ISA advocates need-blind admissions policy for international applicants – The Williams Record | Tech US News

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The admissions office asked questions about international admission and aid. (Photo courtesy of Devika Goel.)

The college does not have need-blind admissions for international applicants as it does for domestic applicants, but members of the International Students Association (ISA) hope to change that. On November 2, ISA hosted a public dialogue together with members of the college’s admissions team. The discussion, moderated by ISA members Daniel Kam ’23 and Elyes Laalai ’25, focused on current admissions policies for international applicants and the possibility of reviving an international admissions policy that ignores student-advocated need but admits the office considered it unlikely to happen in the near future.

When the college was blinded to need, admissions officers sifting through applicant files could not see whether a particular student had applied for financial aid; under the current need-awareness policy, an applicant’s file indicates whether he or she has applied for aid, but does not disclose how much aid the student would receive if accepted.

International students make up nine percent of the college’s undergraduate population, and 66 percent of international students receive financial aid. More than 80 percent of international students received financial aid under the need-blind policy, Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Liz Creighton ’01 said at the dialogue. Forty-eight percent of students in general received financial aid in the academic year 2021-2022.

Admission policies for international students over time

On dialogue, Creighton; Markus Burns, Assistant Director of Admissions, focusing on international applicants; and Ashley Bianchi, director of student financial services, described the current landscape of international admissions at the college.

The college first instituted a need-blind enrollment policy for international applicants in the class in 2006, but rescinded the policy in 2010, in part because of the recession that followed the 2007–2008 financial crisis.

In 2010, the college also renewed loans for all students who were receiving financial aid, but starting this academic year implemented a financial aid program for all students, including international students.

For Creighton, the college’s current admissions policies are actually “need-seeking.” She said the College looks for exceptional students who have had access to fewer resources when applying, and it’s only at the end of the application process for prospective international students that “awareness of need” potentially comes into play.

Burns also said the admissions team’s financial staff determines the aid needed by applicants separately from the evaluations of applicant files by admissions counselors. “We recognize the students who appeal to us the most,” he added, noting that an applicant’s file only shows whether they applied for aid, not how much aid they would receive if they enrolled in college.

In recent history, the college has not determined an applicant’s admission status based solely on their need for financial aid. However, it factors aspects of aid, including historical statistics such as the typical award per student, into its models, which target international admissions, Creighton says.

The ISA continues to advocate admission on a need-blind basis

In an interview with RecordHarun Curak ’23, ISA co-chair, cited the higher proportion of international students supported under the previous blind-in-need policy, as well as the blind-needs admissions program that exists for domestic applicants, as key reasons why the College should again introduce international need-blind enrollment.

“I think it’s wrong if you have [need-blind] for local people, but not for foreigners,” he said. “I don’t think we should be treated any differently.”

All domestic students who are admitted to the University without an application for financial aid can apply for it at a later date. However, “due to our policy of being aware of the needs of international students, they must apply for financial aid at the point to submit an admissions application if they hope to receive financial aid at any point in their Williams career,” Creighton wrote in an email Record.

Diana Sobolieva ’25, an ISA member, said that for international students hoping to attend American colleges, the perceived likelihood of receiving financial aid is an important factor in deciding which schools to apply to—especially with binding admissions processes like is a college. Early Decision Program. So Williams’ need-awareness status could serve as a deterrent for potential applicants who aren’t sure whether the college would accept them with aid, she said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of my friends … They’re going to use early decision for Amherst or other need-blind schools because they don’t think they’re going to have a chance to get into a school like Williams because of the need … they realize ,” she added.

Saumya Shinde ’26, another ISA member, said the dialogue was productive in understanding the obstacles that prevented the college from reviving its need-blind international admissions policy. “We’re on the same page — it’s not an us versus them thing,” she said.

Little potential for future policy change

With the significant costs such a need-blind admissions program for international applicants would entail — about $3 million annually — and the college’s recent strategic plan already in place, Creighton said it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that such an initiative appeared in the near future.

The strategic plan, completed in 2021, defines the College’s current institutional priorities. During the planning process, a task force focusing on international initiatives included a recommendation that the College reinstate need-blind admission for international applicants, but this was not included as a priority in the finalized strategic plan.

While in college, current students may not notice an international admissions policy that doesn’t take into account need — which is why, according to Curak, it’s imperative that these conversations happen before the next strategic planning process occurs.

“The future generations of international students — we want them to be able to point to a strategic plan and say, ‘OK, this is going to happen and this is what we want. Why aren’t we doing this?’” he said.

In addition to hosting events like last week’s dialogue, ISA plans to work with other student groups and connect with alumni to gauge financial support for such a program.

Curak said a popular idea that Shinde suggested at a recent ISA meeting was to contact international students and see how much they would be willing to pledge to a potential need-blind admissions program to show that support for such an initiative is plausible.

Shinde also emphasized that while such an initiative is inherently progressive, it is important to engage in this advocacy so that future international applicants to the College can benefit from an application review that does not consider need. “It’s like planting a seed for a tree that you’ll never see the shadow of,” she said.

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