Road Trip: "Aha!" Moments at the University of Denver

I had the privilege to listen to the Director of Admissions at the University of Denver (DU) share their university's philosophy to admissions decisions.  DU shared a number of specific admit / deny scenarios from the prior year which you can access here.  The scenarios demonstrate that what DU, but also to universities more generally, consider important in the admissions decision. And, they show compassion.  Aha! DU Admissions is looking for reasons to accept students rather than deny them.

A little about DU: A private school with an 73% acceptance rate and ranked well into the top 100 colleges in the country, only 33% of its students are from Colorado. DU won the national Hockey championship in 2016 and is strong in Lacrosse and Skiing as well. Fraternity row is from the 1920’s and about 25-30% of students are in Greek life, though it is not overpowering on campus.  Academically DU is on a quarter system and has a core curriculum called Ways of Knowing, which ensures a breadth of learning.  According to our tour guide, a junior biology major, it is “not uncool” to use the various academic resources (writing center, tutorials) or to go to office hours. Biology is the school's largest major but the Engineering and International Studies departments each opened new buildings in 2016. The Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) strikes me as an exceptional experience.  DU selects 88 top students, most of whom are also Honors students, to live together and to attend leadership classes and functions.  All PLP students, regardless of their major, will earn a 24 unit minor in leadership.  Note that this requires a separate and additional application. Priority deadline applications receive acceptances towards the end of February and regular deadline folks hear back about two weeks prior to May 1. Finally, the school has eight different merit scholarships, which are automatically granted based predominantly on grades and test scores.

Now to Admissions at DU (and similar schools):
About 80+% of admissions decisions are “easy” and based on the numbers (grades and test scores).  Here is how the Admissions Director broke it down:

  • GPA is ~ 50% of the decision. They look at specific grades to see whether a student’s C’s or D’s are a “stubbed toe” or a trend.
  • Test Scores are ~ 40% of the decision and they super score.
  • The Remainder is ~10% and is made up of strength of curriculum, essays, activities, recommendations, and financial need.

DU looks for students to be Capable, Competitive and Compelling.  Here’s what they mean by that:

  • Capable is the minimum requirement and includes a transcript with an upward trend and progressively more challenging course work.
  • Competitive recognizes that there are more capable students than can be admitted.  In the bottom quartile of the pool the school is need aware and financial aid becomes a factor. This bottom quartile is also where demonstrated interest becomes a factor and the school may consider the applicant’s specific major. 
  • Compelling refers to the applicant’s demonstrated grit and their fit with the school’s institutional needs—student capabilities and interests that the university feels it wants more of. The college is looking for students who will make a difference on campus.  This is where strength of essays, recommendations, legacy and demonstrated interest come into play.

Consider DU if you love the mountains and the sports they provide and if you are selected for the Pioneer Leadership Program (a separate application) take a close look.