Not So Secret Admissions Secrets from a Southern Ivy Contender

Have you always wondered what went on in those top secret college admissions committee meetings but were too scared or inflexible to hide in a filing cabinet and listen in? Well, here’s your chance. Duke University’s newspaper The Chronicle has published a three-article series detailing the process from the other side of the application.

The first article “Admissions In Depth—Getting in”, describes Duke’s difficulty in adjusting its admissions process to handle its record number of 26,731 applicants. Originally designed to handle 12,000 applicants, Duke’s 20-year-old admissions model, which focuses on an in-depth, “personalized” read of every application, is feeling the strain.  The article goes on to describe Duke’s six-category rating system used by admissions officials to judge applicants.

The second article, “Admissions in Depth—Institutional Priorities” is a candid look at how Duke Admissions “shapes” its incoming class of freshman. The Dean of Undergraduate admissions, Christoph Guttentag, admits that there are  “ultimately two factors that determine the size of the envelope an applicant receives: what Duke can do for the individual and what the individual can do for Duke.” He goes on to say that “several factors can give an applicant an edge in the admissions process: race, athletic and legacy status, residence in North Carolina and a special talent in music or the arts are among them.” Guttentag continues, saying, “Preference is also given to first-generation college students as well as to applicants coming from ‘families that have already been generous to Duke’.”

This eye-opening article is followed by a third article, “Admissions in Depth Part 3: Socioeconimic Diversity”, aptly subtitledDuke draws ‘rich kids of all colors’”. This article addresses the disconnect between the very public goal of many elite universities to admit more diverse students, both ethnically and economically and the less-public reality that there has not been a significant increase at these universities in students reporting family incomes in the bottom half of the U.S. income distribution. For example, the percent of Duke’s student body who falls into this category has hovered between 9 and 16 percent for the last 15 years. And, despite all the lip service, “only seven out of the top 30 schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report has shown any increase in the percentage of such students.”

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