2021-2022 Duke Supplemental Essays Guide: Tips & Prompts

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    When applying to selective institutions, supplemental essays are a huge part of the process. Supplemental essays are an essential tool admissions officers use to assess student fit, and so Duke supplemental essays help assess whether or not you belong at the university.

    Think about it: every other part of the application is relatively generic. Every college will receive the same information from the student including their name, demographic information, transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, and personal statement.

    Supplemental essays dig a bit deeper into the student’s personality, passions, etc. As such, these additional questions should be taken seriously. It is important to use these essays to your advantage and prove to the school once more why you belong at that institution.

    Review the guidelines and requirements for Duke supplemental essays.

    Along with the Common App which contains your personal statement, Duke asks that students complete 1-3 short supplemental essays. The Duke supplement essays consist of a 200-word essay and two optional 250-word essays. For the 2021-2022 application cycle, your Duke application essays should be submitted with the Common Application on January 4th for Regular Decision and on November 1st for Early Decision.

    You can read about the requirements on the official website.

    Why Duke essay: 4 tips that can help you get admission in Duke University

    The first prompt asks for a “Why this college” essay.

    Please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you.  Is there something in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that attract you?  (200 words maximum)

    Admissions officers want students who will both excel and enjoy their time, so the case has to be made why you prefer Duke rather than any other top university.

    1. Make sure your reasons are clear.

    First and foremost, before you start any writing and planning, make sure the answer is clear to yourself. Sometimes our preferences for colleges at first can be instinctive or general, which is fine at first. But for these essays, your reasons will have to be articulated. If your reasons do not single out Duke from other universities, you are not really answering “Why Duke.” Before you make the case for Duke, make the case for yourself!

    You may want to try rehearsing and answering yourself or writing it in 1-3 sentences. You will have space to elaborate and give examples but having a general point from the outset will make your case clearer and have a greater impact. This will also help you avoid your essay reading like a list, which can be both uninteresting and inadequate. Giving a list of good qualities of the university does not say why those qualities appeal to you.

    2. Research the university.

    Doing prior research can help you articulate the “Why Duke” question for yourself.

    Read about Duke, from the official website and ranking websites to know the reputation of programs that interest you. Reading about things that are relevant to your college experience, like departments you are interested in, professors, student services. Read how the university talks about itself and what it says it excels at. Once you have found the things that you like about the university, you will have to consider why those things appeal to you.

    3. Outline and plan your essays.

    You may find that some things you are considering mentioning could fit under different prompts or are already mentioned in your personal statement. Whatever you do, plan the essays in advance to allocate the points you make so you do not repeat yourself. If something is important enough that you feel the need to mention it in another prompt, be brief.

    Planning can involve outlining the essay before you write it. Because of the short length of the essay, you will probably only have room to make a few key points. Whatever points you make, know that in asking “Why Duke,” you are also being asked about yourself. Your point should not be just that Duke has this or that program. You should give reasons related to your interests, experiences, future plans, or values for why those programs fit you.

    It may be a helpful practice to take a half-hour to write a quick draft early on. This way you can see what works or does not work when structuring your essay and figure out what points you have trouble articulating. You can then redraft it or outline it with these issues in mind.

    4. Be particular. 

    Finally, be particular. Pay attention to the phrase, “is there something in particular.” This question is asking you to provide specific reasons why you want to attend Duke University. Generic answers will not cut it here. Cite professors, professional resources, programs, internships, or other opportunities that genuinely excite you. Doing good research will make this task far easier. However, it isn’t good enough to simply name a professor or class without connecting it to why it is important to you. You can show that something is important to you by referring to your experiences or mentioning how that thing will help you.

    Don’t write: 

    I imagine myself taking Professor Smith’s Data Visualization for Gender Inequities. The class seems interesting and I would be excited to learn how to visualize data.

    Instead, say:

    Since my involvement in the debate club, I have been curious about how we can use empirical data to rectify societal issues. I imagine myself taking Professor Smith’s Data Visualization for Gender Inequities. This class will provide an important framework about the ways in which we can not only obtain data but how to use it to inform policy. 

    Do not use this essay to brag to the university about how prestigious they are. In other words, don’t tell Duke you want to go there because Duke is a highly ranked institution; they already know that. And for everyone applying, the prestigiousness and quality of education is already a reason for applying. So, being specific and giving good reasons will also help you stand out among other students. What else matters to you about the institution? Do you like the culture, the classes, programs, majors? If you can’t think of a reason to attend Duke other than because it is Duke, you may want to reconsider why you’re applying.

    Another way of being particular is talking about your personal connection to the university. This connection may be about the culture, a personal experience with the school, a visit, or a talk with an admissions officer. If you have not had the opportunity to visit, perhaps there are student support systems that appeal to you or alumni you look up to.

    Duke’s Optional Supplemental Essays

    Duke offers two optional supplemental essay prompts. Here is the first:

    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 that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. 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)

    Some keywords to pay attention to in this prompt are diversity, perspective, experiences, community, cultural background. This supplement essay is intentionally broad so that everyone should be able to answer it. Duke wants to see that you have your own perspective that you will bring to the university community.

    You can use this essay to discuss an ethnic, cultural, or religious identity you belong to. Some students may feel their identities do not say anything special about who they are – but that’s okay. If you find that these kinds of identities have not impacted you in a significant way, you can think of other communities you belong to that matter to you. Perhaps the city where you live shaped your identity, or maybe the school club you belong to shaped your way of thinking. No matter what your background is, you should answer this optional essay. If you don’t, you are wasting an opportunity to make a case for yourself.

    This essay is not a list of facts about yourself. You need to show how this background impacts your perspective. For this reason, it is a good idea to discuss both your past and your future, because the major takeaway from this essay is how you will use these experiences to diversify the incoming class. An easy structure to use for this kind of essay is (1) what it was like having this background, (2) how it affected you, and (3) how this will affect your experience at Duke. For example, you may say growing up in a Hispanic household taught you the importance of family and community. Then, you can discuss how to plan to promote that culture with students at the university.

    Of course, it should offer a perspective not offered anywhere else on your application. Therefore, if you wrote about a certain part of your identity as the topic for your personal essay, choose a different aspect of your life for this essay.

    Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you would like to share with us more about your identity, you can do so here, or use any previous essay prompt you feel is appropriate. (250 words maximum)

    This essay has a similar purpose to the last essay. If you choose to answer it, make sure that you do not make the same point in both essays. Again, what is important for this essay is not that you have a certain identity, but that you show how it has informed your perspective. This perspective that you talk about – whether it is your passions, values, future plans – does not need to be something you are fully certain of. Your response here can be more reflective. You can talk about different possibilities or how you hope to change in the future. For both these optional essays, what is important is that you demonstrate genuine reflection on your background or identity.

    You may feel that this essay is not applicable to you, or that you are uncomfortable answering it. It is fine that you skip this optional question. The first optional essay serves a similar purpose, so do not worry as long as you fill that one out.

    Key takeaways on Duke University supplemental essays

    For all of these Duke supplements, what matters more than the identity you chose is how you explain the effect your identity had on you. In other words, do not simply write about your cultural heritage or involvement in a community without explaining how it shaped you. Similarly, the “Why Duke” essays cannot be answered by only saying things about Duke. Ultimately, the question is why you think you belong at the university. Always relate whatever it is you are talking about back to yourself. By showing passions and purpose – that is how you stand out from other students on these essays.

    Finally, clarity and conciseness are essential. Take advantage of the space you have and do more with less. Preparation and trying to understand the reasons Duke appeals to you will make the writing process easier and the essay better. If you genuinely are interested in going to Duke, you should have good reasons, and take the time to find the right words for them. The more convinced you are, the more passionate and authentic your writing will come across.

    FAQs related to Duke essays

    How many supplemental essays does Duke have?

    Duke requires one supplement essay and offers two optional ones. The required essay is 200-words and the optional ones are 250-words each.

    Should I answer the Duke optional essays?

    Yes, you should take advantage of more opportunities to make your case. Many approaches can be taken for the first optional essay. However, you may find that the second optional essay is inapplicable to you or you may be uncomfortable answering it. If you find it difficult to answer, you probably should not.

    When do the Duke supplemental essays come out?

    The latest versions of Duke’s supplemental essays come out sometime around mid-August. The essay prompts for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle have been released on Duke’s website.

    How do you stand out to Duke?

    Be genuine. These Duke writing supplements are not only about qualifications but about finding people who really care about the university. If you like the university, find out how to express and explain it. Connect everything you talk about (what you like about Duke, your background) back to yourself.

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