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4 Tips for Duke Essays That Will Get You Accepted

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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 essays, one as part of the Common or Coalition app, and one "Why Duke" essay. Students will also have the option to answer up to two more personal essay prompts, but they aren't required.

We're going to break down all the prompts for you and walk you though how to write amazing Duke supplement essays. So let's get started!

 

What Is the Duke Supplement Essay?

Duke requires that you submit two to four essays as part of your application. You're required to answer one "Why Duke?" essay prompt, as well as a Common Application essay or a Coalition Application essay (depending on which one you use to apply). Additionally, you have the option of answering up to two more essay questions.

Duke requires the Duke supplement 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 where you can 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 the "Why Duke" essay prompt. There are four more personal essay questions that are optional for all applicants. You can answer up to two of them.

 

2022-2023 Duke Long Essay

The long essay prompt is actually the essay you'll write as part of your Common App or Coalition App. There's not a separate "long essay" prompt for Duke, so don't worry when you don't see the prompt pop up when you click over to the writing supplement tab.

On the other hand, that means that the long essay prompt you submit will depend on whether you're using the Common App, QuestBridge App, or Coalition App. These apps have slightly different essay prompts associated with them!

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.

 

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2022-2023 "Why Duke?" Essay

All Duke students are required to answer the "Why Duke?" essay. Here's the essay prompt for 2022-2023:

What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there's something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (250 word limit)

For more information about how to answer this question, you can check out our in-depth post to the "Why Duke?" app. 

 

2022-2023 Optional Duke Essays

You also have the option of responding to optional Duke essays. There are four prompts, and you can answer up to two of them. However, you don't need to answer any if you don't feel the need to. Duke makes it clear that these Duke admissions essay prompts are completely optional. Their exact phrasing is, "Feel free to answer them if you believe that doing so will add something meaningful that is not already shared elsewhere in your application." For each prompt you choose to answer, you can write up to 250 words.

Here are the four prompts:

We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself. 

We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?

 What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Duke's commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you’d like to share with us more about your identity in this context, feel free to do so here.

 

Required Duke Essay, Analyzed

What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there's something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (250 word limit)

Guess what: 250 words isn't a lot of words to describe your love for Duke! 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. For instance, while you may be enamored of Duke's entire 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.

The key here is to be specific about why Duke is the best school for you. We just mentioned discussing faculty, but you can also talk about specific classes you want to take, academic organizations you want to be involved in, or even research opportunities you want to pursue. That means you'll need to do your research, but trust us: it will make a huge difference.

If you're still confused about this prompt and want a little extra help, don't miss our entire article about how to write an amazing "Why Duke" essay!

 

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Optional Duke Admission Essay Prompts, Analyzed

We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself. 


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.

 

We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?

For this prompt, Duke is giving you the chance to share your values and how you communicate and respond to opinions different than your own. College is a place where you'll encounter people with many different beliefs, and Duke wants to make sure its students are able to respectfully talk about big topics, even if the people you're speaking with don't have the same beliefs or values as you do.

If you decide to respond to this prompt, think about a person or people you particularly love debating or having discussions with. Be sure to explain who you agree/disagree with, what topics you discuss, if you generally agree or disagree, and specifically how you make sure the conversation is respectful and thoughtful. 

Show Duke that you're able to contribute positively to any discussion, even if you disagree with what's being said.

 

What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Here Duke wants to know what motivates and excites you academically. Did you love partaking in a class debate? Maybe your best experience was bonding with a study group and helping each other learn the course material, or maybe it was doing a deep research dive to become an expert on a particular topic.

The specific experience you choose matters much less than your explanation of why it was so positive. Be sure to discuss exactly what you found about the experience you found enjoyable and  what you took away from it. If you can, try to tie it in to how you'll be a strong student at Duke and continue to find positive academic experiences.

 

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 clichés 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 clichés, 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.

 

What's Next?

Have you taken the ACT or SAT yet? Not sure which one you'll do best on? Read our guide to choose the test that's right for you.

If you've taken the SAT and want to improve your score, check out our guides to improving your Reading, Writing, and Math scores.

Not sure what you want to major in? Don't worry! With our advice, you'll figure out what you should study as an undergrad.

 

 

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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

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.



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