Duke Essay Example: Breakdown + Analysis

With a 9% acceptance rate, Duke is one of the most competitive U.S. colleges to get into. Alongside killer stats, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation, adcoms are looking for engaging, concise, and thorough essays to put you over the top.

 

Duke includes three main short-essay prompts through the Common Application, one required and two optional. You may have to answer an additional prompt if you’re applying to a specific school within Duke, such as the renowned Pratt School of Engineering.

 

In this post, we’ll be going over the Pratt School’s essay prompt. We’ll outline what admissions officers are looking for, and we’ll analyze a sample essay written by a real applicant!

 

Duke Supplemental Essay Prompt

If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke (250 words).

This is a combination of your classic “Why This Major?” and “Why This School?” essay prompts. In order to answer this prompt effectively, you must do some deep digging into both why you love engineering—preferably within your specific specialty—and why you love the Pratt School of Engineering in particular.

 

If you’re feeling stuck, start off with a brainstorming session to figure out why you’re so drawn to your major in the first place. Where did it all start? Experiences from early childhood and recent years, lifelong personality traits, core values, and intellectual interests will all come into play. Maybe you’re drawn to civil engineering because you grew up in a big city, and frequently find yourself looking at the structures around you to appreciate their efficiencies or notice opportunities for improvement. Perhaps you’re drawn to biomedical engineering because it’s the perfect overlap between your lifelong affinity for medicine, and the love for engineering you recently discovered as a sophomore-year Robotics Club nerd.

 

If you have one, we recommend kicking off with an engaging story to draw admissions officers in. From there, you can delve into the intricacies of your interests within the Pratt School and the breadth of opportunities available at Duke for students like you.

 

A student who fits well with their school will find significant overlap between what they want out of their advanced-education experience and what Duke has to offer. Given the university’s abundance of professors, classes, majors, research opportunities, clubs, and more, there will be a lot of material to wade through and choose from. 

 

For example, an engineering student interested in environmentalism may write about Dukes Research Experience for Undergraduates. This is an experience offered by the National Science Foundation in which students are put to the task of solving one of the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering for the 21st Century. This student, with her dual passions for engineering and the planet, may write about her plans to take on these challenges, especially focusing her efforts on energy efficiency and conservation. 

 

Given the sparse word count, we recommend focusing on just 2-3 key aspects of Duke which truly fascinate you to avoid spreading yourself too thin. As always, we recommend not talking about prestige, rankings, or related qualities, as they don’t truly demonstrate your academic and personal fit with the school.

 

Let’s look at a sample response to this essay prompt:

 

Duke Pratt School of Engineering Essay Example

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.

 

Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.

Analyzing this Duke Essay Example

 

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. 

 

Right off the bat, this writer establishes a meaningful personal connection to engineering through a charming, engaging anecdote. The reader understands not only that this student has always had an affinity for math and science, but also that they learned early on that engineering was the perfect blend of their passions. It is evident here that engineering is a truly important part of this student’s life, and that they have a genuine and lifelong interest in it.

 

Notice how the student demonstrates their intellectual vitality, by the way. Instead of telling us “I’m really intellectually curious about engineering,” they give us a story which demonstrates this. 

 

Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.

 

This essay grows in specificity as it progresses, and in college-essay-writing, specificity is key. Here, there’s a smooth yet concise transition from a general childhood fascination with engineering to a more mature and specialized field of interest. We learn more and more about this student, almost in layers; first we learn they loved math and science, then engineering, and then biomedical engineering. In every sentence of this essay, each of this student’s personal qualities and traits builds off of the one before it, adding more dimension and nuance to their character.

 

Expressing a desire to “help people” may be a bit too general or cliche a tactic for most essays. Here, however, it actually helps the applicant because it wasn’t framed as their primary or sole motivation, and because they build on it later in the essay.

 

Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product.

 

In shifting from her past experiences to Duke’s academic offerings, this student uses their similarly interdisciplinary natures to connect the two. This penchant for smooth, concise transitions is an especially important asset when working with a sub-300 word limit. This applicant chose Duke-specific opportunities to discuss, giving no generic desires for “great professors,” a “top” program, or empty appeals to emotion (“The campus just felt like home!”)

 

Given biomedical engineering’s inventive and innovative nature, a connection to entrepreneurship makes perfect sense here. Bonus points if the student has already expressed genuine interest in entrepreneurship in their activity sheet or other essays; this would create a more cohesive narrative throughout their entire application.

 

Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.

 

Here, the applicant builds off of the “helping people” base we touched on earlier. They avoid falling into a cliche by detailing precisely how they plan to help people, and how a Duke education in particular will help them do so. Specificity like this is key to showing your genuine interest in the school and serves as evidence that you’re done your homework!

 

The final sentence serves to nicely tie the essay up, re-affirming the student’s personal qualities and how they suit the student for Duke, personally and academically.

 

As you’re working on your Duke supplemental essays, be sure to check out our Duke essay guide for all of the prompts.

 

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