Christopher Gruber, Dean of Admission at Davidson College, Answers Five Questions

"Every student shall be honor bound to refrain from cheating (including plagiarism). Every student shall be honor bound to refrain from stealing. Every student shall be honor bound to refrain from lying about College business. Every student shall be honor bound to report immediately all violations of the Honor Code …”  -- Davidson College Honor Code


The Davidson College Honor Code is central to the life of this private liberal arts college founded in 1837 by Presbyterians. Under the Davidson Honor Code, for example, students take unproctored, self-scheduled exams, permitting them to tackle tests with the timing they choose during exam periods. But its influence extends beyond take-home exams and test-taking so that as you walk the Davidson campus, you may see a note on a bulletin board or taped to a brick walkway describing an item, along with the finder's contact information so that the lost item can be recovered.

The college has a rich history of tradition that begins with the annual ceremony in which incoming students sign the Honor Code and extends to Young Democrats and College Republicans debating across balconies during Family Weekend and rituals like the Cake Race. Established in 1930 by Davidson Coach Pete Whittle to help identify hidden track and field talent in the freshman class, the 1.7 mile race for new students ends with each runner receiving a homemade cake.

Located in Davidson, North Carolina, just 19 miles north of Charlotte, the 665-acre Davidson campus is home to just over 1,700 students. The college offers 850 courses and 25 majors,  including the opportunity for students to design their own through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.  With a student to faculty ratio of 10:1, the average class size is 15.

When students aren’t in class, they can choose to engage in more than 200 student organizations,  including the Neuroscience Club, Microfinance Club, Pre-Law Society, Hillel, Backgammon, Baking, or P.S., a Student-Run Restaurant. Students can write for The Davidsonian, a weekly newspaper or Exit 30 Literary Magazine, broadcast via student-run WALT Radio or participate in the symphony, dance company, Oops Improv Group, the Gospel Choir or four – yes, four! – a capella groups -- the Generals, the Delilahs, Androgyny, and the Nuances. There are also eight national fraternities, 4 women’s eating houses, and two sororities on campus.

The Davidson Wildcats field 21 teams in NCAA Division I varsity sports. And also offer ten intramural leagues, 18 club sports, and a 110-acre waterfront property on Lake Norman where students can enjoy sailing, kayaking, water skiing or laying on the beach.

Alma mater to 23 Rhodes Scholars, other notable Davidson alumni include former Burger King CEO John Chidsey; Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College; astronaut Tom Marshburn; authors Patricia Cornwell and Martin Clark; and enough North Carolina Congressmen to field a spirited baseball game. 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson also attended Davidson – but didn’t graduate.

Davidson College leads in other ways, as well. It was the first liberal arts college to eliminate loans as part of financial aid.

Join its Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Christopher Gruber here to learn more about the students who do well at Davidson, hear his advice about the kind of education students enjoy at a smaller liberal arts college, and gain a better understanding of “demonstrated interest.”


What kind of student does well at Davidson?  How would you describe the student body?  What do you most want an applicant to the school to know?


While we begin with a student that has achieved throughout their secondary school years with remarkable success both in and outside of the classroom, such a student also has an appreciation for wanting to be part of a community that will be instrumental in their personal growth for the years to come.  Our students arrive with strong competencies, ideas and passions, yet an ideal Davidsonian is also anxious to learn from their classmates who will share both like and different views.

One of the unique parts of a Davidson College application is the requirement of a peer recommendation, similar in nature to what is expected from a secondary school counselor or teacher.  While this recommendation can provide useful information in ascertaining the competitiveness of an applicant, it also provides insights that are different from those of teachers, counselors, principals and advisers.  We find that the peer recommendation is often a more critical assessment of how the applicant is currently viewed, valued and respected, which allows us a greater ability to picture the applicant in the Davidson community.


As Dean of Admission at a small liberal arts college, what do you believe is offered by the kind of education that students may not get at larger institutions?  Overall, what advice do you have for students about size when creating their college lists?


While within our profession there could be a debate about who said it first, the thought “college is about a match to be made, not a prize to be won” comes to mind.  I will often encourage students to reflect hard on what has enabled them to be successful in their high school careers and then evaluate which of those factors must be present in their collegiate experience.  Years of experience tell me that students often answer that prompt by noting the relationship with a certain faculty member, a small and tightly knit class or an independent project.  As a result, I think it is critical for a student to include within their list colleges that will provide the same type of richness that allowed them to thrive in high school.

Small liberal arts colleges provide the ideal stage for the strong academic and personal growth of a student.  Small classrooms with lively conversation, where the faculty member and students are in search of new information, are experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.  Faculty members that encourage, mentor, possess the belief that a student can achieve at a higher level often before the student holds that confidence, and actively collaborate with students as they search for internships, graduate schools and jobs are common in a small liberal arts college like Davidson.  In this community, 70% of our faculty live in the small town of Davidson, so those relationships are founded in the classrooms and developed in offices, at the local coffee shop, over dinner in faculty homes and in those casual meetings that take place at almost every college activity.  That comfort allows for the faculty to literally possess  higher expectations, and for our students to experience a growth that they would have never fathomed upon their enrollment.


Can you address “demonstrated interest” and explain how Davidson uses it as a factor in the admission process?


Demonstrated interest, or DI,  is a term that is still relatively new in the college admission process, and I think somewhat misunderstood. It is an indicator that some colleges and universities use in order to assess how interested students may be in enrolling if offered admission.  A student's interest is measured by weighting contacts and actions taken by the student that could include office visits, tours, attending receptions, and contact with admission officers.  The National Association of College Admission Counseling, NACAC, is currently debating how this metric could or should ethically be considered in the admission process in the future.  I firmly believe that some colleges and universities are excellent in the way they articulate precisely how DI is used on their campus, which I feel is an obligation of the college.

On opening day as the first year students arrive each year I am often asked, “isn’t this your favorite day of the year?”  I think many are taken aback by my answer, as I consistently share that I do like this day, but if we as a college have done our job correctly, I will take greater pride on the day they graduate four years later.  I want students to enroll, stay and graduate, and those that have the greatest opportunity of doing so are those that have thoroughly investigated and understand the nuances of a Davidson education. 

With that said, there is not a guidebook, website, a counselor or tool that alone will provide a student with all that they truly need to know about our college.  I want them to meet with our admission deans, our students, see our campus (when truly feasible) and probe hard so they can decide with confidence that Davidson is an ideal place for their collegiate experience.  A student that lives five miles from campus and shares within our required “why Davidson” essay that they know Davidson well since they attended a basketball game here once in the 6th grade is not putting their best foot forward in my mind.  I would fully expect that student to participate in an on-campus program, a tour and be able to fully articulate the value of Davidson experience with clarity and sound examples that illustrate and answer that “why” question well.  Put simply, I am looking both for a match and for a student to take advantage of those tools that are made available to them, when appropriate.


What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately?  What keeps you up at night?


Probably not a fair question to be asking of a person my age.  Yet at different times of the year and where we are in the admission cycle, the issues change.  I wish I could say that the list is short, but the reality is our list as a nation is growing, for a variety of reasons.

I think often, obviously as a job responsibility, about working to insure that we have a high quality applicant pool that properly supports the goals and needs of the college.  Yet thinking beyond the scope of my institutional needs, my focus in recent months and years has landed on some of the following topics:

  • College costs, as institutional costs have risen at a rate that is higher than the CPI, and the implications that will have on how prospective students and their families will view liberal arts colleges.
  • Ways to define the value of a liberal arts college, and Davidson specifically.
  • Ways to attract those students that are best suited for a Davidson education, independent of their ability to pay our cost of attendance.
  • Access to higher education for all students, inclusive of undocumented students in this country.
  • Ratings and scorecards created by politicians that do not appropriately measure the value of our education system and outcomes.

What is your favorite thing about Davidson College?

The people.  I am privileged to be able to work, live and grow in this community that supports all, appreciates difference, is honest, and is unyielding in its responsibility to do the right thing.  The students, the faculty, the staff and the members of this town all come together to create a community that is so ideal for learning, living and simply enjoying life.   In addition, there is a wonderful sense of humility that is found at Davidson, which is a beautiful trait in my mind to be possessed by a community.

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