Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.

Duke University has only one supplemental essay; in this post, we’ll show you the correct approach to use in tackling it so that it benefits your application as much as possible.

Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background-we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 word limit)

This essay is two-fold: it attempts to gauge how you are unique while also assessing how you may fit into the Duke community.  Those of you that have an interesting background or story that illustrates diversity or understanding of other cultures: definitely share it.  For example, if you ever lived abroad, speaking about the new perspectives you gained from whatever culture you experienced can be an effective vehicle to explain how you imagine you will fit in the Duke community.  However, it is crucial that you frame whatever diverse experience you want to speak about in a cathartic manner.  Remember that college essays are supposed to show your character development/growth.  Simply recounting experiences only goes about halfway to explaining the sort of individual you are.  Rather, you want to explain how certain experiences changed your perception of the world and allowed you to grow.  Continuing with our example, your time spent living in Hungary was not valuable purely because you witnessed a different culture; it was valuable because of the mutual understanding you gained through attempting to communicate with a baker that spoke no English but ultimately wanted to help you find your way back home.  This sort of essay implies that you jumped directly into the metaphorical trenches of cultural barrier smashing – you weren’t an observer, you were a participant in the diversity that you are referencing.

Now, if you’re a pretty basic American that has never even left Delaware, you may be feeling pretty stumped on this question.  What diversity could you possibly highlight?  Keep in mind that this question asks “share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to.”  Ignoring Duke’s grammar error with its prepositions (tsk, tsk), notice that the definition of a “community” is relatively open-ended.  The community to which you belong (seriously, come on Duke), does not necessarily have to be cultural.  Perhaps you found a community within a group of anime enthusiasts in an online forum.  Your essay could focus on how bridging a lack of face-to-face interaction and geographic proximity through a mutual love of an art form ultimately helped you realize that you can create communities wherever you go.

After you have successfully developed your diverse aspect (whether a physical/cultural difference or more of a situational difference or nuance), you want to come full circle and relate it to your time at Duke.  Don’t necessarily stop at how Duke can allow you to continue experiencing diversity; instead, focus on how you will be an active body contributing to that diversity because of the experiences you’ve had and the perspectives you bring.

Zack Perkins

Zack Perkins

Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
Zack Perkins