The market turn in Higher Education changed the role of staff involved with admissions and recruitment. This paper focuses on the English system in the context of both a sharp rise in student fees and a tendency for the public university agenda and its associated social priorities, such as widening participation, to come up against more commercial priorities. Drawing on evidence from detailed interviews with admissions personnel, both academic and non-academic, across three disciplines within one higher-prestige university, we explore the notion of selectivity and the practice of selection. Tensions are revealed in relation to the traditional model of university admissions, as based on local knowledge and sensitivity towards underrepresented groups, and the
purportedly merit-driven model, as driven by perceived market position. We report on the complex and often unexpected ways in which admissions staff reconcile their professed beliefs with their professional practices.