Beware, we are need-aware: A call for need-blind admissions for international students

Williams College offers need-blind admissions for all students except internationals. For many of us, this policy embodies a hurtful attitude towards students that lack the privileges that come with American citizenship.

It wasn’t always this way. In 2001, President Morton Schapiro introduced need-blind admissions for international students. According to Catharine Bond Hill ’76, provost of the College at the time and a member of the committee that established this policy, the College decided to go need-blind for international students partly in response to September 11. In an article in the Record, she stated, “September 11 reminded us of the importance of our international connections and commitments. Many of the major problems or issues facing our society are international ones. To have an international presence on campus seems very important”  (“Admissions to be need-blind for international applicants,” Oct. 23, 2001). This statement feels particularly relevant in our current context of rampant xenophobia and American exceptionalism. It is time for the College to reaffirm its commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

Following the adoption of this policy, from 2001 to 2010, the amount of financial aid and the number of admitted international students increased significantly. Then came the financial crash of 2008, which dealt a major blow to the College’s endowment. In 2010, citing economic concerns, the College went back to being need-aware for international applicants. For many international students, this change in policy conveyed the message that non-citizens are the first in line to be sacrificed when there is a crisis. It also reinforced the feeling that international students are secondary to domestic students and that we are here to sprinkle the school with some diversity but are never truly on par with domestic students. 

Two years ago, in an article published by The Washington Post,  Adam Falk stated, “There’s no question that a student will never be denied admission to Williams because of an inability to pay tuition.” Yet every year, international students are denied acceptance precisely because of their inability to pay.

The effects of this policy are felt within the international community. Several international students disclosed in an anonymous form that they almost did not apply to the College because they thought they would not get in if they stated that they needed aid, and there are students that have misrepresented their family incomes in an effort to maximize their chances of getting accepted.

In the past eight years, the College’s endowment has grown above the $2 billion mark. Yet, despite outreach from international students and a College Council resolution in favor of reinstating full need-blind admissions, this differential policy remains in place.

We do not want to downplay the hard work and generosity of the offices of admission and financial aid. The percentage of international students who receive aid is greater than that of the student body as a whole (aid grants for international students average $60,000 annually, and 60 percent of international students receive aid). Additionally, as a result of the efforts of the Coalition for Immigrant Student Advancement (CiSA), the College recently started openly publicizing need-blind admissions for DACA and undocumented students. While we are incredibly grateful for these policies and efforts, we think there is still much room for improvement.

Currently, colleges like Harvard, Princeton and Yale offer need-blind admissions for international students – and this policy is not only feasible for larger, Ivy League colleges. In 2009, the board of trustees at Amherst, a top liberal arts college much like our own, showed its commitment to inclusion by adopting a need-blind policy across the board as well. It’s time our board of trustees followed its lead.

In addition to need-blind admissions, there is much we can learn from other schools. Harvard has 3 percent more international students than the annual 8 percent of international students that the College tends to limit itself to.

Equality of opportunity at the College should not be contingent on where we were born, so why is Williams not taking the steps necessary to make this equality a reality?

As part of a larger campaign for financial aid reform, we invite all students to share their experiences with admissions and financial aid at Williams here:

This article was written by Amina Awad ’18, Justinas Banys ’19, Zoe Chevalier ’19, Hadiqa Faraz ’21, Gabs Ilagan ’18, Aanya Kapur ’20, Shreyam Misra ’21, Rodsy Mohurima ’20 and Borivoje Vitezovic ’20.

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