Now that admissions decisions have been made and prospective students for the Class of 2015 all have their acceptance letters in hand, the time has come for a new decision: matriculation. While 1199 have been admitted to the Class of 2015, the Office of Admission hopes to achieve a target class of 550 students. This time, the decision lies not in the hands of the Office of Admission, but rather in the hands of the College’s admitted students, turning the now-complete application process on its head.
Director of Admission Dick Nesbitt explained that the admission office tries “to predict what the yield will be” for a given class by using the previous spring’s yield data to decide how many and which students will matriculate.
According to Nesbitt, certain types of accepted students are more likely than others to enroll at the College. For example, legacy students are more likely to enroll than non-legacy students, even if there is no family pressure to attend the College, Nesbitt said.
Additionally, students who live farther away from the College are less likely to matriculate than those who live in the Northeast. Nesbitt explained that for students accepted to the Class of 2015, more were admitted from California than were admitted from Massachusetts, but often “Massachusetts takes over” when the final yield comes in.
Recruited athletes are also more likely to enroll, due to what Nesbitt described as a “mutual match process” between coaches who want certain students for their teams and students who are attracted to the College.
Nesbitt said that international students who apply for financial aid are more likely to matriculate than are international students who are not applying for aid. Outside the College, very few schools are able to meet students’ full demonstrated need, so those who have less or no need are able to look into attending other schools.
According to Nesbitt, the target yield for each class has been around 550 students for the past couple years. The College’s overall yield rate for early and regular decision combined has fluctuated between 40 and 50 percent since 1986, according to data from the Office of Admission. The yield rate for the Class of 2014 was 44 percent, and the yield rate for the Class of 2013 was 45 percent.
“You get some erosion, so you lose some of the students who have deposited,” Nesbitt explained. The main reasons for that erosion are sstudents being taken off waitlists at other schools or deciding to take time off before college. Nesbitt noted that because of this “melt-back” that takes place after the enrollment deadline, the Office of Admission actually tries to yield 565 students instead of 550.“If the class size is slightly lower, it isn’t a problem, but if it is too high, then that is a problem,” Nesbitt said. “If we have 540, we’ll be in great shape. If we’re at 580 or 600, then I get nervous.” Nesbitt said that if a class does over-yield by, for example, 20 students, “we do have a fair amount of flexibility with first-year housing,” but an excess of 40 students would be a much more significant problem.
“We take every precaution not to over-yield, but you really can’t anticipate everything,” Nesbitt said, noting that the College has not over-yielded since the Class of 2003, for which the acceptance rate was 23 percent, and the yield rate was 47 percent.
Changes over time
According to data compiled by the Office of Admission, the College has seen two distinct periods of application growth over the past 50 years: the 1970s, when the College first started accepting women, and the last 10 years, as the College has become increasingly attractive to international students. The yield rate for the Class of 1975, the first class for which the College was completely co-ed, was 55 percent, 11 percent higher than that of the current first-year class.
According to the data, the first-year class has grown from fewer than 300 students in the 1960s to around 550 students today. While class size has increased over time, yield rate has undergone a period of decline during the pre- and post-coed eras, but it has been relatively stable since the 1980s. Due to the decline, however, the College has to accept a larger proportion of students each year.
Nesbitt explained that with students applying to more colleges nowadays than in the past, they may have more of a selection from which to choose, potentially affecting the yield rate of each school to which they were accepted.
The effect of Previews
Previews, an annual program held in the spring that gives admitted students the chance to visit the College and stay overnight with student hosts, has significantly impacted the College’s yield rate, according to Nesbitt. The program has existed in some form since the 1980s. The Previews program garnered a 52 percent yield for regular decision students from the Class of 2014 who attended.
“This is impressive considering the overall yield on regular decision admits is closer to 30 [percent],” Nesbitt said. “The yield was even higher for the cohort of students that were flown in by Williams.”
For the regular decision students of the Class of 2014, the College flew in 89 admitted students to Previews and saw 58 of those students matriculate, producing a 64 percent yield. For non-fly-ins, the College saw 190 admitted students attend Previews and 86 matriculate, producing a 45 percent yield. For Previews overall, the College saw 279 regular decision admitted students attend the program and 144 matriculate, producing the 52 percent overall yield for the Class of 2014 regular decision students who attended Previews last year. The decision whether to have the College fly in a student depends on the student’s ability to pay for the trip and the student’s distance from the College, according to Nesbitt.
“[We are] extremely grateful … to the entire Williams community for their help with Previews,” Nesbitt said, explaining that it is essential in allowing students the opportunity to make a decision on matriculating to the College. “The student hosts, Admissions Office ambassadors, tour guides, faculty and staff … go out of their way to make this a very special and successful event,” Nesbitt said.
Allen Lum ’12 said that when he attended Previews, he had already applied to the College and was accepted through Early Decision, but the chance to visit a second time made him “enamored by the entry system, and I admired the close relationships that freshmen were able to have with one another,” Lum said. “I also chose to come to Williams because it was the only school that seemed to really want me. They made the extra effort of paying for my fly-in program,” he added.
Lum said he also noticed during his opportunities to visit that “Williams also has an unconventional campus; that is, the facilities are not gated off to the rest of the public, so there is a healthy town-college relationship.”
Jillian Schwiep ’13 had a different impression of the College during Previews. “When I attended spring Previews, I was absolutely horrified by the weather,” she said. “I only attended Previews for one day because I left to visit Wellesley.”
However, she said was impressed by the kindness she saw in others during that brief visit, citing the fact that one student loaned her a sweatshirt to fend off the cold. Schwiep said she was originally “scared to even apply here, being absolutely certain I’d be denied,” but when she was accepted with an early write, she reasoned, “If you guys really think I can make it at Williams, I probably can.”