The Williams Admissions Department has mailed acceptance letters for the class of 2003, sending bids to 1155 of 5006 applicants. This year’s applicant pool, the second largest in Williams history, represented a 10.6% increase over last year’s.
Director of Admissions Tom Parker attributed the increase in applications to “a wonderful group of tour guides and a very dynamic and engaging younger staff. The office is as strong as it’s ever been.”
“Of course,” Parker added, “as time goes on Williams has also simply gotten more and more identified with the top end of schools.”
Admissions officials based their number of acceptances on a targeted class size of 528, down from last year’s 535 because Fitch North will no longer be used for freshman housing. The Department expects a yield somewhere between last year’s 33% and the 36% of the year before.
Predicting yield, however, is “the hardest thing for our business,” Parker explained. “The difficulty for us is we have fifteen to twenty years of good data which is becoming increasingly useless because the variables are changing.”
One of the most important of these variables is skyrocketing early decisions percentages at other schools. For example, Harvard took approximately 65% of its class early this year, and rates also increased at Princeton, Yale and others. These practices mean that fewer students get into these institutions regular decision, Dean of Admission Philip Smith explained, and thus regular decision yield increases at schools like Williams.
“The first year of Harvard and Princeton’s new early admissions policy [for the class of 2000] our yield went from 29% to 35%: a significant jump,” Parker said. The effect of this year’s changes remains to be seen.
Another factor which has increased the unpredictability of Williams admissions is new preferential packaging of financial aid at peer institutions.
“More schools are monkeying around with financial aid packages,” Parker said. Last year, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and Swarthmore, and this year, Brown have all changed their financial aid packages. Parker and Smith admit they cannot predict what the combined effects will be, but although last year’s preferential packaging initiatives may have contributed to a slightly decreased yield, they do not expect it to decrease any further this year.
In fact, the department hopes that potential changes in yield may to some extent be combated by Williams’s own financial aid policy changes, which will take effect for the incoming class of 2003.
“We have made three basic changes,” Director of Financial Aid Philip Wick explained. First, Williams will not increase any self-help levels, including summer earnings, student loans, and campus jobs.
Second, for those students whose parental contributions are less than $2500, the summer earnings requirement will be reduced by $650 and loans will be reduced by $2000. And third, students whose parental contributions are between $2500 and $3500 will get a $1000 decrease in loans for every year they are here.
“We wanted to put ourselves in an improved competitive situation,” Wick said, “with respect to other institutions that we compete with for low-income students, particularly students of color.”
Parker added, “What we’re trying to do is hold our own.”
But both Wick and Parker emphasized that Williams’s changes are fundamentally different— “more modest, more sophisticated,” Parker notes—than preferential packaging policies at other schools.
“Everyone else did it according to incomes,” Wick elaborated, “and we did it according to actual calculated parental contribution … [other schools’ policies] build in a really inequitable situation, while what we have tried to do is smooth out the inequities.”
“Its more difficult,” he added, “but its a much fairer way of doing it. [It] protects our fundamental belief in equity and fairness.”
Parker also hopes Williams’s new financial aid policy will help attract students of color and first generation college students to Williams, both of whom are especially affected by preferential packaging, and both of whom Williams has accepted in record numbers this year.
“We’ve accepted the largest number of African-American students in quite some time, as well as the largest number of first-generation college students ever,” Parker noted.
Because of all these considerations—especially, early decisions and financial aid changes—yield predictions are becoming increasingly unscientific. As a result, Admissions officials are unsure about the extent to which students will be accepted off the waitlist.
“Our best guess [on yield] is somewhere between 33% and 36%,” Parker said. “If we come in at 33 we’ll take more off the waitlist than I’m really comfortable with; if we come at 36 we wind up going to the waitlist for no one.”
Last year, 42 students were accepted off the waitlist, of which 28 matriculated. “That’s pretty close to ideal,” Parker noted. “If you’ve done poorly with women, or men, or a region of the country, you can correct it … Also, we want waitlist to have some credibility. If year after year you take no one off the waitlist it becomes a hollow gesture.”
Going to the wait-list is not expected to cause any significant decrease in the quality of the class of 2003.
“The talents of the applicant pool were remarkable even by the standards set by the excellent classes of the past few years,” Parker said.
Arts and music are particularly strongly represented this year, and the sciences have remained at the high levels of the year before.
“You like to increase or sustain those positive attributes,” Smith said. “That’s what a larger pool enables you to do.”