I blame the prospectus

As a first-year student, I observed with amusement the reaction of the Williams College community to the enrollment numbers for the class of 2006, in particular to the article which ran last week in the Record, “Enrollment numbers for class of 2006 larger than expected.”

Apparently, when the Admissions Office sent out its acceptance letters, it never expected to see so many of us actually enroll: the ideal yield was 525 students. As the Dean’s Office has been scrambling to accommodate 541 first-years, the Admissions Office has been struggling to understand exactly why a higher percentage of students chose to attend Williams this year than in years past.

While it seems ridiculous to me that the presence of an extra 16 students should create front-page news even at a small school like this one, I thought I would do my part and provide an explanation as to why I am here.

It was the newly-designed college prospectus. Suffice it to say that a number of first-year students probably became interested in Williams almost independent of the propaganda sent them. My story is a different one, however; I was a tough sell when it came to Williams. By the end of my junior year, I had amassed quite a collection of publications sent to my house from admissions offices around the country. I thought I knew what I wanted, and it certainly wasn’t a tiny college located in a cow pasture. The day I received the Williams College prospectus, however, everything changed.

I make it sound too dramatic, but reading the prospectus was, for me, a revolutionary experience; it unraveled the mystery behind a school that I had previously dismissed as being too far removed from the world. The prospectus itself defied my expectations of Williams: I found it, and the school it represented, to be vital and engaging.

Most of the first-years who I’ve talked to about the prospectus liked it. The layout is clever. It divides information concerning the college’s vital characteristics into separate chapters, each of which is prefaced by striking black-and-white photographs of the campus paired with candid snapshots of taken by students depicting elements of the Williams experience. The text of the chapters outlines necessary information, such as the programs and opportunities available at Williams, but is written confidently and succinctly. Furthermore, the addition of a column of trivia along the border of nearly every page provides a smart distraction from important information.

The prospectus is visually appealing and comprehensive, but the most successful aspect of the prospectus is its attention to detail. Creators of the prospectus interviewed individual students and professors, and featured their comments in a special section. Within the prospectus, readers can also find a sampling of the more unique courses offered by each department.

Admittedly, the prospectus is somewhat impressionistic and paints an idyllic portrait of the College. Still, it is snappy, charming, personal and of high quality – it was definitely the best piece of college propaganda that I received. I understand that the Admissions Office spent quite a bit of money creating the prospectus I received last year. From my perspective, it was a wise undertaking. I closed the prospectus convinced of the strength of Williams as both an academic institution and as a community.

Moreover, I was struck by my own willingness to join the regiments of Williams students who happily surrender themselves to spending four years in rural Massachusetts worshipping the elusive Purple Cow. So I visited. I applied. I got in. Now I’m here with 540 fellow first-years. Although my decision to attend was more complicated than my decision to apply, I still consider the prospectus as an important part of my college decision as a whole.

If the college is still looking for an answer as to why so many of us ultimately decided on Williams, the phenomenon of the 48 percent yield can be explained in part because the Admissions Office did a superior job of marketing a wonderful school. My guess is that the prospectus attracted more of us who, in the end, actually wanted to go to Williams. When we got in, we seized the opportunity. Can you blame us?