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### Experience the Most Unprecedented College-Admissions Season Ever

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Images: Getty

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Christoph Guttentag, the experienced dean of admissions at Duke University, dedicates four hours each weekday morning to reviewing the 48,000 applications received for regular-decision admission. Despite his long tenure and leadership role, he meticulously evaluates each application, aiming to complete ten reviews before ten o’clock. Over the years, Duke has seen a significant increase in applications, making the review process more challenging for everyone involved.

As Guttentag delves into a student’s file, he first examines essential details such as the high school attended, GPA, standardized test scores (if provided), intended major, and gender. Previously, the applicant’s race was included on this overview page to track diversity efforts. However, following a recent Supreme Court ruling against race-based admissions, this information is now concealed.

Moving on to the applicant’s full high school transcript, Guttentag meticulously evaluates teacher and counselor recommendations, essays, and extracurricular activities. Rather than assigning points, he absorbs all the information, aiming to construct a holistic image of the student as he reads through the application.

Within a brief timeframe, usually 15 minutes or less, Guttentag aims to determine if an applicant is competitive enough to proceed to a detailed evaluation by another admissions officer. The majority of applicants at Duke do not undergo this comprehensive review process, as many decisions are made based on these initial assessments. The selectivity of the admissions process has intensified over the years, with Duke now rejecting approximately 95% of all undergraduate applicants.

The landscape of college admissions has evolved significantly, particularly with the surge in applications and the complexities introduced by the pandemic. As colleges strategize to predict which admitted students will enroll, they have implemented various admissions options to secure their incoming class and maintain high yield rates.

The decisions made by elite colleges have a ripple effect on less-selective institutions, leading to changes in their admissions practices to safeguard their yield rates. The competitive nature of college admissions has left applicants and families grappling with heightened stress and confusion, navigating a system that appears increasingly opaque and challenging to decipher.

While colleges tout a holistic review process that considers various factors beyond academic metrics, the evaluation criteria remain elusive to many applicants. The emphasis on future potential rather than past achievements underscores the subjective nature of admissions decisions, often leaving families feeling perplexed by the outcomes.

The shift towards early admissions options has further complicated the college application process, with students facing strategic decisions about when to apply and to which schools. The increased competition and uncertainty have reshaped the traditional concept of safety schools, making it harder for students to identify suitable options.

In response to the evolving landscape of college admissions, schools are adapting their practices to attract a diverse student body while also meeting their enrollment and financial targets. The emphasis on diversity and inclusivity has prompted colleges to explore alternative methods, such as utilizing data tools like Landscape to assess applicants from underrepresented backgrounds.

Ultimately, the dynamics of college admissions reflect a complex interplay of institutional priorities, student aspirations, and societal influences. The quest for a coveted spot in a competitive college underscores the strategic maneuvers and uncertainties inherent in the admissions game, shaping the experiences of applicants and institutions alike.