Windows On Williams: Prospective students engage with College community through fly-in program

Luke Chinman and Safiyah Anwar-Chuku

The Windows On Williams fly-in program attracts pre-frosh from across the country, often convincing unsure applicants to consider attending Williams. (Photo courtesy of Chris Flores.)

When Chris Flores ’26 applied to the Windows on Williams (WOW) program, it was mostly because WOW was one of the only college fly-in programs offered in person during the fall of 2021. “I had never heard of [Williams] until the fly-in program,” he said. But after spending a mere three days on campus, he was convinced to apply through the Early Decision process and is now a first-year at the College.

According to Associate Director for Diversity Recruitment Carolina Echenique ’15, who oversees the program, the College has been funding travel to campus for prospective students since the 1970s. In recent years, this program has evolved into WOW, a three-day fly-in program for low-income students to shadow current students by sleeping in their dorms, attending classes, and engaging with the College community.

“[Student hosts] can be a big part of the WOW student experience,” Echenique said. After students are accepted to the WOW program, they are asked how they want to be matched with their host — either by academic interest, extracurricular interests, or other aspects of their identity.

Vanessa Muturi, who participated in WOW in October, said she appreciated the guidance her host gave her. “It was nice, being able to talk with a fellow Black woman about going to a PWI [predominantly white institution] and getting firsthand experience of how it would feel if I actually went there,” she said.

Similarly, hosting can be an enriching experience for students at the College. “It felt very rewarding to help another student learn about Williams,” said Dylan Safai ’26, who hosted a WOW student in October. He added that he still regularly texts with the WOW student who stayed with him.

The application for WOW goes live each year in the spring and closes in the summer, and the decision process is similar to that of general admission to the College — students submit demographic information, their academic records, and a paper from a high school class. 

“We really treat it as a much smaller version of the general admissions process,” Echenique said. “We’re asking ourselves the same questions and evaluating the materials in the same way — we just have a little bit less information than we do when students apply for regular admission.”

In 2022, the College accepted roughly 200 out of 1,800 WOW applications it received. This small cohort of students in the WOW program have a greater chance of acceptance to the College during the general admissions process. 

The higher likelihood of acceptance is no coincidence, Echenique said. “We want to spend the funds to bring [them] to campus because we think they’re going to be a really strong applicant to Williams,” she said. “Most of the time, that ends up being true.”

This was one draw for Muturi. “I’ve always wanted to go to a top school, and having pretty much guaranteed acceptance into a top school is very nice,” she said.

The WOW program also allows prospective students to gain better insight into the communities at the College. After attending a general meeting for Sisterhood, an affinity group for Black women, Gabby Brown, another WOW participant this year, said she felt less hesitant about applying to a PWI.

As a part of the WOW program, prospective students stay in their host’s rooms to get a sense of dorm life. (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Muturi.)

“Overall, I really enjoyed [WOW],” she said. “I think a lot of that was determined by the fact that I got a Black host, and I was able to see that side of Williams.”

Muturi echoed this sentiment. “A downside is obviously [that Williams] is a predominantly white institution,” she said. “I think I can live with it, especially seeing how close everyone was at Williams, especially in Sisterhood.” 

 According to Echenique and program participants, WOW differentiates itself from other college fly-in programs through the flexibility it provides to participants to independently explore college life. 

“Our general philosophy around the schedule of WOW is that we try to give [participants] a lot of space to go and be with their hosts, to sit in on classes, and to shape the day for themselves,” Echenique said. Besides a welcome dinner when students arrive, a jamboree where the College shows off its performance groups, an admissions and financial aid workshop, and an evening event for students to meet College faculty, the majority of activities are optional.

Muturi appreciated this element of WOW. “I’ve been to other fly-ins, and I didn’t really like them as much,” she said. “Most of the time we were in programming and a lot of presentations. We didn’t really have much time to actually explore the campus ourselves.”

While Echenique is proud of this feature of the program, she also hopes to help facilitate more interactions between current College students and WOW participants. “There are the incidental, serendipitous ways that WOW students meet current students, but there are always going to be students who can’t make those connections or don’t fall into them in the same way,” she said.

The relationships WOW students form with each other during the program can also continue even after their acceptance to the College. “A lot of my close friends are former WOW students that I never thought I would see again,” Flores said. “The first time I traveled to Williams, I was so scared, because I didn’t know anyone here or anything about this, but the second time I traveled to Williams I was very confident. [I thought,] ‘Oh, I’ll find my footing. I’ll meet up with these people, and I’ll know where to go.’”