Admissions to be need-blind for applicants abroad

Beginning with the class of 2006, Williams will admit international students regardless of their financial situation and subsequent ability to pay for a Williams education. Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, announced the decision to expand the College’s existing need-blind admissions policy for North American students to students from around the world at this year’s first faculty meeting last Wednesday.

Currently, Williams is one of about twenty schools with need-blind domestic admissions, and now becomes the fourth college or university in the country to adopt a need-blind international admissions policy. Yale University, Princeton University and Harvard University are the other three schools who have recently decided to implement need-blind admissions for non-U.S. citizens. Up to now, Williams has offered need-blind admission to American and Canadian citizens in addition to nationals of several Caribbean countries. “We have wonderful international students, but not that many with demonstrated financial need. This decision allows us to evaluate those with need,” Schapiro said in his announcement to the faculty.

The College will incur the cost of expanding need-blind admissions to include non-citizens out of its annual administrative budget. According to Cappy Hill ’76, Provost of the College, “When fully implemented for four classes, it will cost about one million dollars a year. To put this in context, our total financial aid budget for this fiscal year is about $16 million.” A considerable element of the estimated cost is the expectation that some spots normally reserved for international students not on financial aid would be filled by students that would receive some sort of aid, because the Admissions Office will be able to assess their applications under the same standards accorded to American applicants.

“Essentially, we may be replacing non-financial aid students with financial aid students,” noted Dick Nesbitt ’74, Director of Admissions. “In terms of assessing ability to pay, we will no longer differentiate between domestic and international students.”

College administrators were quick to point out that the decision to change Williams’ financial aid policy at this time was not influenced by the recent moves by Yale, Princeton and Harvard to offer need-blind aid for non-citizens.

“This has been in the works for some time,” Schapiro said. “There are only a couple of dozen schools in the entire country that are need-blind for domestic students, and the number who are need-blind for international students as well is even smaller. Last year Yale joined that tiny group and I’m very proud that Williams is now a member. There are so many talented students throughout the world who could be valuable members of the Williams community. Now that we are able to evaluate their talents without regard to ability to pay, we will have our pick not just among the best students in the country, but throughout the world.”

The Advisory Group on Admissions and Financial Aid (AGAFA), the body that sets admissions and financial aid policy and establishes guidelines for both the Admissions and Financial Aid Offices, had been discussing need-blind admissions for international students for quite some time.

“We have spent a lot of time in the last two years thinking about our financial aid policies and our admission procedures. We started discussions about international students last year, hoping to propose changes this year, which is what in fact happened,” said Hill, who as Provost oversees the operations of the Admissions and Financial Aid Offices and is a member of AGAFA.

“One reason we acted now was September 11,” Hill added. “It reminded us of the importance of our international connections and commitments. Many of the major problems or issues facing our society are international ones. To have an international presence on campus seems very important.”

This decision comes just as the Admissions Office increased the amount of time and resources it dedicates to recruiting international students for this year’s crop of applicants. This year, the Admissions Office received a ten thousand dollar grant from the Davis Family Foundation to increase recruitment of international students. The Davis Foundation is affiliated with United World Colleges, a global consortium of private secondary schools that have international student bodies.

Using some of the Davis grant money, Mathew Swanson, an assistant director of Admissions, embarked on a three week mission to Asia. The whirlwind tour, in conjunction with Middlebury College, went through India, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. On his trip, Swanson visited United World Colleges and other international and private schools; he also conducted evening programs and met with alumni in various cities.

According to Nesbitt, “Part of [Swanson’s trip] was in anticipation of possibly becoming need-blind and part of it was because we felt it was a good use of the money we received [from the Davis grant].”

Karen Parkinson, also an assistant director of Admissions, will soon travel to Europe on a recruitment trip.

“There will be a natural increase in applications from abroad as word gets out [about need-blind international admissions],” said Nesbitt. Currently, the College normally receives around 300 applications from outside the US, Canada and the Caribbean. Normally, these students comprise about four percent of each incoming class.

“We probably will not be looking to dramatically increase the number of international students this year,” said Nesbitt. “That is something that needs to be determined by the Trustees and AGAFA, who would make any decision that significantly increases slots allotted for international students. For the upcoming year, the number of international students will probably be around six percent.”

Right now, the next task for the College will focus on publicity as the Admissions Office will attempt to get the word out. This week, the College sent out a letter announcing the new policy to guidance counselors and international students currently in the prospective applicant database around the world.

“Word travels quite quickly among international circles of kids looking at attending college in the US,” said Nesbitt. “People will find out.”

“Up until now, we have had a fairly rich pool of international applicants with out having to do on-site recruiting,” Nesbitt continued. “A lot of that has to do with our reputation and the availability of information on the internet.” For a variety of reasons, the Admissions Office has typically screened international applicants, sending applications only to those that were within a predetermined academic range, because financial aid resources for international students were limited.

“Most of our international applicants were applying for financial aid. And since we had limited financial aid for them, we were forced to turn many of them down,” noted Nesbitt. “That just doesn’t make sense.”