I was talking to a professor recently and he mentioned something that I found surprising. Namely, for graduate admissions in his department (top-30, US public) they had a whitelist of universities and they only consider applicants whose undergraduate studies were at one of those universities. He went on to complain that initially the list was too US-centric and it had to be expanded because they missed good international candidates.

I was very surprised by this. I did not know that this whitelist approach is used, but evidently it is. My question: How common is this? Have others heard of this practice?

I'm pretty sure my undergraduate institution would not make it onto any such list. So I'm sad to hear about such practices. Fortunately, I did get admitted to several very good US grad schools, so evidently the practice is not universal.

  • The implementation you describe sounds more explicit and rigid than most, though, yeah, I'd guess that a lot of places end up doing something like that in effect. Dunno how easy it might be to get a survey of recruitment practices, though; that sorta thing tends to be private info.
    – Nat
    Feb 21, 2018 at 23:02
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    An explicit whitelist? Sounds like a PR and possibly legal nightmare if it ever got leaked.
    – Solveit
    Feb 21, 2018 at 23:10
  • @SolveIt: Not sure about that; schools being "selective" (e.g., GPA of entrants) is usually considered a positive thing. Feb 21, 2018 at 23:15
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    @DanielR.Collins Selective is good. A public institution outright refusing to consider some students (and I'm sure there are many other public institutions not on the list) is questionable.
    – Solveit
    Feb 21, 2018 at 23:57

1 Answer 1


I think your use of "white-list" is not accurate. Namely, usually it does not mean the exclusion of all others, but only the inclusion of those on the list.

As far as graduate admissions, yes, prior experience with letter writers from a given undergrad institution, especially via the people admitted to our program from that institution, establish a track record for those letter-writers, and for those programs. That's not to say that every individual from a good program is equally good... but that we have data points about the meaning of the letters of recommendation, and about prior preparation.

In fact, our graduate program pays considerable attention to individuals who most likely fall outside the doctrinaire "best undergrad institutions", exactly because we know that many grad programs will under-value them, so that (if we can see a good hint of potential) we have a better chance of recruiting them. So, no, there is absolutely no a-priori exclusion of people from ... odd... places.

But, again, sure, prior experience (for better or for worse) with institutions, their faculty, and their programs, obviously gives us information. Yes, it seems to be true that some institutions are a bit delusional/arrogant, but we don't hold that against their students. :)

  • The way he described it sounded very strict.
    – user87930
    Feb 22, 2018 at 1:36
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    I do think the OPs use of "whitelist" is reasonable. As a security concept, it usually means the negation of a blacklist (that is, for blacklist B, deny x if x ∈ B; for whitelist W, deny x if x ∉ W; possibly confused in usage of email programs under exclusive/non-exclusive criteria to override a pre-existing blacklist action). That does sound like an accurate description of the situation. Feb 22, 2018 at 4:17
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    Multiple usages of the word "whitelist" exist in different contexts, but in this case I think it was fairly obvious the "deny if not on list" definition is meant, not the "automatically accept anyone from these institutions, even if their application is in crayola on a soiled napkin" definition. (That would be an interesting practice indeed!)
    – nengel
    Feb 22, 2018 at 5:55

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