As the influx of almost 400 newly accepted students on the campus this week and last week indicates, this year’s admissions process is nearing its conclusion. The College admitted 1126 students out of an applicant pool of 4951 to comprise the class of 2004.
“The quality was outstanding,” said Director of Admissions Richard Nesbitt. “The decisions were very, very tough.”
Although total applications to the College are down this year from last year’s figure of 5007, Nesbitt points out that there was not a significant drop in applications from domestic students. The College has a target class size of 528, which is the same target as last year. Nesbitt said that the College is “hoping to come in somewhat short of 528, and fill the rest in with the wait list.”
However, last year the admissions office overshot this mark, ending up with a class size of 544 first-year students. In an effort to stick to the 528 mark this year, admissions accepted 20 fewer students through the early decision process than they did last year.
The combined total of students accepted early, and students who postponed their enrollment until this year, was 179. The College also accepted 31 fewer students overall compared to last year.
Nesbitt stated that Williams is generally satisfied with the distribution of gender and background among accepted students. According to Nesbitt, the College was “shooting for a 50:50 male-female ratio,” which it nearly achieved, as 557 admits were male, while 569 were female. This number of female acceptances is up from last year. Presently, the College ratio of men to women is 51:49.
Nesbitt is happy that Williams accepted more women. “In years past the wait list has helped the balance between men and women,” he said. However, this year no such effort to even the gender distribution was necessary.
Nesbitt also points out that the College puts much energy into attracting students of color and less advantaged students. Williams has a goal of about a 25 percent yield rate (the percentage of accepted students who decide to matriculate at Williams) for American students of color. In general, the College “wants as diverse a student body as possible,” according to Nesbitt.
This year, the background distribution of admitted students was 598 White, 150 unspecified, 132 Asian-American, 100 African-American, 86 Latino/a, 57 international and two Native American.
In contrast to the gender and background distributions, the college had no goals for distributions of geography and school type (i.e., public, private or parochial).
On rare occasions the admissions office may be partial to an applicant from an under-represented state. In terms of school types, according to Nesbitt, “if anything, we might look for underrepresented schools [or] all other things being equal, [we may] lean towards students who haven’t had the advantages other students have had.”
However, in general, the geographic and school type distributions fall randomly, Nesbitt said. This year the Middle Atlantic states were most represented, with the College accepting 383 students.
One of the trickiest parts of the admissions process is predicting the yield rate for accepted students, which is the percentage of accepted students who decide to matriculate at Williams. “[We’re] always sort of rolling the dice a little bit,” Nesbitt said.
Right now, the college’s concern is the April yield rate, that is, the yield rate for students accepted through regular decision. The highest April yield rate over the last ten years has been 36 percent, and the lowest 29 percent. This year, the college anticipates the highest possible rate to be 36 or 37 percent. If the rate turns out to be lower, than the college will accept students off the wait list accordingly. For example, according to Nesbitt, if the rate is 34 percent, the College will go marginally to the wait list. If the rate is much lower, Williams will rely on the list more heavily.
In addition, the actions of peer institutions affect Williams yield rate. For example, the more students that institutions such as Harvard or Princeton accept early, the less overlap there will be in the regular decision process between students accepted to those institutions who are also accepted at Williams. This effect will increase Williams spring yield rate.
Specifically, Princeton changed from early action to early decision three or four years ago. This change, coupled with the fact that Princeton now takes a higher percentage of its class early decision, has increased Williams spring yield rate.
Another important aspect of the admissions process which effects class size is “summer melt,” the term which refers to accepted students who either get off the wait list at another school and decide to matriculate there, or decide to postpone their matriculation at Williams.
Last year, summer melt cut class size down from 560 to 544. This year, Nesbitt states that the school would be “comfortable with 540 deposits, because we anticipate [about] the same summer melt.” Summer melt depends upon how heavily other schools use their wait lists, and of course upon the individual decisions of accepted students to defer matriculation for a period of time.
The admissions department cannot fully measure the success of this year’s process until the accepted students make their decisions about where to matriculate in the coming months. One of the main tools that Williams uses to evaluate the admissions process is the Admitted Student Questionnaire (ASQ).
The College sends this questionnaire out to accepted students after they have made their matriculation decision. The returned questionnaires give the college insight into the students’ decision processes. As Nesbitt puts it, the ASQ allows him and his staff “to sit back and study why people chose to come and why people didn’t choose to come.”
This year’s admissions process has also shed light on growing trends in the admissions processes of institutions. According to Nesbitt, the number of applications to city schools, such as Harvard, Boston College, NYU and Tufts, has increased this year, while the number of applications to more rural schools such as Dartmouth and Williams has remained steady.
This trend is a warning for Williams. Nesbitt feels that the school is proud of the advantages of its geographical location and that this location must not stereotype the school as culturally isolated in the minds of prospective students. Hopefully, according to Nesbitt, the school will make prospective students more aware of the substantial cultural access provided by Williams, even in its rural setting. “We have to continue to get that message across,” says Nesbitt.
Also, Nesbitt sees financial aid as a growing factor in the admissions process. “Colleges are competing for students with dollars,” Nesbitt said. Some schools manipulate their financial aid packages to attract students, creating a competitive financial aid environment among peer institutions. This shifting nature of financial aid makes it difficult to predict the effects it will have on yield rates. For example, although Williams’ decision to freeze tuition had nothing to do with the admissions process, Nesbitt “has no idea whether or not the decision to freeze tuition will affect our yield.”
Despite this variable financial aid landscape, Director of Financial Aid Paul Boyer emphasizes the consistency of Williams financial aid policy. “At Williams, the admission process does not influence our financial aid policies,” he said. “We continue to attract and admit the brightest students in the nation, and as such, we have not needed to adopt enrollment management strategies (i.e., merit aid) to bring in a class.”
Another trend in the admissions process has to do with the increasing role of the Internet. Nesbitt believes that students’ use of the web to explore schools has increased significantly in recent years, “almost to the point where print media becomes secondary.” This trend requires Williams to pay close attention to its own website, so as to represent the school well to students discovering it over the Internet.
Nesbitt estimates that about 90 percent of applicants have Internet access.
Another product of the increasing use of the Internet in the admissions process is Williams’ decision to provide the option to apply directly from its website. “We will, for the first time next year, offer the option for an electronic application directly from our website, Nesbitt said. “A student will be able to fill out and edit his/her application online and press a button to send it here via the Internet.”
He continued, “Obviously, many students will still opt to use the traditional method of sending applications via snail mail, but the online application is an increasingly popular option”