Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 2 of 4

Logo-1This is the second part of a four part interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, we discuss the expectations that come along with the $75 application fee and how the early decision program plays into the application process at Duke.

Click the link to read on. Part one of the interview is available here, part three is available here, and part four is available here.

Question: Applicants are paying $75 for a chance to become a Duke student. Do you think they have a set of expectations when it comes to the applications process?

It’s not just the $75, it is also the time and effort that the application represents.

One of the expectations is that the application will be fairly evaluated, that we will acknowledge and understand and give appropriate weight to what a student has accomplished. I think there is an expectation that we will put both their successes and their failures, or their accomplishments and their challenges in context. There is an expectation that we will not look at things in absolutes, that we will consider things contextually. I think that applicants expect we will take everything into account for every applicant. They expect we will treat all applicants the same.

I think that people don’t necessarily expect to be admitted, but they expect to be treated fairly. And they expect that the process will not be random. Most people understand that there is some subjectivity in the process, but that it is not random. I think that is a distinction that is sometimes difficult to make because from the outside, from a person who is not on the inside of the process, the process can look random. People don’t always understand why we make some of the decisions that we do. For us internally, we understand that. We understand why that’s the case. We try to explain that as well as we can when people ask (without breaking any confidences).

Even if the decision is not what they were hoping for, the expectation is that the applicant will be treated fairly, that we will treat every applicant the same, and that everyone will get a fair shake. Our process is designed to give everyone a fair shake; it is not simply one person’s decision, it is a decision arrived by several people looking at an application.

I think those are the expectations. Some people expect to be admitted and sometimes their expectations are met and sometimes they are disappointed. Most of the time, what people expect is to be treated as fairly and as straight forward as an incredibly selective process allows.

Increasingly, we see people expecting that it be personalized process. They expect that we will know who they are when they call, when they write. We do that to the best of our ability.

For example, after a decision has been reached and a student wants to call and talk about the decision if they’ve been disappointed, one of the policies in our office is that the admissions officer who is talking with that student have the student’s application on the desk in front of him or her. You don’t discuss applications simply on the basis of what may be on the computer screen; you want to have the physical application present.

Question: Based on those calls, are any application decisions ever changed?

I’ve been here 15 years and I would say in those 15 years, we have changed decisions fewer than 5 times.

When it happens, it is because someone has pointed out to us a significant error we have made in evaluating an application. The one that I think of is an example from about 6 or 7 years ago when we simply misinterpreted a foreign transcript. If we have made an error in the evaluation of an application, which we can do since we’re human, that is something that obviously we want to be sensitive to.

We won’t change a decision on the basis of simply revisiting the same material again. We wouldn’t simply reconvene the admissions committee to look at an application again, because if that were the case, then every applicant who we didn’t admit would just request to have the application looked at again and then the process would take twice as long.

For us, we know we are not perfect and know that people don’t always agree with our decisions. It is the nature of the profession that we are going to make decisions that people aren’t necessarily going to agree with. But if the process was fair and if an application was fairly reviewed, and there was nothing that we profoundly misunderstood in an application, then we are comfortable with the decision that the committee arrived at.

There are some colleges that won’t review decisions at all and there are some colleges that will review decisions as a matter of course (upon request). We don’t go to either of those extremes.

Question: How does Early Decision tie into the Duke Undergraduate Admissions process?

We have a binding early decision process. We fill about 27 or 28% of our class through early decision. We like to limit the number of spots we fill through early decision in part because we know the overwhelming majority of high school seniors aren’t ready to make that level of commitment in the first couple of months of their senior year. You have to make a commitment for early decision by November 1 (that is when the application deadline usually is). In regular decision, you don’t have to make a commitment until May 1 (that is when the common reply date is for regular decision notification). That is a six month difference and those six months tend to be very important for a lot of high school students. We like that we are able to be responsive to those students who have Duke as an absolutely clear, well established first choice. And we like being able to be responsive to the overwhelming majority of students who won’t know until well into the spring where they really want to go to college. It is a bit of a balancing act and we are comfortable with where we are in that balance right now.

Question: Is it a myth or a fact that if you apply early decision you have a better chance at acceptance?

I would say that if a school has a binding early decision program, as opposed to early action, it is almost always the case that your chances of being admitted are better. I can’t think of an example right now where it isn’t an advantage to apply early decision. There may be some schools out there that treat early decision the same way they treat regular decision, but as a rule, absolutely. If a school has a binding early decision program, then in response to the commitment that a student is willing to make, they generally offer a higher rate of admission. If a student has a clear first choice school and that school offers a binding early decision program, it is almost always a good idea to apply early. There are some nuances there to be aware of, but there is almost always an advantage to apply early.

One Response to “Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 2 of 4”

  1. Service Untitled » Christoph Guttentag from Duke University - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    May 22, 08 at 4:38 pm

    […] Parts of this Interview: Part 2, Part 3, and Part […]