How to Write the Duke University Application Essays 2016-2017
Featuring Gothic architecture on 8600 acres in the small town of Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is stunning visually as well as academically. The school was technically established in 1838 as Trinity College, and officially became Duke in 1924. This private research institution has consistently been ranked in the U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 national universities, currently sitting at the #8 spot. In the most recent application cycle, Duke received over 28,000 applications for its class of 2020 and admitted just over 10%.
Duke’s undergraduate program is divided into two schools: the Pratt School of Engineering, which offers four majors (Mechanical, Biomedical, Civil & Environmental, and Electrical & Computer Engineering) and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, which offers 46 majors.
Students also have their choice of minors, certificate programs, and “Program II,” an opportunity for students to create their own interdisciplinary course of study. As Duke is known for its medical school and on-campus research hospital, it stands to reason that the most common Pratt major is Biomedical Engineering. The top three Trinity majors are Public Policy, Economics, and Biology.
Duke also emphasizes the importance of research in education, and all students are required to participate in a minimum of two classes with a research component, though many more do extracurricular research projects as well. The university spent over one billion dollars on research in 2014 (the 7th most in the nation), and received $271 million in NIH funding.
In terms of campus life, students tend to adhere strongly to the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. Duke is well-known and well-envied for its top-tier basketball program, and the Blue Devils’ home games at Cameron Indoor Stadium are reliably packed with cheering “Cameron Crazies,” as fans call themselves — students even camp out on the lawn to get tickets to the annual ‘big game’ against Duke’s main rival, UNC Chapel Hill.
In addition, about 30% of undergraduate men and 40% of undergraduate women are involved in Greek life, with others involved in Selective Living Groups (SLGs), designated-theme residences reminiscent of eating clubs at other universities.
Duke asks its applicants to answer one 250-word optional essay about themselves, and then separates Trinity and Pratt applicants by asking them to answer what attracted them to Duke and to their respective area of study in 150 words.
Duke University Application Essay Prompts
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 words maximum)
The 250-word essay reminds applicants to consider what makes them unique as people, and what diversity they can bring to the Duke community. This should be similar to other essays you have written, or if not, just write about yourself. What makes you you? What makes you unique? What makes you an actual person instead of just a generic applicant? As the prompt says, Duke wants to get to know the real person behind the application, so write in your own voice about your own experiences, and try to tell it as a story.
Pratt School and Trinity College Prompts
If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (150 words maximum)
If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (150 words maximum)
The 150-word Trinity/Pratt essays will require more in-depth research. For Pratt applicants, probably about a third of this essay (50 words) should be spent on what attracts you to engineering in general, with the remaining 100 words spent on why you want to study engineering at Duke. For Trinity applicants, “Why Duke?” will take up the full 150 words.
For this type of essay, it’s best to avoid generalities unless you can speak passionately about why they’re important to you — you’ve probably heard this advice before, but if you can drop in ‘Princeton’ or ‘Vanderbilt’ instead of ‘Duke’ and have the essay still make sense, you need a lot more specificity.
A piece of advice would be to dig deep into the many special programs that Duke offers, and choose a couple that are of particular interest to you. Interested in taking seminar classes on a specific topic in your first semester at Duke? Look into Duke’s freshman FOCUS program. Love theater? Write about the Mainstage Productions series or Hoof ‘n’ Horn, the completely student-run musical theater society. Maybe you’ve always wanted to study marine biology or ecology, and Duke’s Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC is what attracts you.
Whatever it is, find one of the many offerings that piques your interest and is unique to Duke, and use that to demonstrate your interest in attending. Since you are also asked why you consider Duke a good match for you, how does this unique aspect of Duke relate to your personal background, experiences, and interests?
To summarize, for the first essay, delve deep into your own background and experiences, and tell the story of what makes you different from the thousands of other applicants — that is, why should Duke want you? For the second essay, be as specific as possible about why you want Duke (and also why you want to study engineering, for Pratt applicants).