How to Write the Duke University Application Essays 2018-2019
Duke is a selective, private university located in Durham, “Bull City,” North Carolina. Founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present-day town of Trinity in 1838, the school moved to Durham in 1892 and has since risen to consideration as one of the top academic institutions in the world. For the Class of 2022, Duke admitted 6.4% of applicants, and it currently sits at #8 in the U.S. News National University Rankings.
A medium-sized university, Duke’s undergraduate population totals at roughly 6,600 students. The institution utilizes a semester-based calendar and is organized into the two schools: the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering. Duke boasts a diverse, global student body, cutting-edge research opportunities, and top-tier athletics programs.
Duke students are often distinguished by their entrepreneurial, energetic, and driven personalities. A collaborative and social environment, Duke offers many extracurricular opportunities, including its annual tradition of “Tenting” for the UNC basketball rivalry game. In addition, incoming first-year students are housed together on East Campus, building a tight-knit sense of community early on in the undergraduate experience.
Duke University Application Essay Prompts
This prompt allows you to elaborate on your sexual orientation, if you so choose. On campus, Duke strives to create an inclusive environment in which everyone is empowered and able to express themselves. When writing this essay, be as truthful and authentic as possible. If 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.
A misconception about the LGBTQ community is that its experience is a completely collective one. All over the world, there are countless individuals — athletes, musicians, scientists, professors, politicians — who identify with the LGBTQ community. The point is, sexual orientation isn’t an all-encompassing way of characterizing any single individual, and everyone’s experience is different.
In line with this idea, you can approach this essay by describing how your sexual orientation folds into your specific, overall identity, how it compliments your passions, influences your perspective, and impacts your values.
While optional, we at CollegeVine highly recommend that you respond to this prompt. At first glance, the prompt can seem complex and intimidating, but it ultimately boils down to one question: What is your personal perspective and experience?
Before writing, let’s take a look at recent developments at Duke. Newly-minted president Vince Price has made it the institution’s initiative to foster a diversity of views and knowledge within its student body. Diversity is not relegated solely to student body demographics or race; it is characterized by the variety of thoughts, opinions, and perspectives embodied by individuals. Duke wants to better understand how your background, ideas, etc., will contribute to its increasingly diverse community.
Duke’s most recent book selections for its first-year student summer reading program reflect what the institution values about diversity. These texts encompass a range of divergent authorial experiences and often spur readers to think more critically about how backgrounds shape and mold individuals’ perspectives. Consider reading or researching Duke’s past selected texts to gain a better understanding of how you can share your own experiences.
The following have been Duke’s selected texts:
- “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
- “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
- “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” by Richard Blanco
As an exercise for brainstorming, try sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and writing detailed, specific answers to these following questions:
- What is definitive about my background? Family? Community? Friends?
- What life experiences have been important in my development?
- What do I care about? What do I want to change about 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. You can also talk to friends and family who, in some capacities, might know you better than you know yourself.
This is a combination of traditional “Why this Major?” and “Why X School?” prompts. Note that 150 words is not a lot of space, so you will need to be both articulate and comprehensive in your approach. For this reason, you must be very careful to avoid sweeping generalizations. Generalized sentences like “studying engineering will allow me to be creative, collaborate on real inventions, and impact the world” may seem okay upon first inspection; but to be quite frank, almost every single Pratt applicant will be saying something along these lines, so don’t fall into that trap.
What Duke, and the Pratt School of Engineering, really wants to understand is your motivations, inventive personality, and interest in problem-solving. The best way to deliver this message isn’t to tell them that you’re a problem-solver but to prove it.
This prompt is slightly more general than the engineering supplement, but don’t be fooled — you still have to be very direct with only 150 words. Again, avoid sweeping generalizations and hone in on a few compelling examples about why you are not only a match for Duke but a person who will make actual contributions.
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:
As you work on your Duke supplement essays, remember to consider how they work in tandem to reflect your identity. Read through the essays and ask yourself if they convey what you want them to about yourself. Be your own skeptic. If you get stuck, we at CollegeVine recommend that you review the previously mentioned strategies and examples in this guide in order to reaffirm what Duke is looking for.
Be creative, expressive, confident, and authentic! Don’t be afraid to challenge perceptions and explain your ideas.
Best of luck and happy writing!
Want us to quickly edit your college essay? Submit it to our Rapid Review Program, and we’ll get it back to you quickly with comments from our expert team.
Want more college essay tips?
We'll send them straight to your inbox.