Timothy Peck 6 min read 11th Grade, 12th Grade, School Spotlight

What is Duke University Known For?

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What’s Duke known for? Basketball, obviously. Duke University is also known as one of the younger prestigious research universities in the country. Unlike colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, which were founded in the 1600 and 1700s, Duke was established in 1838 as Trinity College and only became known as Duke University in 1924. 

 

Today, the school has a reputation for its competitive admissions, excellent academics, championship-level athletics, and global presence—and is known as one of the finest institutions in the South, if not the country. 

 

Overview of Duke University Admission

 

Location: Durham, NC

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,600

Acceptance Rate: 7.7%

Middle 50% SAT: 1500-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 34-35

 

While Duke is consistently ranked in the top 15 universities, it’s often thought of as a “safe target” school for students hoping to gain admission into a higher-profile Ivy League school. That said, Duke does allegedly use yield protection, a practice in which colleges reject or waitlist excellent candidates they believe will get accepted at more prestigious institutions. Despite this, it doesn’t use yield protection as rigorously as similarly positioned schools, such as Washington University St. Louis. 

 

Because Duke is often seen as a “safe target” school, it does place particular emphasis on its 150-word “Why Duke” essay. It also places more value on admissions interviews than other institutions—its weight at Duke is about 10% compared to 3-4% at other colleges. 

 

Unique Aspects of Duke

 

What is Duke University known for? Its academic philosophy encourages interdisciplinary scholarship outside of the classroom. For that reason, Duke provides a rich atmosphere for students to explore the world around them, from academics to athletics to art. 

 

Academics

 

Duke is divided into two undergraduate schools: the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering. About 80% of Duke undergraduates are enrolled in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the other 20% are part of the Pratt School of Engineering.

 

Every Duke student takes classes at the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences—it is the core of a Duke education. Through these courses, students learn to balance tradition with innovation, think critically, look at issues from different perspectives, analyze thoughtfully, and communicate effectively—all skills that transcend academic fields and career paths. 

 

Duke University offers 53 majors, 52 minors, and 23 certificates—majors cover a broad spectrum of interests ranging from African & African American Studies to Visual Arts. About 20% of Duke undergraduates pursue a double major; however, double majors between Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering are uncommon. 

 

The Pratt School of Engineering’s 4+1 program is a popular option for undergraduates. The 4+1 program allows engineering students to complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in as little as five years total. The program is available for every master’s program offered by Pratt.

 

Program II is unique to Duke. Program II is not a typical major; rather, it’s an individualized degree path that allows students to explore a specific area of scholarship—often this is an area of interdisciplinary or emerging knowledge not available in existing majors. Students work with a committee to develop coursework that culminates in either a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts degree.

 

Extracurriculars

 

What is Duke known for? Basketball! The Blue Devils are one of the most celebrated and winningest basketball teams in the country—they have won five national championships and appeared in 11 championship games. Famous Duke basketball players who have gone onto illustrious NBA careers include:

 

  • Kyrie Irving 
  • JJ Reddick 
  • Elton Brand 
  • Grant Hill
  • Jay Williams 
  • Marvin Bagley 
  • Seth Curry 
  • RJ Barrett 
  • Brandon Ingram 
  • Shane Battier 

 

While Duke’s men’s basketball team steals the spotlight, their women’s golf team also has a history of success. They won their 7th NCAA championship in 2019 and have sent numerous students to play in the LPGA

 

Greek life plays a large role on campus at Duke as well, with about 2,000 students (one-third of all undergraduates) joining a fraternity or sorority. The school’s 24 fraternities and 18 sororities are important contributors to the college’s social scene. 

 

There are plenty of opportunities outside of academics and athletics at Duke. The school is home to more than 400 student clubs and organizations. Some favorites include:

 

  • Hoof ‘n’ Horn: One of Duke’s oldest groups (dating back to 1936), this musical theatre group puts on three mainstage and multiple cabaret-style productions every year.
  • Duke Diya: This student-led organization promotes South Asian culture through social, cultural, and political service.
  • Sabrosura: Duke’s student-run, student-choreographed, and student-developed Latin dance group. 
  • Adopt-a-Grandparent: Students participate in a wide variety of activities with the elderly at Durham Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. 
  • The Archive: Duke’s undergraduate literary magazine which dates back to 1887.

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Traditions

 

Basketball permeates nearly every aspect of life at Duke and takes center stage among its traditions—its games against rival UNC (located just eight miles down the road) are some of the biggest moments of the year. Duke and UNC have squared off on the court for almost 100 years and play each other at least twice a season. UNC’s men’s basketball team is third in terms of wins, and Duke’s team is right behind them as number four. 

 

Off the court, Duke’s best-known tradition is Last Day of Classes (LDOC), a campus-wide party featuring music, arts, and socializing occurring on the last day of class. Artists such as Run DMC, The Roots, Wilco, Ludacris, Beck, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar have all performed at LDOC. 

 

One of Duke’s stranger and newer traditions revolves around the song “Everytime We Touch” by Cascada—whenever it comes on, Duke students stop what they’re doing and begin singing, clapping, and dancing. The origins of this phenomenon are with the basketball team, but the tradition has spread across campus.  

 

Dorms

 

Duke undergraduates are required to live on campus for their first three years of attendance and freshmen live together on the East Campus. There are a handful of living-learning communities on campus that provide opportunities for students to combine the residential component of college with other academic and social interests. Living learning communities include: 

 

  • Baldwin Scholars: promotes undergraduate women to become engaged, confident, and connected campus leaders.
  • Eruditio et Religio: fosters relationships between people with diverse religious traditions.
  • Kenan Global Citizenship and Ethics: for students with an interest in ethically engaging the world locally and globally.
  • SPIRE: for students interested in pursuing STEM careers.
  • Visions of Freedom: for students with a passion for politics, philosophy, and economics.
  • The Mitchell-White House: open to students with an interest in learning about the people of the African diaspora and a desire to cultivate community amongst its members and allies. 

 

Duke is generally regarded as one of the nation’s prettiest college campuses. It’s often referred to as a “Gothic Wonderland”—one look at the Duke chapel, and it’s easy to see how the campus earned its reputation.  

 

Financial Aid

 

Duke practices need-blind admissions, meaning it doesn’t consider a student’s ability to pay when making admissions decisions. The school also meets 100% of a student’s demonstrated need. At Duke, 52% of students receive financial aid, and 64% of students graduate debt-free. Despite Duke’s hefty price tag—$78,828 annually—U.S. News ranks it 13th on its list of Best Value Schools. 

 

Resources

 

Duke undergraduates find no shortage of resources available to them. The school has an extensive library network, with three libraries on its West Campus and two on its East Campus. There is also a library at the marine laboratory and additional libraries at their business, divinity, law, and medical schools.

 

A lesser-known resource at Duke is its Lemur Center. Established in 1966, the Duke Lemur Center has been a world leader in the study, care, and protection of lemurs. More than 200 animals across 14 species call the center home—it’s the largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside of their native Madagascar.  

 

Location

 

Duke is located in a region known as “The Research Triangle,” an area encompassing Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. The Research Triangle is home to an incredibly educated community—about 50% of the population has a bachelor’s degree and about 20% have a Ph.D. Students can find a vast amount of career opportunities at established companies like Syngenta, Cisco, and Bayer CropScience, as well as upcoming startups. 

 

Durham is a fun city with great restaurants and a vibrant culture. Durham limits the number of chain restaurants in the city, so there’s an abundance of family-owned eateries to choose from. The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) regularly hosts concerts and comedians, and on the third Friday of every month, the city of Durham hosts an art walk and gallery crawl.

 

Lastly, almost everyone loves the weather in Durham. Mild winters and an average high of 60°F for nine months out of the year make it an easy transition for students from all kinds of climates.  

 

What are Your Chances of Acceptance at Duke?

 

Outstanding academics, awesome athletics, a cool campus—it’s easy to see why so many students apply to Duke. A downside to the desire of so many students wanting to attend Duke is that admissions are very competitive; the school received a record 41,600 applicants for the class of 2023. While Duke places an emphasis on their “Why Duke” essay and admission interview, a student will still need a stellar academic profile to gain entry. 

 

CollegeVine’s free chancing calculator can help students better understand their odds of acceptance at Duke (and 600 other colleges). Our chancing engine uses factors like GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities to estimate a student’s chances of admission. Our chancing engine also provides valuable insight into how to improve your profile and bolster your odds of getting into your dream school.

 

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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.