Williams College


Nestled in the purple mountains of the Berkshires, Williams College is a small, private, liberal arts institution with an undergraduate population of 2,000 students, brimming with an almost tangible excitement for learning and life. These are students who work hard and play hard, devoting serious attention to courses and extracurriculars alike; the result is a campus that hums with activity and academic fervor. After four years, Williams graduates leave the Purple Valley armed with the knowledge and wherewithal to make a difference; their contributions are visible across the spectrum.

Founded in 1793, Williams exemplifies the liberal arts modus operandi of experimentation and exploration. Students are encouraged to build strong, broad foundations and then to construct spires soaring into the unknown. In this fashion, students can both pursue familiar interests and discover new ones; it is not uncommon to find a physics major taking music theory, for example, or a political science student spending time in the geology lab. Most students, as well, are vigorously involved in campus life and extracurriculars and don’t hesitate to take on several activities in addition to their coursework. With more than 175 student groups on campus, ranging from WUFO, the Williams Ultimate Frisbee Organization, to WCFM, the college radio station, there is always something to pique interest, and students are quick to spearhead new groups as campus interests evolve.

The enthusiasm for learning that pervades the Williams student body is matched by the college’s boundless resources, state-of-the-art facilities, and some of the world’s premier collections. English majors may fawn over Charles Dickens’ original Pickwick Papers in the Chapin Rare Books Library, theatre lovers direct plays in the new ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance complex, and art history buffs delight over original works at the college art museum and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute just down the road. The college frequently brings in guest lecturers and artists to enrich campus life, and recent years have seen noteworthies like Philip Glass, Werner Herzog, and Salman Rushdie alighting at the lectern.

Williams prides itself on its commitment to excellence and being well rounded, and this promise is most evident in the breadth and depth of the student body itself. Williams students hail from nearly all fifty states and more than forty-five different countries. About a third are American students of color, more than forty percent receive some type of financial aid, and the division between public and private school students is about 60:40. The spectrum of interests and experiences represented on campus creates a richly diverse environment, where students have great potential to learn from one another and strengthen themselves. Though social groups—as at most colleges—do tend to form based on participation in activities, most Williams students move easily beyond rigid associations, resulting in a friendly, open social atmosphere. U.S. President James Garfield (class of 1856), speaking of his former professor and early college president Mark Hopkins, once remarked, “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” To this day, the metaphor lives on; with one of the lowest faculty-student ratios in the country; Williams brings students and professors closer, both in and out of the classroom. Williams professors are not only distinguished scholars but also passionate teachers, and students are top priority. Discussions in class often spill over into debates in the local coffee shop, or a class dinner at a professor’s home, and office hours—at all hours—are the norm.

Just as students are central in the college’s academic life, so are they in determining the future of the college. When Williams abolished fraternities in the 1960s and then went coed in the 1970s, students participated in the decision-making process. Today, students are a vital part of nearly every administrative committee on campus, helping shape campus social life, enforce the honor code, and even oversee the dining halls. Students hold real responsibilities at Williams, and it is this trust and partnership, this collaborative climate, that defines the college.

Williams is built upon and around its students, and they are all the happier for it. The resources available are first-rate, the faculty are among the most distinguished in the nation, and the staff is world-class. But in making lively classroom discussion to organizing nearly all campus events and activities to voicing issues and directing the future of the college, Williams students make the campus the passionate, vibrant place that it is.

Just as there is no “typical” Williams student, the Williams experience is different for everyone who attends; the college is a place where students are expected to create their own paths, both inside the classroom and out. Williams is a place where students seek out and overcome their toughest obstacles, growing and learning with every challenge; they know how to accept help and are generous in offering it to others.

Students work hard and set ambitious goals, but they also know how to put things in perspective, making room for friends and recreation. Even in the face of an all-night study session or hefty research assignment, there is always time for a midnight trip to the snack bar or an hour’s respite in the common room. It is these shared moments that are often at the heart of the Williams experience.

In the end, what you get out of Williams is what you put into it: yourself. And even though your time spent in the Purple Valley is, sadly, finite, it is an experience that makes the impression of a lifetime.

Information Summary

Ranks 2nd in Massachusetts and 4th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.5
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $73,200
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 35 / 1550
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 7 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 99% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 2,149


As a true liberal arts institution, Williams pairs a rich academic tradition with a modern focus on experimental learning. The old disciplines are still evident in the framework, to be sure; one can still read the classics in their original Latin and Greek, play out elaborate rhetorical battles in a philosophy class, and digest the great canonical works of literature and art. Take, for example, the English lecture course “Introduction to the Novel,” a survey of some of the classics (Faulkner, Joyce, Nabokov), or the yearlong survey course in Western art and architecture, which, according to rumor, is the most popular selection Williams offers. To supplement this grand academic tradition, however, there are all sorts of new and surprising options: a forensic science class complete with staged crime scenes; an interdisciplinary music/English class explicating the careers of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and The Beatles; a tutorial on satire.

With a 4-1-4 calendar, Williams divides its year into two twelve-week semesters, with a four-week period in January, Winter Study, sandwiched between. Students must complete four courses per semester and a single class each Winter Study to graduate. There are no specific course requirements (no single class is mandatory); to encourage exploration of different subjects, however, all courses are assigned to one of three academic divisions, and students must pass three courses from each division in order to graduate. Division I includes the arts and humanities; Division II consists of the social sciences, such as economics, history, and psychology; Division III is comprised of the natural sciences, including chemistry, biology, physics, and math.

Students must also take one class in a non-Western tradition and complete classes that fulfill specific competencies in writing and quantitative studies. Students do not declare a major until the end of their sophomore year, affording plenty of time to choose a discipline. The major generally consists of nine to eleven courses, usually culminating in a senior seminar or capstone course. Within the major, students are often given more specific guidelines to diversify their studies; English majors, for example, are required to take courses in three different time periods (pre–1700, 1700–1900, post–1900), to gain a better understanding of literary movements across time.

Williams’s lenient course requirements have led to a growing tendency to double major, something now done by about a third of the students. Interestingly enough, most students who double major do so in noncomplementary divisions: history and biology, math and music, English and chemistry. These students believe that double majoring is not only great preparation for the balancing act of the real world but allows for freedom of choice down the road.

Winter Study

Williams students use the month of January to take the “work hard, play hard” atmosphere at Williams to a whole new level. During these four weeks, students are required to take a single class, which can range from introductory figure drawing to research projects in molecular biology. Some students plan “99s,” or independent studies, and others journey abroad with professors, completing service projects in Guatemala or exploring art and music in Vienna. The possibilities presented by Winter Study are endless, and students enjoy the relief it offers from the normal academic course load.

There is absolutely nowhere else that can emulate the harmony that comes from this amalgamation of brilliant professors and talented peers. It should be telling that this is a community where it’s normal to go to lunch with your professor and debate Kantian ethics with your entry-mates. —William Su, ’08, political economy major

Williams courses are generally small and discussion-oriented, with the exception of a few large, lecture-based introductory courses; even these usually have a separate lab or discussion section that requires student participation. Students are expected to read and learn material outside of class, developing their own take on ideas before coming to lecture. Exams are largely based on problem solving and critical thinking and require students to build upon concepts learned during the course; multiple-choice tests and their ilk are virtually nonexistent.

One of the most fascinating things about a Williams workload is the way students respond to it. Certainly, the work is a step up from high school both in terms of the complexity of thought and the sheer number of hours spent working outside class; but the funny thing is there are far fewer complaints about it. Even when a course turns out to more difficult than anticipated, the classes are so interesting and the professors so engaged and willing to help you through that you simply don’t mind the extra time you spend.—Sean Pegado, ’11 mathematics major

Students who wish to pursue honors can complete a senior thesis. Under the supervision of a faculty sponsor, a student works independently for either one or two semesters, completing a substantial written work that must be presented and defended in front of a faculty panel. No senior assignment is required for graduation.

This is the best way I can describe the atmosphere at Williams: it’s humane. Williams students work hard, but they do so in a genial environment. There’s no competition among classmates. Most people are genuine and friendly. The college offers free massages during exam time, places incoming freshmen in surrogate families, and closes the library early on Friday and Saturday nights to encourage students to have fun. And the quaint storefronts and purple mountains mark Williams as something special, like an oasis in the middle of the real world. —Alison Hansen-Decelles, ’10, philosophy and art history major Residential Life

The close-knit atmosphere of the college is made even more evident through its housing system. The majority of Williams students live in campus housing—in fact, the option to live off-campus or in a co-operative house is only available to seniors—and the dormitories are kept clean, comfortable, and up-to-date with frequent renovations. Housing is comprised of single and double rooms, arranged in suites, with generous common space. First-year students live in “entries” of approximately twenty-five students, headed by a pair of Junior Advisors (JAs). Unlike the Residential Advisors of most colleges, JAs are unpaid, are more along the lines of mentors than a police force, and are integral to a first-year student’s transition process. Entries often appear cult-like, especially around dinnertime, when large crowds of first-years traipse into the dining halls and commandeer three or four tables at a time, and the connections forged among entrymates are often the strongest of a student’s career.

Williams dormitories and co-ops are further organized into “neighborhoods,” a recent housing change aimed to extend the entry experience to upper-class students. Through the neighborhood system, students are assigned to one of four clusters of dorms, geographically located across campus, and live in that cluster over the next four years. Within neighborhoods, students are free to choose where they live and can “pick in” with groups of friends each year in a housing lottery. With diversity across campus as a primary goal, Williams has no fraternities, sororities, or special-interest housing.

Rushing to class, submitting a paper, going to practice, printing out homework, grabbing lunch in between, and having a late-night rehearsal; every day at Williams is so dynamic. However, there is always time to grab gelato with your best friend and discuss the latest news on the love front; to tutor a fellow classmate for the bio test tomorrow or just watch a dramatic sitcom in the common room. Williams students are remarkable in multitasking, which makes our life so vibrant and fulfilling.”

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College building :: Williams College Lawrence Hall :: Williams College
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There is no such thing as a “typical” Williams student. As one of the most competitive colleges in the nation, Williams is highly selective, and the Admissions Office prides itself on shaping a class diverse in interests, experience, and ability. The only shared trait—perhaps, even, an archetype—of accepted students is a joie de vivre, an enthusiasm for learning and seeking out challenges that electrifies the Williams campus.

Williams requires high school transcripts and standardized test scores from all applicants, including results from either the SAT or the ACT (with writing) and three SAT Subject Tests. If a student submits the SAT, Admissions will consider his or her best score on each section (math, verbal, writing); if he or she takes the ACT, the school will look at the student’s best composite score. Although Williams considers grades and test scores to be just two of many admissions criteria, it should be noted that most who are admitted are high achievers, taking the most challenging course load offered at their schools; in a recent class, fifty-five percent scored 700 or higher on the SAT verbal, and fifty-six percent scored 700 or higher on the SAT math.

Even so, Williams does not fill its class solely from lists of high school valedictorians and perfect SAT scores. It is rare that a student will get in strictly on academic achievement; the Admissions Committee looks for students who balance academics with a commitment to other pursuits. In the same way that applicants should take the time to get to know the college beyond its statistics, Williams wants a fully realized rendering of its applicants, rather than a schematic of test scores and GPA.

The best way to get to know Williams is to visit and actually spend time on campus meeting students and professors. The Admissions Office offers student-run tours and information sessions every day and will also arrange for prospective students to stay overnight in a dorm to experience residential, social, and academic life at Williams firsthand.

Williams offers both Early and Regular Decision. If Williams is your first-choice school, you may submit your application for early consideration, along with an agreement that, if accepted, you will withdraw all other applications and not apply further. The Early Decision application deadline is November 10, and notification is mailed by December 15. Applicants not accepted under Early Decision will ordinarily be deferred for reconsideration under the Regular Decision plan. Students with qualifications below Williams’s general admission standards, however, will receive final notification in December. Regular Decision applications are due January 1, and decisions are mailed by the first week of April. Accepted candidates must reply by May 1, and acceptances are always contingent upon students finishing the current school year in good standing.

Financial Aid

With the annual inflation of tuition prices, college is growing increasingly expensive. Williams, with comprehensive fees totaling $47,530, is one of the nation’s priciest, but at the same time Williams goes out of its way to make it financially viable for all accepted students to attend. Williams is one of a handful of schools with a need-blind admissions policy—a student’s ability to pay is never factored into an admissions decision—and pledges to meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need of its students, both American and international.

Williams’s financial aid packages are awarded on a need basis; it offers no merit-based scholarships. Instead, the Financial Aid Office evaluates each family individually, considering size, the number of students in college, income, and assets before determining how much the family can pay. The resulting aid package will cover the entire difference between the cost of the student’s education and the expected family contribution, in a combination of grants, loans, and campus employment. Students are expected to contribute some of their summer earnings toward their payment.

Being a financial aid student at Williams carries no stigma at all. In a recent year, almost fifty percent of the incoming class received some type of financial aid. The average annual award to first-year students in 2007–2008 was $35,181. Many first-year students work in the dining halls, while upper-class students do everything from manning the library reference desks, to working in a professor’s lab, to writing news releases for the Office of Public Affairs or the Sports Information Office.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 5529th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Massachusetts.


With a student body composed of individuals who did everything in high school, it is no wonder that the campus is full of an almost frenetic energy. Though the college is small, there is always something going on, and students keep themselves very busy. As Williamstown itself offers few entertainment options (the “town,” in students’ minds, is often distilled to Spring Street, a one-way thoroughfare located at the heart of campus, crowded with restaurants and shops), social life is student-driven and mostly confined to campus. Few regularly leave town on weekends, so students get to know each other well and support each other in their athletic events, concerts, and performances. The administration contributes to campus life by providing funding for lectures, concerts, parties, and movies to keep the place lively.

Williams students never hesitate to organize new clubs and groups, especially with the help of student activities funding, if they find their interests aren’t met. As a result, the number of recognized clubs and student groups on campus grows each year, and now tops one hundred; with so many options to choose from, it’s not hard to find something to do in your free time.

Very few teams or clubs restrict membership, and there is no Greek system, so just about everything is open to everyone. Among the largest groups are the swing dancing club and the Williams Outing Club (WOC), which sponsors outdoor activities. The Minority Coalition, comprised of groups supporting students from minority backgrounds, sponsors campus-wide celebrations like Black History Month and Coming Out Days. Students can voice their opinions and spur changes in campus life through College Council and in writing for the weekly campus newspaper, The Record, and about forty percent of students regularly do community service. Music is also popular, and students can participate at any level, whether it is through beginners’ music lessons or as part of the Berkshire Symphony, a group made up of professional musicians, faculty, and students. Other popular groups include the jazz ensemble, the Kusika African drumming and dance ensemble, and a cappella groups.

My biggest fear about leaving for college was being away from my family. Within a few days, however, I already felt at home at Williams. The unique entry system provided me with the support of 20 brothers and sisters and two caring aunt and uncle-like JAs. Going back to the entry truly gave me a sense of “going home” at the end of the day. After a hard day’s work, I enjoyed plopping down on a couch in the common room (essentially a living room) and sharing my day with my entrymates. —Katie Aldrin, ’12, psychology major

For those interested in sports (and about forty percent of Williams students are), Williams has over more than thirty-two varsity squads and even more intramural organizations, including an equestrian team, a figure-skating club, and water polo. Moreover, Williams’s teams are consistently among the nation’s best in NCAA Division III and play a major role in shaping school spirit, drawing huge crowds—especially when Williams is playing its nemesis, Amherst.

In terms of a party scene, Williams tends toward smaller parties hosted in dorms, rather than formal all-campus blowouts—except for the big weekends of Homecoming, Winter Carnival, and Spring Fling. Regular weekend parties are hosted in the larger dorms and tend to be standard keg parties with a DJ. A stricter party policy instituted in the past few years has limited the amount of alcohol at these events and has made training with security officers and health counselors mandatory for all party hosts. Still, students who want to drink usually have no trouble finding alcohol, while students who do not drink are not pressured to do so.

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


With today’s competitive job market, many might question the value of a broad, liberal arts education. A Williams education, however, in addition to its intellectual perks, carries a lot of weight in the real world, and one’s Williams degree becomes a certain kind of pedigree. Williams graduates are seen as movers, shakers, thinkers, communicators, and leaders, and employers recognize that those qualities translate neatly into the ability to learn quickly, meet challenges, and get results—a skill set that is hard to ignore.

A Williams education is good preparation for nearly any career path, and graduates have proven this by making names for themselves in professions as diverse as education, journalism, scientific research, public service, business, and the arts. A Williams degree allows graduates to pursue fields or projects that most interest them, and to switch between fields with relative ease. Many Williams grads go on to more schooling, with many earning professional degrees in law, medicine, and business, and some earning their master’s or Ph.D.

On campus, students can research potential career options and build resumes through the Office of Career Counseling (OCC). The OCC hosts a variety of on-campus recruiters, offers mock interview sessions, and assists students with resumes and cover letters. It also puts on alumni panels and career fairs in underrepresented areas, such as nonprofits, publishing, and government service.

An invaluable asset for graduates is the vast Williams alumni network, often affectionately called the Williams Mafia. Most alumni are incredibly enthusiastic about helping out a fellow Eph, and having contacts in the workforce has proven to be a great help to new graduates. After leaving Williams, graduates are welcomed into the fold of the Williams Society of Alumni, the first such group in North America. Today, it remains one of the most active alumni associations in the country. Not only do generous graduates donate annually, helping Williams continue expanding and evolving its programs and facilities, but alumni are also active in campus life, often returning to teach Winter Study classes or take on students for summer internships. As the crowds at Homecoming reveal, once you enter the Purple Valley, you never truly leave.

Famous Graduates

  • Stephen Case, Chairman, AOL-Time Warner
  • John Frankenheimer, Movie and TV Director
  • James Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States
  • Richard Helms, Former CIA Director
  • Elia Kazan, Director and Writer
  • Thomas Krens, Guggenheim Museum Director
  • Arthur Levitt, Former SEC Chairman
  • Stacey Schiff, Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Stephen Sondheim, Composer and Lyricist
  • George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees Owner
  • Fay Vincent, Former Major League Baseball Commissioner


Williams faculty members are at the college because they primarily want to teach undergraduates, and their motivation invigorates the classroom. Although most of them are brilliant researchers (ninety-six percent have their terminal degree), they put students first and make themselves available both in and out of the classroom. Almost every class is taught by a professor, and teaching assistants are used primarily to help grade routine assignments and help direct review sessions.

The fact that Williams professors are so accessible is sometimes a shock for students who are not used to engaging their teachers. They not only make office hours and appointments available for students with academic questions, but they become advisors on everything from postgraduate plans to personal issues. Professors also keep involved in campus life, some even joining intramural sports.

In addition to teaching, Williams professors produce an impressive amount of scholarship, for which they regularly receive national attention and major grants. Many professors, as well, will take on students to assist them over the summer and during the year, giving students valuable research experience; in recent years, hundreds of students have participated.

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