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Students walk in front of a chapel tower on the Duke campus

Duke University enacted big changes to its admission practices this application cycle.

Lance King/Getty Images

Duke University is no longer assigning numerical ratings to applicants’ standardized test scores and essays, a university spokesperson confirmed in an email to Inside Higher Ed. The change was made earlier this year and has been in effect for the latest round of applications.

In the past Duke has assigned point values of one to five to applicants’ essays and standardized test scores, which in turn were factored into a holistic score on a 30-point scale. The university is still using the point system, but only for the remaining numerically weighted categories: curriculum strength, academics, recommendations and extracurriculars.

Dean of undergraduate admissions Christoph Guttentag told The Chronicle, the university’s student newspaper, that the choice to stop assigning points to applicants’ essays is largely due to the rise of AI-generated writing among current high school and college students as well as concerns about ghostwritten essays from highly paid college consultants.

“Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant. We’re just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability,” Guttentag said.

He added that the essay decision had no relation to last summer’s Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action, though applicant essays have become a focal point in discussions about how selective colleges can continue to admit racially diverse classes.

Duke is currently operating under a temporary test-optional policy put in place during the pandemic, but the decision not to assign points for scores does not mean the university is going test blind; scores will still be considered when students choose to submit them. Many of Duke’s highly selective peers, including Dartmouth College and Columbia University, have recently come down on one side or the other of the intensifying debate over testing requirements in admissions. 

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