It’s official; Duke is now accepting undergraduate applications for the Class of 2019! You may log onto the Common Application or Universal College Application website to begin your application for admission today. The final deadline doesn’t loom yet—it’s five months away—but you can save some senior year stress by getting a start on the application during the warm, slow days of summer.
The 2014-2015 Duke application features a few changes from last year that we’d like to highlight.
1. We are excited to offer a new optional short essay prompt on the Duke writing supplement.
· Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 words maximum)
While the twenty undergraduate admissions officers at Duke are armed with guidelines, criteria, rubrics, and historical context to ensure consistency in our collective evaluations, we aren’t computers that crunch out admission decisions on the basis of statistics alone. As we read and discuss applications, we always consider the living, breathing person behind the paper (or rather, the digital document glowing on a screen). We want to understand the people who will be friends as well as scholars here, whose unique perspectives will add dimension to the conversations on campus and who will bring their particular experiences and reflections to the Duke community.
If you think this prompt sounds similar to the first of the five Common Application essay topics, you are right. That essay allows you to discuss something important to you, in your voice, and this additional prompt opens another opportunity. We want to understand you in whole to the best of our ability, and if you wish to share an important aspect of your identity with us, it shouldn’t feel like it’s the only part of you we recognize as important. We care most about the intellectual and personal qualities a student can bring to our community.
Please, make use of this space if you have something to share beyond what the application requires, but don’t feel compelled to do so if the rest of your application reflects you as you wish to be shown. In and of itself, the presence or absence of a response to this prompt will neither improve nor harm your odds of admission.
2. We will require a single supplemental writing response for all applicants, briefly answering a version of the question: “Why Duke?”
· If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (150 words maximum)
· If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (150 words maximum)
Formerly, we required the “Why Duke?” response for applicants to the Pratt School of Engineering and offered it as an optional choice for applicants to the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Most students chose to answer the question, and we appreciated the responses. This question helps us understand how you envision yourself as a potential Duke student. Different facets of the university excite different students, and what piques your interest offers insight into you.
We appreciate students who are thoughtful in their choices, and a well-crafted response to this question shows your intentionality in applying to Duke. We don’t expect you to demonstrate purposefulness in other ways; we do not track campus visits, email contacts to our office, or other forms of demonstrated interest in our selection process. If you’re eager to express enthusiasm for Duke as your first choice college, specifically, you might consider applying Early Decision.
3. We will require a student’s full record of SAT or ACT testing.
Making the best admission decisions takes time, and Score Choice unfortunately slowed our ability to evaluate complete applications as many students waited until the last possible moment to see their final scores before sending any. We now require applicants to submit all existing scores by the application deadline to facilitate our review. If you test or retest after the deadline, we are always happy to update your application with any new and improved scores.
Our standardized testing requirements have not changed, and we will continue to treat test scores as we always have. We understand off-days happen, and we know it’s incredibly unlikely for lucky guessing to inflate a score in a meaningful way. We place most emphasis on the scores that most advantage an applicant, counting the highest scores as official if we receive more than one set.
To learn more about the application process and how we evaluate applications, check out our application overview page and my earlier post about Duke’s holistic review process. If you have further questions after reading these, you may also contact your regional admissions officer directly. We’re here and happy to help.
As we prepare to release admission decisions tomorrow evening, Duke’s admissions officers know that many deeply talented students are going to be crestfallen and perhaps mystified. Only 9% of Regular Decision applicants will receive the news they hope to see. For those we do not admit, an admissions officer’s words may not diminish disappointment, but I hope they can make the selection process less opaque.
Alongside mystery naturally lies skepticism for some, especially in an arena as complex and high-stakes as selective college admissions. Earlier in the application season, The Atlantic tapped into the confusion many students experience and took a shot at holistic admissions as a lure, offering students the false promise of personal consideration. Phoebe Maltz Bovy argues: “From colleges’ perspective, “holistic” is just shorthand for, we make the decisions we make, and would rather not be asked to spell out each one.”
The decisions we make here in Duke Admissions are nuanced, subjective, and, yes, personal. Though never arbitrary, they can be difficult to understand without having seen a large, representative sample of the applicant pool. However, “holistic admissions” is not an explanatory scapegoat; it is a practice that enables meaningful distinctions among a sea of candidates who are highly qualified to attend a school like Duke.
I’ve written before about the workings of reading season, but let me dig a little deeper into the underpinnings of holistic admissions. Philosophically, it rests on two fundamental assumptions:
- Each student is a person, not merely a catalog of accomplishments (though, of course, those are considered in our selections). Remembering this benefits applicants by allowing identification of merits that do not lend themselves to quantitative measurements. It also benefits the university as we seek to create the most vibrant possible community of flesh-and-blood individuals.
- Context matters. Each component of an application indicates more as part of a whole than on its own. Different pieces reflect back on one another to portray and reinforce characteristics, and accomplishments become more meaningful considered in the context of opportunities available and obstacles faced. Further, each application is necessarily considered in the context of the entire applicant pool and the potential context of a well-rounded incoming class.
As an intellectually demanding and fast-paced university, Duke is first and foremost concerned with our applicants’ academic qualifications. When I read an application, I always start with the transcript. Even the best essay of the year is unlikely to sustain an academically lackluster application. (By the way, to younger students reading—please don’t feel that you ought to write a confessional essay. The personal statement is already a tricky genre, and the confessional is even tougher to write well. For essay tips from Duke Dean of Admissions Christoph Guttentag, check out this piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.)
Most students who apply to Duke display the intellectual chops and commitment to succeed here. With over 32,000 students vying for just 1,700 spots in the class, even absurdly fine grained distinctions along a numeric metric wouldn’t get the selection job done. To look at just one example: more than twice as many valedictorians applied as we had spaces in the class, and that’s a count contextualized by the fact that only half of schools sending us applicants provided a class rank. We have to look at other factors, and we want to consider all the other ways a student might contribute to the richness of Duke’s community.
Duke is very transparent about relevant characteristics we seek—things like engagement, impact, creativity, talent, and drive—and where in the application we look to find them. There are six areas, both quantitative and qualitative: curricular rigor, academic grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, the quality of thought and expression in the application essays, and standardized test scores.
These components are equally important, and most of the time just one of them doesn’t “make or break” a decision, though different pieces may come to the fore in different discussions. In making a case to admit a student, I have to articulate to the committee what stands out. For decisions on the bubble, the factors that most differentiate a student from the norms of the applicant pool—positively, negatively, or simply uniquely—are likely to drive the committee conversation.
We do not rate or rank applicants’ personal qualities, but we do aim to identify those that emerge, and we care very much about them. A suite of recommendations, essays, extracurricular and academic choices, accomplishments, and an interview report, if available, can solidify a strong sense of kindness, grit, wit, or a particular flavor of intellectual fervor.
Evaluating a file is an art akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle without a box. We aren’t starting with any preconceived pictures, and we don’t possess every piece of information that might be interesting or valuable. We do not presume we know everything about all our applicants, but the application provides enough interlocking pieces, many of them very big, for us to identify a picture of each student as a person.
I take it very seriously that a real, hopeful human being devoted significant effort over many years to present each one of the 1,600 or so applications I read in a winter. I consider it a great privilege as well as my duty to give full, fair consideration to each applicant. I am often saddened to recommend deny decisions, and I frequently experience excitement when someone’s unique blend of traits and talents comes to life on the pages of her application. Many times, disappointment and delight come hand-in-hand as the committee is forced to make tough calls.
Bovy is right on this count: a disappointing outcome does not imply any shortcoming. The tough reality is that there is far more excellence of character and ability in our applicant pool than we can physically accommodate on campus. The selection process is personal, but don’t take it personally if you receive bad news from Duke or any other selective university. If you are among the few to receive a letter that begins with the word “Congratulations” from us, know that it has been tremendously well-earned.
Thornton Wilder writes: “Hope, like faith, is nothing if it is not courageous.” As you wait these last few hours, keep your courage—and be sure to take it with you to college. It is the first step in all great things.