College Admissions Advice from the Dean of Duke

Below is a summary of a 2014 Forbes interview with the Dean of Duke. You can watch the full 40 minute interview here.

The Application Reading Process

  • Your application goes through a complete read-through by a regional admissions officer responsible for your state.
  • About 50% of the applications are weeded out after that initial stage.
  • Then there are two full reads from a reading staff member (probably a graduate student) and an admissions officer in which information is written down and ratings are given across 6 different areas.
  • At this point, 5% are strong enough to be admitted right away.
  • The rest are to be discussed in a committee in which the representing admissions officer makes a case for each student.
  • The entire process takes 3 months.

Duke Acceptance Statistics

For an entering class of 1700, students are typically in the:

  • 1420-1550 SAT range or 32-34 ACT range
  • Top 2-3% of the class in public school or Top 25% in private school

Inside School

  • Students are judged in the context of their school, whose profiles are read by all staff members.
  • No particular curriculum is better or worse – Duke and all elite universities are familiar with British, French, German, AP, and IB systems.
  • What matters is that the student has challenged himself. Do you take tough classes? Are you typical of top students in that school? Do you push the boundaries despite a lack of resources within the school?
  • It’s better to take the challenging course and not get an A than to take the easy course and get an easy A.
  • Duke’s assessment of you starts from the 9th grade, but greater weight is placed on your progression throughout high school.

Outside School

Duke looks for two things: Impact and Engagement

  • Impact: Are you doing things outside school? Have you made a difference? Are you someone who makes things better?
  • Engagement: Do you sink your teeth into things? Do you question and apply what you learn or do you just memorize facts for the grade?
  • Duke finds that letters of recommendation tell them a lot about how engaged students are with what they’re learning.

Other Important Factors

  • Whether a student would fit in with Duke’s culture and institutional needs is very important – How do we picture this student at Duke? What are they going to add to the Duke community and classroom?
  • Does legacy make a difference? Yes, among the qualified it can make the difference.
  • Does geography make a difference? Yes, location can matter to the extent it brings new perspective to campus.
  • Duke’s social media policy: We don’t friend, we don’t follow. We don’t go looking for it, but if it’s public and we see it, we have no problems using it. Don’t put up anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see.

Advice to Parents

  • Parents should not confuse their ambition with their child’s ambition.
  • Parents should not touch their child’s essay. Trust them to speak for themselves.

Sage Advice

  • Don’t adapt to what you think the college wants or expects.
  • Stick to who you are and what matters to you.
  • Don’t try to outguess the admissions committee.

Financial Aid at Duke

  • Need-blind for US permanent residents/citizens.
  • Ability to pay matters for international students.
  • Financial aid is offered to meet full need once you’re accepted, whether you’re an international student or domestic student.
  • Financial aid is completely need-based; there is no academic component.
  • There are 70 merit scholarships that are offered independent of need.

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