against by admissions) than applicants from non-competitive countries.

Consider the 46 seniors elected to Phi Beta Kappa last spring. Only 5 appear to be international:

Benjamin C. Hoyle, mathematics, Paris, France
Raea E. Rasmussen, psychology, Tokyo, Japan
Miho Sakuma, history, Tokyo, Japan
Phonkrit Tanavisarut, economics and mathematics, Bangkok, Thailand
Jeewon Yoo, English and mathematics, Seoul, Republic of Korea

This is not too much above the class’s proportion of international students. But these students sure don’t seem to come from the countries that, a priori, I would describe as “competitive.”


International Student Countries of Origin II

Here (doc) is a listing of the countries of origin of the 155 international students in the classes of 2015 — 2018. Let’s spend four days discussing it. This is Day 2.

Williams students come from more than 50 different countries. Wow! That is real diversity. A student who grew up in, say, Tunisia, brings much more diversity to the Williams campus than a student (whether African-American, Hispanic or whatever) who spent the last 12 years at Milton. (The sons/daughters of the local kleptocracy who also attended Milton, not so much.) If you want Williams to be the best College in the world (and you should), then you want Williams to admit and attract the smartest English-fluent 18-year-olds regardless of their place of birth. This listing is a good start.

Any updates on the official plans for international admissions? Recall our discuss last summer. Summary: For most of the last 15 years, Williams had an explicit quota for international students, at about 35 in each class. Then, last year we had 49 and this year 46. Has there been a change in the policy? If not, then why us the number 1/3 higher than it used to be?


International Student Countries of Origin I

Here (doc) is a listing of the countries of origin of the 155 international students in the classes of 2015 — 2018. Let’s spend four days discussing it. This is Day 1.

Here is a screen shot of the beginnings of the list.


1) More transparency please! It is annoying that we have to rely on secret sources to get this information. The Admissions Department, presumably, prepares an annual report on international admissions that is shared with the Trustees and/or the Faculty. Any such report should be share with the broader community as well (with any information that identifies a specific individual removed, of course). A transparent college is a better governed college, one less likely to be hit by scandal and more likely to have the support of the community.

2) This listing my oversell the true “diversity” of international students. You can certain that the students from, say, Afghanistan and Botswana are not from poverty stricken rural villages. (Nor should Williams admit such students, except in exceptional circumstances.) Instead, these are the sons/daughters of the elite, often raised abroad and provided with world-class educations in places like London and New York. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Do we have any international students among our readers? Tell us about your experience at Williams.


The Best College in the World

The mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world. Once you accept this assumption, many things follow. For example, current sophomore James asks:

Why do you think the college should so drastically increase its % of international students?

If you want to be the best college in the world, you need to have the best students. And, until Google develops built in universal translators, this means the best English-fluent students. Some of those students will be born in Massachusetts, some in Shanghai and some in Sydney. Wherever they come from, Williams ought to find them, admit them and recruit them.

Twenty years ago, this was much less of an issue because there were not that many very smart non-US applicants. Increasing the percentage of international students would have resulted in a decrease in average student quality. So, it was right and proper than Williams was 95% American.

But the world has changed dramatically since then. There are now thousands of high quality international applicants, especially from places like China and South Korea. The reason that Williams is only 9% international today is because the College actively discriminates against non-American applicants. If the College were country-of-citizenship blind — in the same was that it is astrological-sign-blind — we would be at least 20% international today.

More concretely, Williams should, in the class of 2020, get rid of the bottom 100 American students in terms academic rating (generally ARs of 2 and 3) and replace them with 100 International students, all of whom will have ARs of 1.

Ask yourself: Why is Williams better than Connecticut College? It isn’t because our English professors are better than their English professor or our dining hall food is better than their dining hall food. It is because our students are, on average, smarter than their students. If you really want Williams to be the best College in the world, then your number one focus should be on improving the quality of the students, and then easiest way to do that is to end the quota against international admissions.


Veterans at Williams

Nice Record article about veterans at Williams.

I was fortunate enough to speak with three veteran students – Jake Bingaman ’19, Calum Ferguson ’19 and Nils Horn ’19 – to learn about their experiences in the armed forces and at the College so far.

The reporter, Emilia Maluf, should provide some more details, in addition to the human interest vignettes that she nicely describes.

First, are these the only three veterans in the class of 2019? (And, by the way, how did she get this information. Did the College feed it to her? Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

Second, what has been the trend in veterans admissions in the last 10 years or so? My sense is that there have often been international veterans, like Ferguson and Horn, on campus, but I don’t know the data. I also think that there has not been a US veteran on campus for years (Decades?) But it would be nice to get the facts straight.


History of International Enrollment

UPDATE: Thanks to JAS for providing this graphic! Post edited.


Thanks to Courtney Wade, our wonderful Director of Institutional Research, for providing this data (via IPEDs) on the history on international enrollment at Williams.

Fall 2014 49
Fall 2013 37
Fall 2012 31
Fall 2011 38
Fall 2010 37
Fall 2009 31
Fall 2008 46
Fall 2007 47
Fall 2006 38
Fall 2005 32
Fall 2004 31
Fall 2003 33
Fall 2002 34
Fall 2001 23
Fall 2000 31
Fall 1999 35
Fall 1998 28
Fall 1997 30
Fall 1996 28
Fall 1995 12
Fall 1994 17

See here for previous discussion. Comments:

1) I should turn this into a pretty R graphic. Apologies for my laziness. Thanks JAS!

2) Approximately 50 international students are in the class of 2019. Why the big jump up in the last two years?

3) The last big jump was the doubling between 1995 and 1996. Who made that decision? Kudos to them!

4) The big drop between 2008/2009 and 2010 was probably (?) caused by the ending of need-blind admissions for international students. Of course, that policy change is still in place, but the dramatic increase in the quality (and wealth) of international applicants has made it much less of an issue.


Changes in International Admissions?

Have there been changes in the quota with regard to international admissions? In January, I asked Jim Kolesar:

Nine (!) years ago, you kindly answered my questions about international admissions at Williams and, specifically, about the 6% goal/target that the College then employed.

Has that policy changed?

I ask because there was a big jump in international enrollment for the class of 2018, to 49 from usual numbers in the 30s. Of course, this could just be random fluctuation, but at almost 9% of the class, it is a big move up in percentage terms.

Links added. Jim kindly responded (and gave me permission to post):

The 49 figure is best understood as a result of the randomness of yield.

Fair enough. Knowing how many accepted students will choose Williams is a non-trivial problem, especially in situations, like international admissions, which feature significant change. It is harder to forecast yield from Shanghai than it is from Andover.

But then I read this news:

Nesbitt expects the final [2019] class to be composed of 38 percent of American students of color. He expects the class to be 12 percent black, 15 percent Asian American, 11 percent Latino and one percent Native American. Additionally, nine percent of the class is expected to be international students. First-generation students, meaning neither parent graduated from a four-year college, will amount to 16 percent of the class.

Class size is usually 550. Nine percent of 550 is almost 50. Yield randomness might explain 50 international students for the class of 2018. It can’t explain the 50 in both the class of 2018 and 2019. Don’t believe that something is going on? Consider the recent time series:

2013: 31
2014: 37
2015: 38
2016: 31
2017: 37
2018: 49
2019: 50 (estimate)

Number prior to the class of 2015 were (always?) in the 30s.

Has there been a policy change? If not, what explains the increase?


Free Tuition for Families Making Less than $125,000 (at Stanford)

Why would any high school student, from a non-rich family, ever choose Williams over Stanford given this?

If a student’s parents make less than $125,000 per year, and if they have assets of less than $300,000, excluding retirement accounts, the parents won’t be expected to pay anything toward their children’s Stanford tuition. Families with incomes lower than $65,000 won’t have to contribute to room and board, either.

1) Recall EphBlog’s prediction from a decade ago: Elite education will eventually be free for all US families outside the 1%. Stanford isn’t quite there yet, but each year we take another step in that direction. You can be sure that Harvard/Yale/Princeton will soon meet (and surpass) Stanford, if they haven’t done so already.

2) Do any non-rich students choose Williams over H/Y/P/S? The standard data point that we here is that 10% of the students admitted to both Williams and H/Y/P/S choose Williams. Still true? (We need to get better data on this topic.) Even to the extent that it is, I suspect that the vast majority of these students are rich or, at least, not getting financial aid. I would never advise a student to go into meaningful debt in order to go to Williams instead of H/Y/P/S. Would you?

3) My sense is that Willams, while not as generous as H/Y/P/S, is as generous as other schools, both the lesser Ivies and our LAC peers. Anyone have first hand experience?

4) Williams should be moving millions of dollars from other parts of its budget and into financial aid, at least until it can match the offers that (some) students receive from H/Y/P/S, especially offers to highly desirable students, like African-Americans.


Tour Williams Via Private Jet


From the New York Post:

Stepping off their private plane at remote Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Maine, the 17-year-old boy and his family climb into the waiting Escalade that whisks them to the elite Bates College in less than five minutes.

The group spends the afternoon touring the renowned liberal arts school before jetting off the next day to Pittsfield, Mass., to visit the prestigious Williams College in nearby Williamstown.

“It’s becoming a bigger part of our business,” says Anthony Tivnan, president of leading private-jet charter company Magellan Jets, which organized the 12-leg, $150,000 trans-America tour for the son of a California-based financier and his relatives in August 2014.

“Dozens of families are taking advantage of the convenience by visiting colleges this way.”

1) Williams is selling a luxury good. The more that we appear in articles like this, the better for our brand.

2) Did any of our readers do this tour or know someone who did? Tell us about it!

3) Whether Pittsfield airport is “nearby” Williams depends on the amenities in the Escalade, I think.

4) EphBlogs advice: Don’t take your kid to visit 20 schools. (Last thing you want is for Willy Jr to fall in love with a school for a shallow reason.) Visit one or two that you are thinking about for early decision/action. Then, if needed, apply widely. Then, once accepted, visit as many as you like.


“Better Than What I Got”? Nope.

Featured in the news coverage of the discrimination complaint filed by a coalition of Asian-American organizations against Harvard University is an Eph: Michael Wang ’17, who was denied admission to Stanford and six Ivy League universities despite his credentials:

Academically, he was ranked second overall in his class and graduated with a 4.67 weighted grade point average. He scored a 2230 on his SAT, placing him in the 99th percentile of students who took the exam.

He also stressed that he was not just academically driven, but also a well-rounded applicant who maximized his extracurricular activities. He competed in national speech and debate competitions and math competitions. He also plays the piano and performed in the choir that sang at President Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration.

Wang had previously filed complaints with the Department of Education against Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, and spoke out against California’s Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA-5) in an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury-News:

Applying to college is an anxiety-filled rite-of-passage for students and parents alike. For Asian-American families, however, the anxiety is mixed with dread. They know that their race will be used against them in admissions, and there is nothing they can do but over prepare. I experienced this when I applied last year…

My disappointment [in rejections] turned into anger when I learned that Asian-Americans are being held to higher admissions standards by the selective schools. We have been the fastest growing minority group in America, and yet our presence on some Ivy League campuses has declined in the last 20 years…

Many [Asian-Americans] now appreciate the fairness of race-blindness. We have been driven to this understanding because the race-plus factor, which is supposed to help increase black, Latino and Native American enrollment, is being used as a minus-factor against us.

Wang deserves credit for standing up for his views and speaking out publicly, despite the press of conformism and the strictures of political correctness. Still, I wish he hadn’t said this:

[W]hile Williams consistently ranks near the top if not No. 1 in the US News and World Report’s rankings of liberal-arts colleges, Wang still feels as if he was unfairly rejected from the Ivies.

“I think I deserve better than what I got,” he said.

As EphBlog regularly extols, “Choose Williams Over Harvard.” As an Eph, Wang is being taught by professors who know his name and give feedback on his work, can continue his life as a well-rounded person rather than focusing on one thing, and focus on managing his own affairs as a student, rather than surrendering all control to the Harvard bureaucracy. I hope in the next two years, Wang will come to recognize that no Eph should ever give the impression that an undergraduate education from an Ivy League school would somehow be “better” than four years in the Purple Valley.


James Deutsch ’70 on Cinderella

James DeutschJames Deutsch ’70 is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (residents of the DC area and summertime visitors will recognize the Center for Folklife as responsible for the massive outdoor festival on the Mall each summer which highlights cultural traditions from 2-3 countries or American regions every year).  In connection with Disney’s release of yet another version of Cinderella, he examined the continuing hold that the story has over us, in a piece at It’s a nice piece, and fairy tales in general (and Cinderella in particular, aside from its metaphorical meaning in the context of athletic tournaments) have been badly neglected here at EphBlog, so here are some highlights:

Dozens of [] filmmakers have borrowed elements of the tale, starting as early as 1899 with a French version directed by the pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès. And perhaps the best known is the 1990 Pretty Woman, a retelling of both Cinderella and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Julia Roberts as Vivian, who is magically transformed from rags to riches.

The appeal of Cinderella extends not only to filmmakers, but also to folklorists and early collectors of folktales, such as the Brothers Grimm—Jacob and Wilhelm—who included the story of Aschenputtel (Ash Girl) in their well-known German collection, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), first published in 1812. Charles Perrault included a similar tale even earlier—under the title of Cendrillon (Cinderella)—in his French collection of tales, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé, avec des Moralités: Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye (Stories or Tales from Time Past, with Morals; Tales of Mother Goose), first published in 1697. Going back even further, folklorists have traced the story to 9th-century China, in which Yeh-Shen overcomes an evil stepmother, thanks to a golden slipper that transforms her rags to beautiful clothes and enables her to marry a wealthy king.

Deutsch rightly links the enduring popularity of Cinderella to its association with basic premises underlying American society:

she is able to rise out of ashes and cinders to achieve a position of wealth and stature. This is the same basic story that fuels what some call “the American dream”—a belief that you too will rise to the top because you have the requisite pluck and need just a little luck—such as a pumpkin coach or a prince who finds you at long last with your glass slipper in his benevolent hand. This belief is reinforced by actual rags-to-riches cases, from Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and . . . yes, even Walt Disney himself…

Similarly, the story of Cinderella tells us that virtue is rewarded and evil is punished… Not only is virtue rewarded, so too is action. Cinderella is not a passive wimp who simply wishes upon a star. She makes things happen through her fortitude, perseverance, and wise decisions—albeit with some help from a magical fairy godmother. In similar fashion, Americans regard themselves as can-do people who take the bull by the horns, not letting the grass grow under their boots on the ground. By the way, all of those proverbial expressions are wonderful illustrations of folklore at work in the contemporary world.

Aside from presentations of “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim ’50, is Williams doing its part to help American Cinderella stories? Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom, that top colleges and universities need to do more to recruit and admit low-income applicants (i.e. candidates with “the requisite pluck” but needing just “a little luck”), EphBlog has made the case that high-ability, low-income applicants are not underrepresented at Williams, that legacy candidates are not given excessively favorable treatment, and that, if Williams were to try to toss more “luck” in the wind, more honesty regarding graduation prospects would be required.


Admissions Eph Blogging

Apropos last week’s Decision Day post, John Spear ’92, the college guidance director at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, is among the Ephs offering advice and input in the college admissions process.  On Twitter, Spear shares interesting, admissions-related stories:

Spear also has a blog, College Guidance at Northwood, updated occasionally, on topics such as gap years and college fairs.


Decision Day

Many people describe today, May 1, as National College Decision Day.  At most selective colleges, including Williams, today is the deadline to accept or decline an offer of admission and place a deposit for the first year of college.

A few years ago, Michael McPherson, the former Williams Dean of Faculty, economics professor, and, later, President of Macalester College, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal defending the current debt-financing model for colleges and encouraging students and parents to continue to assume mountains of debt in pursuit of higher future earnings: Get Smart About College: Parents and students like to think they’re rational when it comes to picking a college and paying for it. They aren’t.

With co-author Sandy Baum, past Skidmore College department chair in Economics, McPherson writes:

For starters, a college education is really a joint production between both the college and the student, so “fit” matters greatly. The best college for one student might be a nonstarter for another. Second, both the benefits and the costs, at least for the two-thirds of students who borrow, are extended over a long period of time, requiring a kind of investment perspective.

Moreover, investing in college is not something families deal with frequently, so learning from experience is hard. Reliable information is hard to come by, and decisions aren’t reversed easily or without cost; transfer is possible, but it’s often expensive and risky.

This framing of the problem is reasonable.  But are McPherson and Baum correct in their conclusions?

[P]eople tend to overvalue current consumption relative to future opportunities. Small wonder: It’s always difficult to pay now, or soon, for benefits we won’t enjoy until years in the future… This myopic approach can lead people to opt for schools that offer better prices, regardless of whether the schools are the best fit—and that can be a huge mistake.

When people read news articles about students who borrowed $100,000 for undergraduate education and have been unemployed since graduating, they tend to believe that this will happen to them (and that it will last forever). Likewise, people put lots of stock in the recurring (and misleading) warnings that college is a bubble or that it isn’t worth the money in the long run.

These stories make for captivating headlines, but all the evidence is that college pays off better than ever.

To be sure, McPherson and Baum emphasize that college decisions must be made based on individual situations, and note that cognitive biases can lead to decisions that overestimate earnings potential and underestimate debt loads as well.  But underpinning their analysis is both the last statement: “that college pays off better than ever,” and the suggestion that the “best fit” is more important than the “best price.”  That may be true if your “best fit” is Williams College, or a handful of other top-brand institutions, but it’s increasingly dubious as you work your way down the ladder.  This is particularly true because “fit” often has little to do with the educational dimensions – formal or informal – and more to do with whether it was raining on the day you visited the campus, and what drink you ordered at the coffee bar in the fitness center.

The debate over educational choices, costs, and benefits has continued in the four years since McPherson and Baum wrote this article, and unfortunately, EphBlog’s hiatus has kept us out of that discussion.  But on this Decision Day and the next one, I encourage skepticism when eloquent writers and speakers — even those with deep Eph connections — from traditional academic backgrounds urge “Ignore the Cost, Go With the Fit.”


Admissions Reform

Recall our previous discussion about suggested steps that students interested in reforming international admissions might take. Below are some more suggestions:

1) Remind Adam Falk about what he said/promised in his induction speech.

We now recognize that the future leaders of society will come from all its many parts, and that the highest manifestation of the public good we provide is to be a college for all of the United States, and of the world.

we must develop a deeper understanding of what it means for Williams to be an international institution. We must simultaneously be local and global, building a very specific, Berkshires-based Williams that could only be found in this valley, while reaching out far beyond to prepare our students to be effective citizens not only of this country but of the world. Many pieces of this process seem obvious – bring international students to Williams, send Williams students to study abroad – but our conception of a global strategy is still emerging. We are, after all, not a sprawling multiversity but a small college of two thousand students, each here for four years and some thirty courses. We cannot simply add every desirable experience to our curriculum or to student life. We must become global within our existing scale and scope, and without chasing fashions or being driven by our shifting anxieties about America’s geopolitical position. Grappling with this question will require the engagement of our entire community, as our strategies will encompass the curriculum and extend into so much of what we do. And we must think of the internationalization of Williams as something that happens here in Williamstown, capitalizing on what this campus and region can offer.

Many listeners to Falk’s words five years ago assumed that he was on our side, that he wanted to meaningfully increase the number of international students at Williams by, for example, easing/removing the current quota. So far, we have been disappointed. But it is never too late! If Falk still believes that “the internationalization of Williams as something that happens here in Williamstown,” then you can help him move forward.

I still think that Falk (and the rest of the senior administration) is more likely than not to be an ally. So, when speaking with them, you should not say, “Here are our demands!” Instead, you should ask, “How can we help you to make Williams ‘become global within our existing scale and scope’?”

2) Start working on the data. Of course, the first best option is the creation of a faculty committee that would bring the same sophisticated and thorough data analysis to the question of international admissions that the MacDonald Committee brought to the issue of athletic admissions. But that may not be possible right away. However, it is not too early to start your own work on these issues.

First, get some commitment from the Administration (ideally from Falk) that the College will make data available, in the same way that they have made data for senior theses available in the past (e.g., here and here). You aren’t looking for special treatment (or information about any specific student) but the Administration should be able to provide you with the same sort of access that Williams has provided to students like Jennifer Doleac ’03 and Peter Nurnberg ’09 in the past.

Second, get some commitment from a faculty member or two to “supervise” this work. Professors Miller and Stoiciu would be great choices, as would anyone else sympathetic to your cause. The Administration won’t like just handing data to students. But, with a faculty member in a supervisory role, it should be possible.

Third, try to find a junior who would be willing to write a senior thesis on this topic. Such a student, working for someone like Miller, would be perfect. There are 50+ juniors considering doing a senior thesis in economics or statistics. Surely one of them would like to tackle this topic, especially after they find out how many other people would be interested in the results!


Previews (and how to improve them)

Previews are going on right now. Comments:

1) Below the break is the e-mail that Bolton/Nesbitt sent out. Best part:

In general, students visiting for previews are not looking to make intimate connections during their visits.

Wouldn’t the Administration be more effective if it were more truthful? The vast majority of male previews would love nothing more than to make (several!) “intimate connections” with cute female Ephs. Surely Nesbitt, at least, remembers what it was like to be 17? Of course, few/none will act on this desire, but denying its existence is another example of the College’s willful blindness to biological/cultural reality.

2) Here (pdf) is the official schedule. Best part:

Departs from Greylock Hall Lobby
Join the Williams Outing Club for a short hike that will include s’mores and great views of campus.

This is genius. First, it shows off Williams beautiful setting in an unforgetable way. Second, it keeps the future-Ephs from getting in too much trouble! No time to party before the hike and too tired to party afterwards. How long has this been a part of Previews? And who thought it up? Kudos!

3) The single biggest improvement that could be made to Previews is to make hosting it a part of the JA application process.

Inform freshmen and sophomores (during the fall/winter) that any experience they have hosting overnight visits from applicants will be considered when they apply to be JAs. No JA wanna-be is forced to participate, but many/most would. There is a huge demand for JA spots at Williams. Would-be applicants know this and will act accordingly. The Admissions Office (or is it Purple Key?) would keep track of how many applicants each student hosted (I assume that it already does this), survey hosted students on the quality of their visit, and then report the results to the JA Selection Committee. The JASC would be under no obligation to use the survey results. Such a scheme would:

a) Dramatically improve the overnight process. If you motivate a Williams students to show off the campus in the best possible light, then she is likely to do a marvelous job. I bet that applicants under this scheme would have much more fun during their visits and, therefore, be more likely to select Williams.

b) Make the typical overnight visit for non-athletes as fun as those for athletes. I believe that most (all?) overnight visits involving athletes that a coach is interested in are handled outside of the standard system. In those cases, the coach (who wants to applicant to have a good time) ensures that the visitor is placed with player on the team (who both wants to make the coach happy and improve the quality of the athletes she plays with), thereby generating fun-filled visits. No one can sell Williams as well as an undergraduate who wants to.

c) Provide would-be JAs with some insight into what they might be getting themselves into. Although the vast majority of JAs perform superbly, some discover (once it is too late) that the sacrificing their own time and GPAs for the benefit of selfish, annoying and socially-awkward 18 year-olds is not for them. Alas, once they are a JA, it is too late, much to the chagrin of the students in their entry. By ensuring that these Ephs have some experience with hosting overnights, the College will decrease the likelihood of such mismatches.

d) Provide the JASC with more information. The JASC would be under no obligation to use that information, but, if I were a member, I would certainly be impressed with an applicant who hosted 5 or 10 high school seniors, devoted a lot of time and energy to their visit, and received lavish praise from those visitors. I would suspect that, all else equal, such students make for better JAs than those who don’t host visits and/or don’t do a good job of it.

e) Any applicant who, after such a visit, doesn’t like Williams probably shouldn’t come. The fit just isn’t right.

2) Besides JA-applicants, we should incorporate the enthusiasm of sophomores who have already been selected for JA by having them host during Preview Weekends. [I think that the first (of two?) such week-ends is coming up. Can anyone confirm?] This might be tough to do this year (although I bet that Dean Dave could swing it if he wanted to), but, in future years, JA applicants should be told that, if they are accepted, their first obligation will be to host visitors during Previews.

I don’t anticipate many objections from the future JAs. After all, they have just been selected and are very excited. Moreover, these visitors will, in 5 short months, become their freshmen, so there is every incentive to get to know them. Moreover, the Admissions Office could ensure that the students it most wanted were placed with JAs with similar interests.

Imagine that you are a high school senior choosing between Yale and Williams. At Yale, your visit consists of sleeping on the floor with four other students while your “host” ignores you. At William, your host is someone with the same interests as you (whether that be an academic subject or an extra-curricular activity), someone who spends the week-end with you, someone who will be a JA next year, already giving you a direct connection to Williams.

After two such week-ends, aren’t you much more likely to choose Williams than you otherwise would be?

I first suggested this 5 years ago. Alas, like most of my genius ideas, it has been ignored by the College. There is always next year!

Read more


Choose Williams Over Harvard

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.² They (you?) would be better off at Williams. Why?

1) Your professors would know your name. The typical 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 recent post by Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, who teaches EC 10, the equivalent of 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. Almost all 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 her 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.

²In the spirit of open discussion and/or trolling, I posted a link to this essay at the College Confidential threads for Williams, Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Any comments there worth highlighting?


How to Change International Admissions

Judging from the Record, there are students interested in revisiting international admissions at Williams. Advice:

1) Create an organization, something like “Ephs Against Quotas” or “Ephs Interested in International Admissions” or whatever. The name does not matter. But you need a place to stand, an official group that can organize petitions, seek support from the faculty and meet with the administration. Just two members are enough to start. Although you can seek help from other existing organizations — International Club, College Council and so on — you need a separate organization to build your movement around. Best recent example of such an effort is the Williams Endowment Initiative. (You don’t need to be nearly as professional as they are, although tools like NationBuilder make professionalism (look?) easy.)

2) Have a clear goal: The creation of special faculty committee to study international admissions. This might seem like a modest aim, but a) It is harder than it looks and b) Committees are the method by which the College has made its most important changes, .e.g., the end of fraternities and the decrease in admissions advantages for athletes.

3) Create a webpage that includes the name of your group, key members, contact information and a one paragraph statement of your goal. Again, you don’t need a professional looking site, but you do need at least one simple page.

4) Recruit to your cause. Create a “Board of Directors” or some similar leadership group. Appoint yourself and your 2 or 3 key student organizers. Then add a faculty member and/or prominent alumni. (I have been told that former trustee Jack Wadsworth ’60 and current trustee Joey Horn ’87 would be sympathetic to your cause.) Many faculty members would be supportive. At this point, it does not matter how many faculty/alumni you recruit (or what they do), as long as you get one of each who are willing to add their names to your Board. In this way, you are no longer just a student group; you are a student/faculty/alumni group.

5) Write up your one paragraph goal as a formal petition. Get College Council to support it. Table for a day or two in Paresky and get a few hundred student signatures. Try to get a dozen (or more) faculty. You aren’t asking these people to do anything more than sign the petition, but those signatures give your proposal heft. Note how the reasonableness of your goal — Who could be against a faculty committee to study international admissions? — maximizes the support that you can gather.

6) Focus on the issue of the quota against international students not on financial aid. First, the quota — so reminiscent of the Jewish quotas at elite schools in the 1920s — is much less defensible. Consider two rich students, neither requiring any financial aid. Why should Williams accept a weaker applicant born in San Diego over a stronger applicant from Shanghai? Second, there are significant problems with financial aid for international students because such students sometimes/often misreport their financial situation. (Not that we should blame them! Only a foolish Chinese citizen makes clear to the Chinese government just how wealthy he is.)

7) Now that you have an organization, a Board, a goal and some signatures, you are ready to approach the Administration. And, good news! Lots of people in the Administration, perhaps even Adam Falk himself, will be in favor of your idea. The faculty, uniformly, love international students. Most think that the College ought to have more rather than fewer.

By seeking the formation of a faculty committee you are giving the Administration cover (against the alumni/trustees?) for something that it probably wants to do anyway, just as similar committees in the past served to help the faculty achieve its own goals, like the elimination of fraternities and the decrease in admissions preferences for athletes.

Good luck!


Welcome to the Class of 2019 IV

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

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

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

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

For the class of 2017, we have:

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

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

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


Welcome to the Class of 2019 III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice to applicants: Always ask for a fee waiver.

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

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


Welcome to the Class of 2019 II

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

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

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


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

The College Board reports:

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

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

Answers to the ethnicity question are not required for submission.

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

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

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

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

The average combined SAT differential between African-American and Asian-American students at places like Williams is around 150 points. Imagine that you are an ambitious high school senior with mid 600 SATs. Without a “hook,” you are highly unlikely to be admitted to Williams. Check the box marked African-American on the Common Application, and you improve your chances dramatically. How much do you really want to go to Williams?

Given the tests’ speculative nature, it seems unlikely that colleges, governments and other institutions will embrace them. But that has not stopped many test-takers from adopting new DNA-based ethnicities — and a sense of entitlement to the privileges typically reserved for them.

Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights.

Note that the Common Application gives you almost complete latitude in what boxes you check. It states, “If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply.” In other words, there is no requirement that you “look” African-American or that other people identify you as African-America or even that you identify yourself as African-American, you just have to “wish to be identified.”

Now, one hopes, that there isn’t too much truth-stretching going on currently. The Admissions Department only wants to give preferences to students who really are African-American, who add to the diversity of Williams because their experiences provide them with a very different outlook than their non-African-American peers. But those experiences can only come from some identification — by society toward you and/or by you to yourself — over the course of, at least, your high school years. How can you bring any meaningful diversity if you never thought of yourself as African-American (or were so thought of by others) until the fall of senior year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CC: So . . .

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

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

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

CC: No.

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

CC: Correct.

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

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

Think that this is just more stupid EphBlog fantasy?

Ashley Klett’s younger sister marked the “Asian” box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European.

Whether it mattered they do not know, but she did get into the college of her choice.

“And they gave her a scholarship,” Ashley said.

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

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

The point here is not that the current admissions policy at Williams is bad or good. It is what it is. The point is that there are significant preferences given to those who check certain boxes and that cheap genetic testing will provide many people with a plausible excuse to check boxes that, a few years ago, they did not have. How much will the admissions process change as a result? Time will tell. It will be very interesting to look at the time series of application by ethnic group over this decade. I predict that the raw number (and total pool percentage) of African-American and Hispanic applicants will increase sharply. Time will tell.

Eight years later, what has time told us?


Welcome to the Class of 2019 I


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

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

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

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

More to come in January . . .


Record Article on Financial Aid II

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 2:

When students apply to the College, admissions are “need-blind,” meaning that the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students. However, this is not the case for international students, and the College does assess the family’s ability to pay when admitting international students. There are currently 85 international students on financial aid at the College.

Again, Bender needs to provide us with more context. How many international students are at Williams in total? How does the percentage on financial aid among international students compare to the percentage among US students? How has this percentage changed over time? Comments:

1) According to the latest Common Data set, Williams has 147 international students. (Note that this is last year’s data and Bender is (probably!) giving us this year’s.) So, there are 62 international students at Williams who get non financial aid. Wow! That is a huge change (I think). I believe that, when we discussed this at EphBlog several years ago, virtually every international student was on almost a full ride. Correct?

2) As you (should!) know, Williams has a shameful quota for international students. I had hoped that Falk might do something about that. So far, no luck.

3) Although I hate the quota against international admissions, I have no problem with not being need-blind for international applicants. First, the whole need-blind scheme is annoying and unfair, for all the usual reasons. Second, it is even more annoying and unfair with international students because it is impossible for Williams to accurately judge the income and wealth of students outside the US. So, we shouldn’t try to do it.

First, the College does not have the resources to deal with tax forms in other languages. Do you read Bengali? Do you think that the College should hire someone who does?

Second, accuracy (honesty?) on non-US tax forms is of much lower quality. And I don’t blame them! If I were a Chinese citizen, the last thing that I would do would be to be too truthful to the Chinese state.

4) Bender ought to know (and tell her readers!) that this claim is false: “the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students.” Of course it does! First, if you are super rich (and the College thinks that your family might donate enough for another Hollander Hall), you have a huge advantage in admissions. Second, if you are poor, the College gives you an advantage in admissions.

It is hard to fully trust Bender’s other reporting after she makes such a basic error.


Worshipping at the Shrine of Pell

A loyal reader asks for my comments on this New York Times article.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.


Lots of rich schools are, unsurprisingly, at the top of these rankings. It is easy to preen if you have a billion dollar endowment. Perhaps naively, I expected Williams to be higher. I am surprised by how well (if that is the word you want to use) Vassar, led by President Cappy Hill ’76, has done. Details on the methodology:

To measure top colleges’ efforts on economic diversity, The Upshot calculated a College Access Index, based on the share of freshmen in recent years who came from low-income families (measured by the share receiving a Pell grant) and on the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families. The following table also shows colleges’ endowment per student, which is a measure of the resources available to colleges. Colleges with a four-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher in 2011-12 are included.


1) I find the focus on Pell Grants deeply suspect. First, international students are not eligible. So, a school that with 50% of it students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. Second, it is not obvious that Pell Grant eligibility is a good measure of economic diversity. Would the child of a rich (but retired) parents be included? I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

2) The numbers are suspect. The key phrase is “net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.” See the methodological details. (Kudos for transparency.) Also, the raw data seems off. Vassar is at $5,600 but Amherst is $8,400? Impossible! Amherst is much, much richer than Vassar, and is every bit (perhaps even more so) committed to socio-economic diversity as Vassar. Why would they charge poor families 50% more than Amherst does? I believe that the authors got the numbers correctly from IPEDS, I just doubt the quality of the underlying data.


Admissions Article from Alumni Review

The best overview of the Williams admissions process comes from this 2005 article in the Williams Alumni Review. The article used to be on-line, but I can’t find it anymore. Can anyone provide a link? Read the whole thing, but the key passages (with my commentary) include:

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.

It is unclear how this breaks down between US and International applicants. Williams gets scores (hundreds?) of AR 1 applications from international students, the vast majority of which are rejected. But do we reject hundreds of US applicants with those sorts of credentials? I don’t think so, but I don’t have a good source.

In 1962, the first year for which the admission office has electronic records, 1,501 young men applied to the College. Of those, 35 percent were accepted. The entering class of 288 had an average combined SAT score of 1280

Note that the SAT was recentered in 1995, so a 1280 in 1962 corresponds to a 1340 today. We need to create a decent time series of SAT scores. Wake up my research assistants!

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.

This is the most critical part of the admissions process. For details on how these academic ratings (known as “AR”) are calculated, see yesterday’s discussion.

If the first and second readers’ academic ratings differ by more than a point, they put their heads together to try to reach a consensus rating. 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.

As we have often discussed, the vast majority (90%, I think) of the exceptions are driven by race/wealth/athletics.

“So far we’ve admitted 803 students,” he [Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74] says, providing breakdowns by sex and race, those with alumni connections, international students and the number admitted through athletic “tips” — requests from coaches for some extra nod in an athlete’s direction because of his or her ability to help a team or teams.

Notice what is not being kept track of — artistic talent, musical ability, passion for debate, et cetera, et cetera. You can call them goals or quotas or whatever you like, but the college has certain numbers that it will hit. Nesbitt and the other admissions officers keep track of those numbers and they hit them. Every coach will get his tips. Eight percent of the class will be international. Racial goals are important. Recall Mike Reed in the Record:

Reed 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.

There are so many interesting parts to the original article, that I really ought to spend a week or two parsing it carefully. Something to look forward to during Winter Study! In the mean time, the main less here is that, virtually every applicant below AR 2 is rejected unless they fulfill a need in the holy triumvirate of race/athletics/wealth.


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