Early Decision applicant increase affects Williams

In the past few years the schools with whomWilliams competes for students have noticeably increased the number of students they admit through the early decision program. Williams Dean of Admission Philip Smith said “over the past few years, Williams has admitted around 35% of its classes early decision.” He described the national increase in early applicants as driven largely by applicants. “This February the admissions office has been full of high school juniors going on tours and attending information sessions,” Smith noted.

Smith said “Williams began its early decision plan in 1967. The plan replaced a much less egalitarian system in which Williams admissions officials would visit schools such as Phillips Exeter and other prestigious schools and give students who were especially promising an ‘A’ rating, which was an assurance that if they applied, they would be accepted. The current system is much more open.”

An often-voiced concern about early decision is that it admits a higher percentage of white, suburban, middle- to upper- class applicants than regular decision does. Smith attributed this phenomenon to the fact that “many early applicants have ties to the school through relatives who are alumni or go to schools in which guidance counselors push schools such as Williams.” Both these groups tend to come from backgrounds which are more affluent than the average applicant.

Director of Financial Aid Philip Wick said “each year the percentage of early decision students receiving financial aid is around 15% less than the percentage of regular decision students. 25% of the students accepted by early decision for the class of 2002 received financial aid.”

Financial need is a factor in an applicant’s decision to applyearly decision as many students want to compare the financial aid packages they receive from various schools.

Commenting on the growing numbers of early decision students at other schools, Smith estimated last year 2,000 potential applicants were removed from the Williams applicant pool by commitments required by early decision/action policies of other schools.

The number of students who withdrew their application from Williams, mainly as a result of having been accepted early decision elsewhere, has increased over the last eight years. In 1990, 96 applicants withdrew. In 1995, the number was 91. The number in 1996 was 141, and in 1997, 117 students withdrew.

Smith noted “most students who get into a school early would probably also be admitted regular action and still attend. As a result, the increase in early applicants elsewhere may decrease our potential applicant pool but it increased our yield.”

He said “in the years that other schools have seen more early applicants, we have seen the caliber of all our applicants pool increase.” He attributed the increase to two factors, “that thing we love to hate, U.S. News and World Report, which has given us a lot of exposure and the consistency with which our admissions office rejects weak applicants. Kids who would not be the strongest applicants see that the less than stellar applicants who applied in the previous year from their high schools are routinely rejected and don’t bother to apply themselves.”

Professor of Classics Charles Fuqua reflects on how faculty are only slightly aware of the admissions process. “I am utterly unaware of which students in my classes were admitted early. I can only imagine that it must be much harder to get in regular decision these days.”

He expressed concern over the possibility that “the student body may be less diverse because students who need aid are less likely to apply early” and said that in the 32 years he has been teaching at Williams “the increase in diversity, especially from the admittance of women, is the best thing that has happened to the college.”

Fuqua noted that, “When I applied to Princeton in 1953, early decision was unheard of. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to apply to college now.”

Mike Hurwitz ’00 said “schools are taking a lot of people early because they are concerned about getting a higher yield so that they look better. This is unfortunate because low-income students don’t have the luxury of applying early and they get cut out altogether because so many spots were taken by early applicants.”