Out the window

“You are looking through a window. What do you see?”

Personally, I see the 20 percent decrease in admission applications to Williams for the Class of 2013 stemming from the asinine essay prompt. This year marks the first time that the Williams application required a supplemental essay. In the past applying to Williams simply entailed filling out the Common Application. Honestly, it was my easiest application. However, now future Ephs must type out a couple hundred words for an essay with an absurdly abstract prompt.

What worries me is the magnitude of Williams’ plummet in application numbers, especially when compared to our Lord Jeff rivals. Amherst faced the same obstacles that limited its numbers that Williams did (such as a drop in families wanting to invest over $50,000 for the next four years), yet their numbers were fairly consistent with last years’. The economy’s turbulent condition can’t bear all the blame. Another possible theory for the gap between Williams and Amherst’s numbers is that for the first time both schools tied as the number one liberal arts college in U.S. News and World Report, and since the Amherst “A” comes before the Williams “W” in the alphabet, it may have appeared to some applicants (the awfully misguided ones, that is) that Amherst is the better school.

However, the most plausible explanation for Williams’ mammoth decrease in applications in comparison to its peers is its new essay prompt. From an admissions officer’s and a Williams student’s perspective, I understand why instating an additional required essay is an attractive idea, and I wholeheartedly support the concept behind it. It’s better that the students who apply here actually invest their time in writing an essay, thus showing their interest in Williams. Just checking off “Williams College” on the Common App Web site doesn’t necessitate much interest, and the addition of an essay ensures that future applicants will be more passionate and dedicated to this school.

It is the nature of this essay topic that really bothers me, and I’m sure it scared off many potential Ephs. “What do you see outside your window?” seems like a reiteration of the Common Application essay (which asks you to write about a topic of your choice). It focuses on external motivations, as opposed to what drives you as a person, which I find to be a more effective question. There are many bright seniors out there who just don’t see the world through metaphorical windows and who would prefer to write about something more substantial, and as a result didn’t apply to Williams. I see this as a major loss; our college’s peer institutions such as Amherst and the University of Pennsylvania (schools that have been requiring additional essays for years) foresaw this dilemma and thus offered a choice of essay topics, some of which were more prone to interpretation for more artistic students (like the windows question) and others that were more concrete.

Why does it matter to us as current Williams students if fewer students apply? We are already enjoying a world-class education. If some high school students are turned away by an essay topic, that isn’t our problem. After talking about this in my entry, all three international students thought that this essay might pose a conflict for future international Ephs. A college’s ranking sometimes hinges very much on how many applicants are drawn in, and if applications to the College were to continue to drop, so will our ranking. All three international entrymates of mine agree that the ranking is the most important factor when choosing a college for an international student. They emphasized that since international students can’t see colleges in person, they have to depend a lot on rankings, and if Williams were to go down to No. 2 then fewer international students would be interested in Williams. Unfortunately, rankings do matter more than we want them to.

However, the fact that numbers fell this year is not a big deal. Williams still had over 6,000 applicants, which is the third most we’ve ever had, and this is no way indicative of these applicants being any less talented. Implementing an essay topic should be a growing process for the school – this is the first time it has even been done at Williams. I just hope that in the future, Williams takes a page out of Amherst’s book (and only one) and provides future applicants with multiple options for essays that would appeal to a wide range of applicants.

Raphael Menko ’12 is from Narberth, Pa. He lives in Armstrong.