College sees jump in early applications, increase in minority and female acceptances

The Admissions Office has released early decision statistics for the class of 2006 that signal a growing trend towards more women and minority students applying early to the College. The number of early applications also increased by approximately 10 percent.

The Sept. 11 attacks did cast some uncertainty over whether applications would be up or down. Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt said that his staff was initially concerned that the attacks would prevent “distance location” students from visiting or applying to Williams.

“We were wondering if students would be more inclined to stay close to home,” Nesbitt said. Ultimately, however, the attacks did not have a noticeable effect on applications or the number of campus visits the prospective students made.

In fact, the number of early admission applications rose by 10% to 507 from 458 for the Class of 2005. 102 out of 270 women and 91 out of 237 men were accepted to the College. The acceptance is binding, precludes the students from applying to any other colleges or universities, and requires their matriculation at Williams.

Nesbitt said the geographic and ethnic diversity of the accepted students improved from the class of 2005’s statistics: students from 35 states were accepted, including 11 African-American students, 14 Latino students, 10 Asian-American students, four international students, and one student of mixed heritage. The numbers mark an increase in geographic diversity by four states and in African-American students by four. The number of Asian Americans admitted early remained constant, as did the number of international students, while the number of Latino students decreased by two.

Nesbitt said that surprisingly Massachusetts (33) edged out New York (31) for the most number of students, and accepted students from the state of Washington rose to eight from two. New Jersey (13), Connecticut (12), and Pennsylvania (8) rounded out the top five states most represented in the class. Average combined SAT scores were also 10 points higher than the Class of 2005.

Nesbitt said he was pleased with the number of minority students who chose to apply early, noting strong recruitment programs that the admissions office has used to attract the students. Admissions holds a summer program that allows prospective students to stay with students enrolled in the summer science program for a few days and also has two multicultural weekends that are held in late October and November. Nesbitt said that 201 minority students attended at least one of the three activities.

While early admissions applications did rise by 10 percent, Nesbitt wants to keep the percentage accepted early roughly the same, or even slightly lower.

“We try to restrain ourselves – I’d like to keep early admits at around one third [of the final class],” he said. Early admissions, Nesbitt said, can be particularly tricky because the Admissions Office must carefully monitor whether or not too many “more advantaged” students are taking spaces. The early decision process is also complicated because it provides the Admissions Office with an opportunity to claim exceptionally gifted students; “in regular decision, you might have to admit three [truly talented students] to get one,” Nesbitt said.

However, while Williams has shown restraint by keeping the percentage of the class accepted early at around 35 to 36 percent, other schools – particularly in the Ivy Leagues – have admitted much larger percentages of their classes. The result, Nesbitt said – coupled with recent comments by Yale president Richard Levin in which he said that eliminating early decision would be a “good thing” – is mounting pressure against uncapped early admissions to the nation’s top colleges and universities.

At a meeting of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education later in the year, Nesbitt said early admissions policies will certainly be an issue. The consortium includes all the colleges in the Ivy League, plus other selective schools such as Stanford, Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore.

And while Nesbitt said that he expects changes to be made to early decision procedures, he “highly doubts” that early admission will be eliminated altogether. Instead, he said, a cap may be put on the percentage of a class that could be accepted early. Nesbitt mentioned 25 percent as a possible figure, although he also said that there may be legal issues with a consortium-wide policy that could be construed as collusion between the nation’s top colleges and universities.

The 35 percent figure assumes that the first year class has between 515 and 525 students. Nesbitt’s rough goal marks a trend towards slightly smaller incoming classes, as the College copes with tighter housing and larger classes. Between 2000 and 2003, all incoming classes had over 530 students, a break from the College’s historical average of around 515 students per class. The class of 2004 had 528 matriculating students.

The slightly lower enrollment goal, however, coupled with a rise in applications (Nesbitt says that the Admissions office should receive around 5,100 applications, up nearly 500 from last year) means that acceptances are handed out less frequently now.

One area that the Admissions office has focused on is the recruitment of international students. While the number of international students accepted early remained the same, Matthew Swanson, Assistant Director of Admissions, did visit a number of schools throughout Asia to educate prospective students about Williams.

With the College’s recent change to need-blind admission for international students, it is poised to increase the number of students from other countries. The four students accepted early for the class of 2006 hail from Bulgaria, India, Curaçao and Yugoslavia. Nesbitt said that the College’s new need-blind policy has quickly circulated throughout the international school community, which will hopefully lead to an increase in applications from outside the United States. “I would expect to see an increase in international student applications for regular decision,” Nesbitt said.