What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

2 Strong Duke Essay Examples

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


In this post, we’ll share a Duke essay written by a real student and analyze what it did well and where it could be improved. Hopefully, you can take away some insight that will help you write your Duke essays.


Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 


Read our Duke essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 


Duke Pratt School of Engineering Essay Example – Why Engineering?


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).


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.


What the Essay Did Well


A strength of this essay is how it grows in specificity as it progresses, and in college-essay-writing, specificity is key. In the first paragraph, 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, each of this student’s personal qualities and traits builds off of the one before it, adding more dimension and nuance to their character.


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!”)


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.


What Could Be Improved


This essay could be made stronger with some improvements to the second paragraph. When including Duke opportunities they want to take part in, this student tells us “I am fascinated by,” and it “interests me,” but this is fairly basic writing. The reader shouldn’t have to be told about your interest and excitement over something; it should jump off the page.


Rather than telling us they are fascinated by interdisciplinary research, they could write something like this: “I’d take the thrill of finding connections between two seemingly unrelated topics, knee-deep in library archives, over the drop on the Kingda Ka rollercoaster.” Notice how this sentence doesn’t explicitly say anything about how they find research fascinating, but by describing it as a more thrilling experience than a rollercoaster, the reader gets a strong visual of the student’s passion.


Another thing missing from this essay is the why behind this student’s interest in helping others. They clearly flush out their motivation for pursuing engineering, but they never explain what draws them into being a social advocate. Throwing in how they want to “improve people’s quality of life“, “create sustainable  surgical tools for low-income countries“, and be a “social advocate” has little impact if we don’t understand the importance. A sentence or two that provides background on this student’s compassionate side and where it originated from or what it looks like in action would help bring more weight to their claims of becoming a social advocate.


Duke Essay Example – Why Duke?


Prompt: What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? (250 words)


In the last six years, my community has been disconnected from the national grid. The result? I watched my mother spend so much money on fuel and patronizing nearly every generator technician in town so we could access electricity. I developed the habit of going to my tutorial centers with my phone charger, hoping that by some streak of luck, the generator would be on. However, with Duke’s minor in Energy Engineering, all these could become things of the past. I especially look forward to courses like ENERGYER 310: INTRODUCTION TO ENERGY GENERATION and ENERGYER 490:RENEWABLE ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES, which will equip me with the knowledge I need to design cheap and environmentally friendly energy systems.


Outside the classroom, I hope to contribute to Duke’s mission of supporting positive change worldwide by participating in some of Duke’s signature programs, especially the Duke engage gateway program. I am a big fan of math competitions and math in general. As a result, I worked with some of my friends in 2019 to set up a math enrichment organization for high schoolers. I plan to someday have the Duke engage program work with our organization to help provide STEM classes and encourage hand on design projects among Nigerian high school students. I look forward to the academically challenging classes, interactions with strangers, and all the other things that come with being a blue devil.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay, which is responding to a textbook example of the “Why This College?” prompt, does a nice job of clearly explaining this student’s motivation for pursuing the specific opportunities at Duke they mention. Because of the story at the beginning about what this student and their mother went through to access energy, the reader understands the personal connection this student has to energy engineering. That personal connection, coupled with the fact the student names specific energy engineering classes at Duke, proves that their interest in the subject is genuine.


The student’s discussion of the Duke engage program is also backed with a personal story that deepens the connection between their past experiences and the things they hope to accomplish at Duke. Rather than just saying they want to join the engage program because they like creating positive change, their description of creating a “math enrichment organization” in high school shows Duke admissions officers that they have already embodied that value of making the world a better place.


What Could Be Improved


One way this essay could be improved would be to more empathetically drive home the theme of making the world a better place. Between this student’s passion for bringing energy solutions to their community and helping Nigerian students access STEM resources, they clearly have a genuine desire to be a force for positive change. Right now, however, the essay feels somewhat like two distinct anecdotes stuck together, rather than a cohesive story focusing on this aspect of their personality, with Duke-specific opportunities woven into that story.


Centering the essay on this quality would shift the focus from the programs at Duke, and how the student fits into them, to the student’s personality, and how Duke aligns with it. It might seem like a subtle difference, but the result would be an essay that both flows naturally and highlights the student’s admirable character.


How would the student go about making this change? The essay could start with a sentence that shows us their passion for helping others in general, rather than in the context of their local power grid of the math organization they cofounded. This line could be quite simple, for example: “‘To help others!’ That’s how I answered my mom every year when she asked what I wanted for my birthday.” 


Then, the student could move into talking about the helplessness they felt not being able to fix the power grid, and how that feeling motivated them to pursue energy engineering. Their story would continue by transitioning into a discussion of how they hope to help people in a variety of ways, not just by improving their access to electricity. They could cite their math organization as an example of another way they’ve worked to make people’s lives better, and demonstrate their commitment to that organization by describing how they hope to grow it with the skills they learn from the Duke engage program.


This version of the essay, by centering on their personality from start to finish, would feel more cohesive, while still incorporating why the student wants to attend Duke specifically.


Where to Get Your Duke Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Duke essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.