Duke vs. Vanderbilt: Which College is Right for You?

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If you’re comparing Duke and Vanderbilt as part of your college planning, you’re in good shape. Both Duke and Vanderbilt have distinguished reputations for top-notch academics, incredible research opportunities, and offer everything you need to set yourself up for success after school. When considering Duke vs. Vanderbilt, you’ll notice there are a fair amount of similarities between the two schools; however, there are also quite a few differences. Keep reading to learn more about both schools and make an informed decision when deciding between Vanderbilt and Duke. 

 

Duke vs. Vanderbilt: A Quick Overview

 

Duke  Vanderbilt 
Location Durham, North Carolina Nashville, Tennessee
Campus Type Suburban  Urban-Suburban 
Undergraduate Enrollment 6,526 6,861
Acceptance Rate 9% 10%
U.S. News Ranking 10 15
Sticker Price $81,302 $73,148
Student to Faculty Ratio 6:1  7:1
Middle 50% SAT/ACT SAT: 1500-1560

ACT: 33-35

SAT: 1460–1560

ACT: 33-35

Subject Tests Required? Optional/may be considered 2 strongly recommended if you only submit an SAT score (optional for ACT takers)
Median Starting Salary $68,500 $63,000



Duke vs. Vanderbilt: A Closer Look

 

Location

 

Duke

 

Duke is situated in Durham, North Carolina, which has a population of 267,743. The city is #10 on the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Places to Live list. Duke is conveniently located roughly three hours from both the ocean and the mountains, providing boundless recreation opportunities, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a little over two hours away for those looking to escape further afield. 

 

Duke is in the “Research Triangle,” an area containing three world-class research universities (Duke, North Carolina State University, and UNC Chapel Hill).

 

Vanderbilt

 

Vanderbilt is located in Nashville, Tennessee, the second-largest city in the state, and the state capital. With a population of 691,243, the city is much larger than Durham. Nashville is known as the center of country music and is frequently referred to as the Music City—it’s home to the “Grand Ole Opry” stage and radio show, along with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Music-focused tourism makes the city a destination for tourists, but students reap the rewards as thousands of concerts (of all genres) are held in the city each year and a booming food scene has sprung up. Nashville also houses Nashville International Airport, offering 540 daily commercial flights to 75 nonstop markets.

 

Size

 

Duke

 

Duke has a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,526 and another 9,569 graduate and professional students, for a total student population of 16,095 students. The university’s student-to-teacher ratio is 6:1, and 71.4% percent of classes at Duke have 20 or fewer students in them. 

 

Vanderbilt

 

The total undergraduate population at Vanderbilt is 6,861. Vanderbilt is also home to 6,245 graduate and professional students, bringing the university’s total student population to 13,131. The student-to-teacher ratio is 7:1, with 65.9% of Vanderbilt’s classes having fewer than 20 students, and 81% of its classes have fewer than 30 students. 

 

Weather

 

Duke

 

The mild southern climate draws many to Duke University. Durham, North Carolina, has an average annual temperature of 59°F. During the hot season (between May and September), the average daily high temperature is a little above 81°F.  

 

Vanderbilt 

 

Sperling’s Best Places to Live rates Nashville’s climate as 7.3 out of 10. The city has mild seasons with the exception of summer, when it gets hot and humid. The warmest month is July when the average high temperature is 90°F, and the average low occurs in January when the average high temperature is 47°F.  

 

Academics

 

Duke

 

Duke is divided into 10 schools serving both undergraduate and graduate students, including the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University—U.S. News and World Report’s 23rd-ranked engineering school. The 10 schools at Duke University are:

 

  • Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • School of Law
  • Divinity School
  • Graduate School
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Nursing
  • Pratt School of Engineering
  • Fuqua School of Business
  • Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Sanford School of Public Policy

 

Duke students can choose from a wide variety of majors, from more traditional ones to unique offerings such as Medieval & Renaissance Studies and Global Cultural Studies. There’s also an option to create your own interdepartmental major. Students must declare their majors before the end of sophomore year.

 

Research is a core component of all disciplines at Duke, and students in all majors are offered opportunities to conduct research. Study abroad is also part of the Duke experience for almost 50% of students, and all Duke grads must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language.

 

For students interested in taking a gap year before enrolling, Duke also has a very unique Gap Year Program, where students can even receive funding for their gap year projects.

 

Vanderbilt 

 

Vanderbilt is also divided into ten different schools and colleges, four reserved for undergraduates and six dedicated to graduate and professional studies. 

 

The four undergraduate schools are: 

 

  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Peabody College of Education and Human Development 
  • School of Engineering
  • Blair School of Music 

 

The six graduate and professional schools are: 

 

  • Divinity School
  • The Graduate School
  • Law School
  • Owen Graduate School of Management
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Nursing

 

Vanderbilt also offers a wide array of majors, including interdisciplinary programs such as Medicine, Health, and Society and Law, History, and Society. All students must take courses in a wide variety of topics as per the AXLE requirements (Achieving Excellence in Liberal Education). 

 

Vandy’s academic claim to fame is its Peabody College of Education, which is ranked #4 (tie) in Best Education Schools by U.S. News. Peabody students gain classroom experience as early as their second semester, and many majors involve service learning, which combines community work with classroom education.

 

Half of students participate in study abroad, and those on financial aid will see their aid carry over. 

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Housing

 

Duke

 

Undergraduates students at Duke are required to live on campus for their first three years, with first-year housing assigned at random. There are a handful of living-learning communities that students can opt into, including substance-free, performing arts, and Kenan Global Citizenship and Ethics—which attracts students who want to explore the meaning of living as a global citizen. Additionally, there’s a variety of housing available in selective living communities. These communities encompass fraternities, sororities, and social selective groups such as Ubuntu, which offers a “multi-dimensional residential experience” and was created to offer a sense of togetherness.

 

Vanderbilt

 

Vanderbilt is a residential college and believes the residential experience is an important part of a student’s college education. With this in mind, 94% of Vanderbilt students live on campus. First year students are randomly assigned into one of ten first-year houses. Vanderbilt also features three living-learning communities: the Mayfield Experience (where ten students live together and create a self-generated, self-directed group project under the guidance of a faculty advisor), the McGill Project (which generally attracts students interested in free expression and discovery of their choice), and the McTyeire International House (where the use of foreign languages and the awareness of different cultures is promoted).

 

Food

 

Duke

 

On Duke’s campus, students will find over 50 dining locations which consist of 34 on-campus locations, off-campus restaurants that deliver, and food trucks. Among these options, students will find something to satisfy every palate, diet, and food restriction. Duke’s West Union was listed also in Southern Living’s The South’s Most Stunning College Dining Halls

 

Vanderbilt

 

Vanderbilt students are treated to a host of food options on campus; among its dining locations are five dining halls, six retail dining establishments, four cafés, and five markets. Vanderbilt has also partnered with numerous local restaurants in their Taste of Nashville program—this program allows students to use their meal plan to eat at participating restaurants. 

 

Financial aid

 

Duke

 

Duke has a need-blind admissions policy, meaning it doesn’t consider an applicant’s ability to pay for tuition and other college costs into its decision-making process. It also promises to meet 100% of each student’s demonstrated financial need. A little over half (52%) of Duke’s undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. In 2018-2019, the average need-based grant awarded was $53,255. 

 

Vanderbilt 

 

Vanderbilt also has a need-blind and no-loan admissions policy. The university is committed to helping students meet 100% of their demonstrated need. 65% of Vanderbilt students receive some sort of financial aid, with 16% of students receiving Pell grants. The average need-based scholarship is $54,138.

 

One difference between Vandy’s financial aid and Duke’s is that Vandy is no-loan, while Duke is no-loan only for families making under $40,000. At no-loan schools, only grants and work study (and not loans) are included in financial aid packages.

 

Sports and Extracurriculars

 

Duke Sports

 

Duke is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and fields 27 Division 1 sports teams. Best known for men’s basketball (and ferocious rivalry with nearby UNC), the team has won five national championships—and by the end of the 2018-2019 season, there were 25 former Blue Devils playing in the National Basketball Association. Lesser known, but even more successful, than the men’s basketball team is the women’s golf team, which has won seven national championships.

 

Duke Extracurricular Activities

 

Greek life plays a considerable role on Duke’s campus—roughly 30% of the student body is affiliated with one of the 40 fraternities and sororities on campus. In addition, Duke is home to more than 400 student groups covering a wide range of interests including culture, religion, politics, and service. 

 

Vanderbilt Sports

 

The Vanderbilt Commodores play in the Division 1 Southeastern Conference (SEC)—it fields six men’s teams (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, and tennis) and nine women’s teams (basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, and track & field). Additionally, the school has 32 sports clubs and over 40 intramural sports leagues. 

 

Vanderbilt Extracurricular Activities

 

Vanderbilt’s campus is home to 20 fraternities and 16 sororities—including eight of the nine NPHC organizations sometimes collectively called the “Divine Nine” (these are nationally-recognized historically black sororities and fraternities). In general, about 40% of students participate in Greek life, however, it’s worth noting that Greek houses at Vanderbilt are non-residential. There are over 500 registered student organizations at Vanderbilt, serving a wide variety of interests and activities.  

 

Culture and Diversity

 

Duke

 

15% of Duke students hail from North Carolina. California, New York, Florida, and New Jersey send the most students to the school from out of state. The school is evenly split between men and women—they each make up 50% of the student population. The Campus Pride Index, a benchmarking tool for judging a college’s LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs and practices, rates Duke University four out of five stars (Duke’s main shortcoming is in “LGBTQ housing and residence life”).

 

Here’s a breakdown of the student body’s diversity:

 

Undergraduate Ethnicity Percentage of Undergraduate Population 
White 45.2%
Asian  14%
Black/African American 7.19%
Hispanic/Latino 5.95%
Two or more races 2.8%
American Indian or Alaska Native .546%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander .093%
International  3.3%

 

Vanderbilt

 

Women make up 51% of undergraduates at Vanderbilt, while men make up the remaining 49%. About a third of undergraduates attending Vanderbilt are from the south, approximately another third of the student population comes from the middle states and the midwest. Vanderbilt also scores four out of five on the Campus Pride Index.

 

Here’s a breakdown of the different ethnicities at Vandy:

 

Undergraduate Ethnicity Percentage of Undergraduate Population 
Asian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 14.6%
Black/African American 11%
Hispanic 10%
Two or more races 5.5%
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.5%
International 9.7%

 

Student Outcomes

 

Duke

 

95% of students graduate in four years and, in general, a degree from Duke will lead to a promising career. According to Payscale’s The Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree, Duke is the 28th best school in the nation when it comes to producing highly paid graduates. Duke grads have an early-career (0-5 years) average salary of $71,100 and a mid-career (10+ years) average salary of $132,100. 

 

Vanderbilt 

 

88% of Vanderbilt students graduate within four years and 93% graduate within six years. 63.5% of graduates leave Vanderbilt and join the workforce, while 30.2% enter graduate or professional school. 70% of students continuing their education after finishing their undergraduate program at Vanderbilt get into their first-choice school. Vanderbilt ranks 59th on Payscale’s list of The Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree. Vanderbilt graduates earn an early-career (0-5 years) average salary of $65,400 and a mid-career (10+ years) average salary of $119,100. 

 

How to Decide Between Duke and Vanderbilt

 

Deciding between Vanderbilt and Duke isn’t easy; after all, they’re both fantastic institutions. Ratings like U.S. News can be helpful for determining the quality of a college, but as much as a school’s esteem is important, so is the way a school fits with you. For example, there’s no reason to choose a college in a suburban setting like Durham if you dream of going to a larger university in a big, vibrant city like Nashville. 

 

Duke is especially strong for students who…

 

Duke is an especially good choice if you want to attend a school with easy access to city life, but is a bit removed. It’s also great for college sports enthusiasts—the Blue Devils’ rabid basketball fan base is referred to as the “Cameron Crazies.” For students interested in internships and careers after graduation, Duke’s proximity to the research triangle offers unprecedented opportunity, as within it are the second largest IBM operation in the world (14,000 employees); the Cisco Systems campus, which holds the company’s second highest concentration of employees outside Silicon Valley (5,000 employees); and is also home to notable employers such as Microsoft, Lenovo, and Verizon. 

 

Vanderbilt is especially strong for students who…

 

When debating between Vanderbilt and Duke, the most obvious difference is Vanderbilt’s location. Nashville provides students with easy access to big city amenities like music, food, two professional sports teams (the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators), and culture. Music students will be tempted by the Blair School of Music; while not as prestigious as some other music programs, it delivers exceptional opportunity to perform in one of the country’s musical hot beds. Being located in the state capital also makes Vanderbilt a smart choice for students interested in pursuing a career in government—the state of Tennessee is Nashville’s second largest employer, just behind the university itself. 

 

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.