How to Write the Duke University Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Duke University is home to over 6,500 undergraduate students pursuing degrees across its 10 schools and colleges. The college is one of the top schools in the county, and it currently sits at #10 (tie) according to US News.

 

With such prestige comes great selectivity. In the 2019-2020 cycle, only 7.7% of applicants were accepted. Students hoping to secure their seat in the class of 2025 should do their best to set their application apart from the crowd. One way to do that is through the essays!

 

Duke has one required essay and two optional ones. It’s always a good idea to write any optional supplements that apply to you, as it will allow you a better chance to leave a lasting impression on your admissions readers and signal your interest. Besides, apart from your Common App or Coalition App essay, your college application is generally told from the perspective of others, hence leveraging every opportunity to lend your own voice is paramount to ensuring that your story is being told the way you’d want it to be told.

 

Keep reading for a breakdown of how to write a standout essay for each prompt. Want to know your chances at Duke? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what Duke University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Duke University needs to know.

 

Duke University Supplemental Essay Prompts

Prompt 1 (required): Please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you.  Is there something in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that attract you?  (200 words)

 

Prompt 2 (optional): 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 that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 words)

 

Prompt 3 (optional): Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you would like to share with us more about your identity, you can do so here, or use any previous essay prompt you feel is appropriate. (250 words)


Prompt 1: For All Applicants (Required)

Please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that attract you?  (200 words maximum)

This is the classic “Why This College” essay. The key is to avoid sweeping generalizations that could apply to any school, such as “It has a great engineering department!” or “I love the architecture.”Hone in on a few compelling examples about why you are not only a match for Duke, but also how Duke can support your goals. 

 

Before you begin, you’ll need to do research on Duke-specific offerings that you’d take advantage of. Get granular and look at specific courses, programs, funding opportunities, extracurriculars, and student groups. 

Here are strategies to consider for this prompt:

 

  • Hone in on your academic interests – Elaborate in depth about why Duke’s offerings match your goals. For example, maybe you want to study Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology. You’re particularly interested in marine life conservation. Duke’s Marine Lab would give you a hands-on opportunity, particularly in Dr. Johnston’s lab, which explores how technology (drones and remote sensing techniques) can be used to gather data for marine life conservation. You might also want to take the Marine Lab’s travel course to Mexico, which is focused on community-based marine conservation.

 

  • Link Opportunities to Your Skills and Experiences – Make sure to continue expressing information about yourself along with your interests in certain opportunities. If you simply rattle off a list of things you want to get involved with at Duke, admissions won’t learn anything about you as a person. To continue the above example in marine biology, maybe you come from a fishing town, so you understand how fishing can be vital to a local economy, but also know that it can be detrimental for marine conservation. This would be am important detail to mention when you bring up the community-based marine conservation course.

If you would like more inspiration for ideas or opportunities at Duke, we recommend that you check out this list of resources. The following are excellent clubs, programs, and projects at Duke that can be used as examples throughout your all of your essays:

 

  1. On-Campus Organizations
  2. DukeEngage
  3. BassConnections
  4. Duke Engineers for International Development
  5. FOCUS
  6. Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  7. Dance Program
  8. The Duke Chronicle
  9. Duke Arts
  10. Smart Home Project
  11. Duke Immerse

 


Prompt 2: Perspective and Experience (Optional)

 

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 that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 words)

As mentioned above, we strongly encourage students to respond to any and all prompts which apply to them. Broader prompts like this one are quite flexible, allowing students to draw upon a multitude of experiences and interests to address the question. Don’t be intimidated by the word “diversity” here. Diversity covers a broad spectrum of identities and experiences, whether they be related to:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Ethnicity and culture
  • health and disability
  • Interests, hobbies, and talents
  • Perspectives, values, and opinions
  • Experiences
  • Personality traits

 

Furthermore, it’s important to remember with prompts like these, everyone isn’t going to have a dramatic, high stakes anecdote that will move their audience to tears. That doesn’t make your story any less important than the next. 

 

Prompts like this one invite you to discuss your interests and experiences and how they have shaped you as an individual. The implied question here for admissions counselors is, how will you fit into the Duke campus community. By asking you to reflect on your own perspective and experiences, Duke hopes to learn about how your unique personal experiences have shaped you as an individual and how you’ll fit into the larger campus community as a result. 

 

In responding to prompts like this one, it’s important to keep in mind the unique culture and values of the institution to which you’re applying. Duke is a large research university with a top-notch athletics program, a vibrant social scene and a wide variety of opportunities for civic engagement. In fact, Duke emphasizes the importance of students pursuing their academic and professional interests fervently not only as a means of personal development, but as a way to actively contribute to the communities around them. While your essay needn’t directly address any of the above characteristics, it should reflect the spirit of Duke’s unique campus community, and demonstrate the unique perspective and experiences you bring to it.

 

So start by honing in on exactly what you want admissions counselors to learn about you. What one thing do you think is paramount to an admissions’ counselor understanding of who you are, how you think, and how you’ll function as a member of the campus community? What will you bring to the table?

 

As an exercise, try sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and writing detailed, specific answers to some of the following questions:

 

  • What life experiences have been fundamental to my development? Which have shaped my worldview?
  • What do I care about? What do I want to change about or bring to the world?
  • What “steps” in my journey have brought me to where I am today?

 

When you’re finished with this exercise, ask yourself if the responses encapsulate your identity or whether you’re missing any important details. Then think about specific stories which demonstrate the answers to the questions you’ve just reflected on. Perhaps you volunteered with a healthcare non-profit and it complicated your understanding of healthcare policy or women’s health. Or maybe you are a long-time robotics competitor and your successes (or failures) have spurred your desire to pursue new applications of technology at the college and graduate level. Whatever your experience, show your reader why this experience was important to you, how it’s impacted you, and how you will carry it with you into the campus community and beyond.

 

250 words isn’t the most generous amount of space when it comes to reflecting on substantive experiences like the prompt is asking you to do. However, you can accomplish a great deal in 250 words if you focus on communicating your response clearly and concisely. Don’t be afraid to be creative, but focus first on telling your story genuinely and efficiently. 

 

At the end of the day, the personal reflective aspect of this essay is far more important than the anecdote you tell, and while an entertaining story can go a long way, the “so what” of your essay is the most important part. Use your anecdotes and experiences to drive your reader to the exact perspective or values that you want your reader to be aware of. 

 


Prompt 3: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Optional)

 

Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you would like to share with us more about your identity, you can do so here, or use any previous essay prompt you feel is appropriate. (250 words)

You might be noticing a pattern in the prompts here. Duke places a particular emphasis on creating an inclusive environment in which its students feel empowered to embrace their identities. If you identify as LGBTQIA+, consider responding to this optional prompt, and your sexuality is an important or defining facet of your life, then be confident and explain why. Perhaps your sexuality has only recently caused you to question how you perceive the world, and you would like to expound upon the nature of that development. This essay is your space to do so.

 

Your approach to this prompt should be similar to that of the prompt above, but specific to the perspectives you have and experiences you’ve had related to your sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Think about specific moments in life where your identities were most salient to you. Perhaps you’ve developed a deeper sense of empathy as part of your journey with your sexual or gender identity. Perhaps your academic interests have been influenced by your experiences. Regardless of how you approach the topic, your essay should incorporate deep, thorough reflections. Discuss how your sexual orientation folds into your specific, overall identity, how it complements your passions, influences your perspective, and impacts your values. 

 

Maybe you’re just beginning to explore your identities. You may still be processing what these identities mean for you and how you approach the world around you. Perhaps you have more questions than answers. Feel free to reflect on these questions you have asked yourself and why. This approach is an excellent way to demonstrate curiosity, maturity, and self-evaluation. Be careful not to incorporate too many rhetorical questions though if you choose to take this approach. Ultimately, you’ll want to end this response in a way that feels conclusive, even if that conclusion is that you simply have so much learning left to you about yourself and others. 

 

Some Final Thoughts

 

If you choose to respond to the optional Duke supplements, you’ll need to keep a few key strategies in mind. As you draft and revise your responses, remember the following tips, which will help you to optimize your application efforts to Duke as well as any other schools to which you might apply. 

 

Give yourself time. Writing a short essay can often seem like a straightforward and deceptively quick process. Remember, however, that even though the Duke only wants 250 words, you’ll need to achieve the same level of impact in this response as you would with a 650 word essay. Clumsily jumbling together broad and lofty ideas won’t get you far with a 250 word prompt, so leave yourself enough time to plan, draft and redraft your response until it’s ready for submission.

 

Be Specific. Specificity is the not-so-secret ingredient when it comes to writing a successful response. Include anecdotes and examples that tie directly to what you know and value about the Duke campus community. Don’t simply say that you love research or that you want to change the world. Think about the specific experiences you have which exemplify your interests and your academic and professional aspirations. 

 

Be true to yourself. It’s counterproductive to spend hours and hours writing about things that don’t truly matter to you. Be honest! Highlight the things that you care about most and reflect on why they matter to you. 

 

Ultimately, the purpose of any supplemental essay is to give you the opportunity to present yourself, your experiences and achievements from your own perspective using your own words. So have fun with this process. After all, no one could ever be better equipped to showcase you than you.

 

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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.