Last week, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions finally released the regular decision acceptances for Duke’s Class of 2021. In total, out of the 31,000 applicants to Duke in the regular decision round, a mere 2,255 were offered spots to matriculate at the university. Factoring in the number of applicants and matriculants from the early decision round last December, Duke’s aggregate acceptance rate for the Class of 2021 stands at about nine percent, a significant decrease from the acceptance rate of the previous class.
As always, news of Duke’s record low acceptance rate has been greeted with fanfare and gratification by students and alumni alike. Members of the Duke community have voiced their congratulations to the newly minted Class of 2021 through Facebook and Twitter. After all, to many affiliated with our Gothic Wonderland, an acceptance letter is akin to a golden ticket, unlocking a seemingly mythical land of higher education for its receiver. An increasingly lower acceptance rate thus feeds into a sense of preordained elitism within the Duke community. It seems that every year the holy conclave of Admissions selects the few students predestined for a Duke education and bestows upon them the sacrament to matriculate upon the hallowed grounds of James B. Duke’s educational investiture.
The actual factors behind Duke’s increasingly lower acceptance rate, however, belies the sense of exceptionalism surrounding the hackneyed admissions narrative. Along with Duke, top-tier universities nationwide are becoming increasingly competitive for a variety of external reasons. Especially with the widespread implementation of the Common Application, high school students across the country are simply hedging their bets by applying to more colleges than in the recent past. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has reported that the percentage of high school seniors applying to seven or more universities has jumped from nine percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2011. This has resulted in an increasingly competitive applicant pool where admissions officers at elite universities select from a greater pool of similarly accomplished applicants. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the Ivy League, Stanford and University of Chicago have also all reported record low acceptance rates for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Despite these confounding variables driving college admissions on a national level, Duke’s low acceptance rate still contributes to an elitist sentiment that drives campus culture in negative ways. As manifested by the memes ridiculing state schools that appear on the Duke meme pages on Facebook, quite often our sense of exceptionalism as Duke students can bias us towards a grandiose elitism based in an almost pseudo-religious sentiment that “we are the chosen Duke students.” Such blind elitism ignores the fact that college admissions at the level of top tier institutions have very much evolved into a lottery-like system where randomized external and internal factors can decide the fate of a potential Blue Devil in an increasingly elephantine applicant pool.
Students should feel free to express pride in the many educational opportunities Duke provides as a top tier undergraduate university, as well as the many noteworthy accomplishments of Duke’s multifaceted undergraduate community. However, Duke’s nine percent acceptance rate should not be appropriated to mean that we somehow represent the 6,500 preordained elites destined for greatness in this Gothic Wonderland. In an age where college admissions at the top echelon have come increasingly arbitrary, minute differences in standardized test scores or letters of recommendations can make all of the difference.
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