Admit rate hits record low 16.3%

Of the 7538 students who applied to be members of the Williams Class of 2012, 16.3 percent, or 1229 students, received the familiar purple acceptance folders by mail this past week. The acceptances come from a pool larger than ever before, up 17 percent from last year’s 6437.

”It was a challenging year,” said Director of Admission Dick Nesbitt. ”It’s not even just the reading, but the challenge for the support staff to put everything together for such a large number of applications.”

The higher number of applicants is a major factor contributing to the lower acceptance rate, with the 16.3 percent acceptance rate down from last year’s 17.4 percent. However, the actual number of accepted students is indeed higher than last year’s, a result of trying to achieve a yield as close as possible to the target class size for next year, which is 538 students.

According to Nesbitt, there is more difficulty in predicting yield this year than in years past, due mainly to changes made in admission and financial aid processes at other higher education institutions. ”The financial aid landscape has shifted, bringing more competition from other schools,” Nesbitt said, referring to the changes Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton have made recently regarding the way that they assess financial needs. The changes will go into effect in the coming school year, and for students with families at certain income levels, the College’s financial aid packages may no longer measure up.

Nesbitt said it is difficult to predict the effect these changes will have, explaining that the yield of students who would have been eligible for loans may increase, but students may be attracted by the more inclusive financial aid policies at other schools for those in the $180k and under income bracket, an income range that Harvard’s new aid policy will especially appeal to.

Additionally, Harvard and Yale both dropped their early decision and early action programs, but still posted record low acceptance rates of 7.1 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. Acceptance rates from Amherst, Pomona and Swarthmore all hovered around 15 percent.

It is possible that this year’s increase in applications is partially a result of the lack of early decision at peer institutions, such as Harvard and Princeton. It is also possible that the yield from the April acceptances will decrease as students choose to matriculate at these schools instead.

Nesbitt worked closely with Chris Winters, director of institutional research, to develop sophisticated models to predict yield, but there is no way of knowing for sure what the yield rates will be. In the past, lower than estimated yields have resulted in a large number of acceptances off the wait list. For the class of 2011, approximately 70 students were admitted off the wait list. Nesbitt said the ideal number would be more around 15 or 20 wait listed students. ”We hope to get a little closer to the target class size without going to the wait list,” he said.

But for the admissions office, the stress of making decisions about applications is over. ”It’s intense,” Nesbitt said. ”You go from hours of solitary application reading every day to long days of group debate over the applications. I was really relieved when those letters went out.”

The students selected by the admission office come from a range of ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. There were 166 African American students accepted, 180 Asian American, 162 Latino/a, 11 Native American and 104 non-U.S. students, numbers that are all fairly consistent with last year’s.

Geographically, the numbers were also similar to last year’s as well. The region with the most accepted students was the mid-Atlantic, including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, from which 409 students were accepted.

As is traditionally the case, New York was the state with the most acceptances, at 252. California was second with 159 and Massachusetts was third with 119 students.

Among the acceptances were 264 first-generation college students and 79 legacies. Additionally, 63 of the accepted students are tips and another 121 students have received high ratings from coaches but were admitted for other reasons. There were 141 tagged as musicians, while 36 received top theater ratings. Eighteen were tagged for dance and 164 were tagged for interest in scientific research. The ”intellectual vitality” label was given to 432 of the accepted students, a designation reserved for active, passionate learners with top scores, according the Nesbitt.

Even though the letters have been sent out, the admissions office will remain busy for much of the spring. ”We take a lot of phone calls, mostly from the wait-listed students who want to know what they can do,” Nesbitt said. His office is also preparing for campus previews in order to give accepted students a chance to visit, which often helps convince them to matriculate.