Why Duke Essay: 4 Tips for a Great Essay


Are you hoping to become a Blue Devil? The Why Duke essay is a small but important part of your Duke application. This is the place where you explain exactly why you love Duke so much. However, there are thousands of students who want to attend Duke, and only a small percentage of them get in. What can you do to make sure your Why Duke essay sets you apart and helps you get accepted?

Keep reading to learn what the Why Duke essay prompts are, exactly what Duke is looking for when they read them, and what you should write about to convince Duke you'd be an asset to their school. We also include a Why Duke essay example so you can see what an actual essay response looks like.


The Why Duke Essay Prompts

Here's the Why Duke essay prompt:

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 words maximum)

The Why Duke essay prompt is one of several essay prompts you'll need to answer in your Duke application. You can learn more about the other Duke essays in our in-depth guide. (You can also get more information about how to answer the "Why This College?" style essay prompts here.)


What Is the Purpose of the Why Duke Essay?

Why does Duke require applicants to answer this essay? What are they really looking for in your response to "why Duke"? Let's analyze these prompts. No matter which schools you're applying to, the "why this school" prompt is probably the most common prompt you'll see on college applications. Why? Because colleges want to see that you really want to attend their school.

Students who love the school they attend and feel that it's a good fit are more likely to accept an offer of admission, be interested in their studies, take advantage of what the school offers, and give back after they graduate. Basically, Duke and other schools which include this prompt are looking for students who will take advantage of all the unique opportunities they offer so they have the biggest impact at the school and when they're alumni.

If you show that you really love Duke and are ready to make the most of your time there, it makes admissions officers feel more confident you're going to have a significant and positive impact on their school.

If you can't give any compelling reasons for choosing Duke or you don't seem to have done much research on the school, that makes Duke worry that you'll only do the bare minimum in college or have little impact during your time at Duke and afterwards.

Additionally, Duke asks you to write this essay to make sure you and their school are a good fit for each other. If you use this essay to talk about majors, classes, internships, study abroad options, etc. that Duke doesn't offer, the admissions team may be hesitant to offer you a place at Duke since it may not be the best place for you to reach your goals.

Basically, the purpose of this essay is twofold: Duke wants to make sure you know and value what they offer, and they also want to see how you're going to make use of these opportunities to reach your goals for the future.




What Should You Write About in Your Why Duke Essay?

Because Duke has so many opportunities to offer students, there are many ways to approach this essay topic. Here's a list of potential ideas:

  • Majors, minors, certificates, and/or classes Duke offers that you're especially interested in. This also includes Program II, where you can design your own individual degree program.
  • The Focus Program, which lets first-year students take classes on unique topics.
  • Duke professors whose work you admire and with whom you'd like to study or conduct research.
  • Duke's Service Learning or DukeEngage programs which give students the opportunity to provide services to communities in need.
  • Clubs or sports teams you'd like to join.
  • The Duke Startup Challenge which helps students who want to be entrepreneurs.
  • Research opportunities you'd like to have (the more specific you can be, the better).
  • Internship opportunities Duke offers.
  • Duke students or alumni you've met who you admire.
  • Financial aid opportunities Duke offers that make it possible for you to attend.

In your response, you should choose about one or two reasons why you think Duke is the best school for you. For each reason, you should describe what Duke offers and connect it back to your interest and skills to show how you're a good match for the school.

For example, you could write that you've always been interested in global health, and you have an idea for an invention/idea that could improve global health in developing countries. You want to attend Duke to take advantage of the Duke StartupConnect to get your product out there, then participate in DukeEngage or a similar program Duke offers to try the product out in the field. Or, you may be a mechanical engineering student who wants to work with a specific professor at Pratt and take advantage of the research opportunities Duke offers to study thermal and fluids systems.

Remember to be as specific as possible to show Duke that you've done your research, and show both what you care about/want to do with the rest of your life and how Duke can help you get there.



Look: we get it. Duke basketball is AMAZING. But don't talk about it in your "Why Duke?" essay. Save it for Cameron Stadium. (Keenan Hairston/Wikimedia)


A Note About Duke Basketball

Duke's basketball team has an extremely dedicated fan base, and many students choose to go to Duke at least partly because they love the basketball team. However, we strongly discourage you from using this essay to discuss your love of Duke basketball.

There are several reasons for this. First, many, many applicants mention the basketball team as a reason they want to attend Duke, so you won't make your essay unique or memorable if you give the same reason most other people do. Second, Duke is foremost an academic institution, and it wants students who are dedicated to their studies. Duke classes require a lot of work, and if you give the impression that all you'll be doing at Duke is waiting hours in line so you can be the first one in Cameron Stadium for each game, they may wonder if you'll succeed at the school.

So write about something other than the basketball team, and then once you get in, feel free to paint yourself blue and join the other Cameron Crazies.




Tips for Writing a Great Why Duke Essay

No matter how you decide to answer the "Why Duke" prompt, here are four tips you should keep in mind to make sure you stand out from the crowd and show Duke that you're a student they want to have at their school.


#1: Do Your Research

Before you start writing, you should know a lot about the opportunities Duke offers and why you want to go there. Here are some places to start your research:


#2: Be Specific

From your research, you now have multiple reasons as to why Duke is a great school for you. Choose one or two of them to write about in your essay. The more specific you can be when answering the "Why Duke" prompt, the better. Don't just say that Duke has great classes, smart professors, and an interesting student body. Most schools have that, and the people reading your essay will wonder if you're using an identical essay for every school you're applying to.

Instead, try to mention opportunities only Duke can provide, such as specific professors, course names, extracurriculars, or research programs. The things you discuss should be things your other top schools don't offer, things that really make Duke stand out.


#3: Show Your Passion

Duke students are a passionate bunch, and Duke wants students who care a lot about their studies and their school. A generic statement like, "I am impressed by Duke's strong engineering programs" doesn't tell the school anything about you or help you stand out from other applicants.

Why does the engineering program make you so excited? How do you want to use your engineering skills in the future? Write about those things instead. Showing a passion that's unique will help differentiate you from other applicants and show Duke that you'll take your studies seriously.


#4: Make Every Word Count

The word limit on this essay means that it's going to be very short, so you want to get the most out of those words. Start with an outline of your main points: why you want to go to Duke and how you'll make the most of those opportunities at the school and after graduation, then expand from there until you hit 250 words.

This isn't the essay to tell an in-depth story about your childhood or go into flowery descriptions. Instead, make your main points strong and don't worry about adding too many embellishments to the essay.




Why Duke Essay Example

Sometimes the best way to understand what a great Duke essay looks like is to look at an example. Below is a Why Duke essay example, followed by an explanation of what makes it stand out.

I love many things, but learning and sports top the list. The moment I stepped onto Duke's campus, I leaned over to my mother, gasping, and said, "Whoa," even before beginning my tour. I was stunned to immediately see signs of my loves everywhere. My dreams of tenting in K-Ville for the annual Duke-UNC game almost made my mouth water. As for learning, the cross-disciplinary study options that Duke offers ignite my passions. I have always loved business, and as I have aged, I discovered a deep interest in education. At Duke, I saw the opportunity to combine these two interests in many ways. I would love to initiate lunches with Professor Elizabeth Garcia, whose work focuses on educational motivation, and Mark T. Brown, Director of the Management Communications Center. Exploring commonalities in business and educational spheres would be uplifting, and will engage all of my most profound interests.

-Calvin Thompson


What Makes This Essay Work?

This essay is strong in three key ways:

Shows Passion: It's clear that this student loves Duke. From gasping at his first look at campus to his mouth almost watering at the thought of going there, he's clearly committed to the school.

Mentions Specific Details: This is a short essay, but the writer still manages to mention multiple professors, programs, and subjects Duke has that he's interested in. That shows he did his research and definitely isn't using the same generic essay for each school he applies to.

Shows a Plan for the Future: His plans for the future (education + business) aren't super specific, but that's fine since most students start college not yet knowing exactly what they want to do in the future, and Duke doesn't expect you to have everything figured out already. However, he has a plan to get started and see where those interests take him, which shows motivation and initiative.


Summary: Writing a Great Why Duke Essay

The Why Duke essay is a key part of your Duke application since it lets the school know why you want to go to Duke, what you want to get out of your time there, and how Duke will prepare you for the future. In 250 words or less, you need to explain why Duke is the school you want to attend.

There are many ways to answer the prompt, but you should always make sure to do your research on the school, use specific examples, show your passion for the school, and make every word count.




What's Next?

Want to know how to answer the other Duke essay prompts? Check out our guide on the Duke essays for everything you need to know!

Is Duke an Ivy League School? Learn more about the Ivy League and whether Duke is part of it by reading our guide to Ivy League schools.

Want to stand apart from other Duke applicants? Learn how to score a perfect 1600 on the SAT, so you can increase your shot at getting into the school of your dreams!



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About the Author
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Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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