Do you want to be a Blue Devil? If so, you’ll need to submit strong Duke essays as part of your application.
Duke requires its applicants to answer two to four essay and short answer questions when they apply. In this article, we’ll break down each of those questions and explain exactly what you need to do to write amazing Duke supplement essay.
What Is the Duke Supplement Essay?
Duke requires that you submit two to four writing samples as part of your application. You’re required to answer one longer essay prompt and one short answer question. You also have the option of answering up to two more short answer questions.
Duke requires the Duke supplement essay questions as part of its application process for a couple of reasons. First of all, written essays are a great way to assess your preparedness for college. Duke wants to see that you can write clearly and concisely and can follow all of the necessary grammar conventions.
Duke also wants to get to know you more as a student and possible member of its campus. Essays are a great way to learn more about who you really are beyond your test scores and other credentials.
Finally, your Duke essays are a great place to demonstrate your affinity for Duke itself. Why do you want to go there? Your essays can highlight your passion for the university.
It’s extremely important to put time and effort into each one of the Duke supplement essay prompts so that you’re able to meet all of these needs.
Duke Supplement Essay Prompts
You’ll have to answer at least two and as many as four Duke supplement essay prompts for your Duke application. All students are required to write one longer essay. The essay you write will be determined by whether you’re submitting the Common Application or the Coalition Application (Duke accepts both).
You’re also required to answer at least one short answer question. There are two more short answer questions that are optional for all applicants.
If you apply to Duke via the Coalition Application, you’ll select one essay prompt to answer. For more information on how to ace your Coalition Application essay and an analysis of each prompt, check out our in-depth guide.
If you apply to Duke via the Common Application, you’ll also need to select an essay prompt to answer. For more information on how to craft an amazing Common Application essay and in-depth look at each prompt, check out our blog post dedicated to that very topic.
2019-20 Required Duke Essays
All Duke students are required to answer one short answer question for their Duke admissions essay. The short answer question you respond to is determined by which school within Duke you’re applying to.
- 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. (250 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? (250 words maximum)
2019-20 Optional Duke Essays
You also have the option of responding to two optional Duke essays. Duke makes it clear that these Duke admissions essay prompts are completely optional. You won’t be penalized if you don’t answer them.
- 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 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)
- Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here. (250 words maximum)
Required Duke Essays, Analyzed
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. (250 words maximum)
250 words isn’t a lot of words to describe your love for Duke and your passion for engineering! You’ll need to be clear, succinct, and honest in order for your Duke admissions essay to stand out.
Because the word limit is so constrained, it’s better to focus on one or two specific ideas, rather than trying to cram as many thoughts as possible into your short essay. While you may be enamored of Duke’s entire engineering faculty, choose one specific professor whose work you admire and expand on that. Any depth you can achieve in this small space will go a long way.
Be sure to answer both parts of this question: you need to explain why you want to study engineering and why you want to study engineering at Duke. While the two answers might be intertwined, both should be clearly present in your response.
When discussing why you want to study at Duke, pick things that are unique to Duke’s program. Don’t just say you want a great engineering education—you can get that at dozens of universities. Instead, specify what makes Duke’s engineering program different than all of the others. If you’re stuck, try perusing their course catalogue and looking at the program’s website and any recent publications. Chances are, you’ll catch something that stands out.
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? (250 words maximum)
This Duke admissions essay question is also constrained in word count and focuses more on Duke’s merits than the engineering question. You’re not required to have any particular major in mind here, but it may be helpful to consider your academic course of study as you’re looking for reasons why Duke stands out to you.
Duke is asking this question because they want their admitted applicants to enroll, so you need to demonstrate why your passion for this university would result in your attendance next fall. Convince the admissions committee that Duke is the one school for you.
You can do this by researching specific facts about the university and its community. Because this question doesn’t ask you about your course of study, you don’t need to limit yourself to academics. If there’s something about Duke’s campus or culture that really stands out to you, now is the time to talk about it. Better to be honest and true to yourself than spew a bunch of platitudes that you think the admissions committee wants to hear.
Optional Duke Admission Essay Prompts, Analyzed
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 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)
Treat this question as an opportunity to share more about yourself. If you have something real and important to write about, do so. But don’t try to invent an experience that doesn’t actually belong to you—it’ll come across as fake and insincere. Unless you really have nothing to say, I’d suggest including something.
If you choose to answer this question, lean into authenticity. Don’t be scared to be vulnerable or honest. While the question talks about Duke’s commitment to diversity, don’t feel like you have to invent diverse experiences just to fit in.
Share about your unique perspective. Be sure to indicate why this point-of-view belongs to you, and you alone. Your perspective is made up by your experiences and interactions, so you can highlight how these have affected you.
Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here.
Don’t answer this optional essay unless you have something real to say. Don’t feel intimidated or scared that ignoring this question will reflect badly on you. It won’t. You should really only address this prompt if you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
What will reflect badly on you is making something up that comes across as insincere, or worse, ignorant. Speak truthfully and from the heart.
Similarly, if you do have reflections on gender identity and sexual orientation, don’t feel like you have to share them. Remember, this essay is optional. It’s completely fine if you’re not quite comfortable enough or ready to talk publicly about these topics.
If you choose to answer this question, only speak about real experiences that happened to you. It’s better to keep them personal. This essay isn’t the place to reflect on the overall political climate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights, especially if those issues don’t relate to you. It is, however, the space to talk about your specific identity and journey.
How to Write Great Duke Essays
If you want your Duke essays to stand out and help you get admitted, follow these tips!
#1: Use Your Own Voice
The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.
You should, then, make sure that the person you’re presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don’t try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you’re not.
If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Duke wants you to be.
#2: Avoid Cliched or Overused Phrases
When writing your Duke essays, try to avoid using cliches or overused quotes or phrases. These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Strive for originality.
Similarly, avoid using cliches, which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work. Don’t speak in platitudes about how the struggle for gay and lesbian rights has affected you… unless it actually has!
#3: Check Your Work
It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Duke essays are the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Duke application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.
Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.
It’s a good idea to have someone else read your Duke essays, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven’t missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.
That being said, make sure you don’t rely on them for ideas or rewrites. Your essays need to be your work.
#4: Only Answer What You’re Comfortable With
Remember, Duke’s optional essays are just that—optional. It can be tempting to respond to everything on the application and if you have an important story to tell, you definitely should.
However, if you have nothing to say, don’t feel like you need to make something up. You’re better off answering less, honestly, then you are answering more, dishonestly.
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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.