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More secrets to Harvard’s admission process revealed

While details of Harvard's admission process are coming to light in the trial over whether the university discriminates against Asian American applicants, see how the Inquirer in 2013 pulled back the curtain on the admissions process at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

An aerial view of the Harvard University campus in 2013.
An aerial view of the Harvard University campus in 2013.Read moreAndrea Pistolesi / TIPS/Zuma Press/TNS

One week of the trial over whether Harvard discriminates against Asian American students is in the books, with quite a lot being revealed over how one of the most selective colleges in the nation draws its freshman class.

Apparently, applicants from different areas of the country are sorted into "dockets," according to the Washington Post. Applications get first reads and second reads. There are committees and ratings, even "dean's lists" and other factors — called "tips" — that can help decide whether a borderline applicant should be accepted, the newspaper reported. Those "tips" include items such as creativity, athletic ability, and whether an applicant's parent attended. Donors' children may get a look, too.

At Harvard, the details are especially interesting considering that only about 5 percent of applicants are admitted each year.

While Lehigh University isn't as selective — about a quarter of applicants are granted admission — it, too, has a complex  admissions process, which the Inquirer sat in on and profiled in 2013.  The university also had a "first read" where most cases were decided; those in dispute were sent to an admissions team, where they were reviewed and voted on. Several things became clear after sitting in on eight hours of those team meetings:

Getting bad grades in senior year, even with a stellar record previously and sky-high SATs, could sabotage a student.

A student with a perfect SAT score could be on the bubble if there had been no showing of real interest, such as a campus visit.

Having a parent, grandparent, or sibling who attended Lehigh — known as a legacy — could help, but wasn't a guarantee.

The student's high school could have a major influence on admission chances, depending on the rigor of the curriculum and whether a student took the intensive courses.

With so much competition, students must distinguish themselves, whether it's in the essay, in the interview with a staffer, or through an entrepreneurial activity.

Sometimes pure geography played a role.

The trial is expected to continue this week.