Strong class admitted, size down

The Admissions Office has accepted 1,121 students to the Williams class of 2006 from a pool of 4,931 applicants. Both the total number of admits and the percentage of applicants admitted (22.7 percent) are the lowest they have been since the College admitted the class of 1986.

“It certainly was as competitive as I’ve ever seen it,” said Richard Nesbitt, director of admission. “The application numbers were up and the quality was demonstrably stronger than last year. It was very difficult making decisions – we’re blessed with such a rich pool of highly qualified applicants.”

The admitted students boast an average composite SAT score of 1426, an increase of six points from last year, and 193 were accepted under the Early Decision process.

In recent years, approximately 45 percent of admitted students have matriculated at Williams. According to Nesbitt, the Admissions Office is hoping for an entering first-year class of 520 in September, which would put it on par with this year’s first-year class and continue the trend toward smaller classes that began with the class of 2004. Accordingly, the admissions staff aimed for about 535 accepted offers come May 1, building in a “cushion” for the phenomenon known in Admissions as “summer melt.” Summer melt, Nesbitt explained, is a small degree of attrition among students who have already accepted offers of admission but have not yet arrived at the College. Summer melt usually consists of students who decide to postpone matriculation or to withdraw their acceptances upon getting off the waitlist at another school.

The number of female applicants eclipsed the number of male applicants for the first time in the College’s history for the class of 2005, and that trend continued this year. For the class of 2006, Admissions sent out 606 acceptances to female students and 515 to males. The rationale for this wide difference is that the yield for men – the percentage of admitted male students who matriculate at Williams – is slightly higher than that for women. Nesbitt predicted that “when the dust settles” the entering first-year class will consist of approximately 51 percent women to 49 percent men.

An increasing proportion of female applicants is a common trend among many of Williams’ peer institutions. “We’re on the low end in the liberal arts colleges – we just crossed the 50/50 line,” Nesbitt said. “Other places, like Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Oberlin and even Amherst have a higher percentage of women…. That’s not the case at Ivy League universities and [at other] highly selective universities. It’s an interesting trend to watch.”

Nesbitt said that he felt “very good” about the Admissions Office’s recruitment of students of color this year, crediting an expansion in fall programming for prospective students from minority groups. Between one summer program and two fall programs, the College welcomed 223 prospectives to campus. The number of African-American applicants increased by 25 percent over last year – a “direct result,” Nesbitt speculated, of the program expansion – while the number of Asian-Americans applying increased slightly and Latino/a applications were virtually the same.

This admission season also saw important shifts in application patterns from international students, who enjoyed a need-blind admissions process for the first time. Admissions received 690 applications from international students, a dramatic increase from last year’s 422, and this year’s pool was “clearly a stronger group academically,” according to Nesbitt. Seventy students from 37 countries were accepted, an increase of only one admit from last year, although a substantially higher proportion of admitted students were candidates for financial aid.

“The main difference in the admissions process is that before we were limited in how many international students we could take that required financial aid,” Nesbitt said. “This year we didn’t have to make any distinctions.” The admissions staff also pursued a more aggressive international travel schedule including more visits to the United World Colleges, which are tuition-free high schools for talented students from around the world.

Nesbitt projected that approximately 45 percent of the total entering class will receive some financial aid, although it is “too early to call.”

As usual, Admissions is hosting two first-year previews, one already in progress and the other on April 22-23. “We try to encourage as many people as possible to come to previews,” Nesbitt said. “It makes a difference to so many kids in their decision making, and parents are always highly impressed by the family ethos they feel here.” Nesbitt said that he expected approximately 250 students for the first preview and 150-200 for the second.

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