How to Answer Duke University’s Supplemental Essays

When applying to selective institutions, supplemental essays are a huge part of the process. It is imperative that you take the time needed to write, edit, and revise a stellar supplemental essay. Supplemental essays are an essential tool admissions officers use to assess student fit. 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. The college took the time to craft these questions on top of all the information they will collect through the application. They allocate resources and time for more information about you. It is important to use these essays to your advantage and prove to the school once more why you belong at that institution.

Use these essays to add another layer of depth to your essay. Think critically about what other facets of your personal life you would like admissions officers to know about you. Be strategic and specific in your answers.

About

About Duke University

 

Duke University is a private research university in Durham, North Carolina. Although it is not an Ivy League university, Duke University is a highly regarded institution. It is currently ranked #12 across all institutions in the country. Duke admits about 8% of applicants each year, and its applicants are extremely competitive. Duke’s class of 2023 earned a 1500-1560 on their SAT and/or a 33-35 on their ACT. 

Despite these competitive quantitative pieces, Duke still wants to know more about you, further emphasizing the importance of the holistic admission approach. Numbers are important but so are the other parts of your background, interests, and experiences. 

Essay Questions at Duke University

During the 2020-21 school year, Duke requires one 200-word essay, a 250-word essay, and two optional 250-word essays. 

Should you write the optional essays?

Yes, you should always write optional essays. It is more helpful to think of all essays as mandatory. You never want to miss an opportunity to impress the admission committee. Completing optional essays may even prove what kind of student you are. Wouldn’t you want to be the type of student that goes above and beyond? 

duke university supplemental essays
Essay Questions

Duke Supplemental Essay Questions


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? 

 

This essay prompt and the essay prompt below seem very similar. Therefore, you must tailor your answers to the questions at hand. Use this essay to talk about your connection to the school. 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. There are many ways to approach this question, try to be as creative and specific as you can in your response. 

 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. 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.

If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences as a first-year applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (Please limit your response to no more than 250 words.) 
If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first-year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (Please limit your response to no more than 250 words.)

You should approach this question as a “why this college?” essay. 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. You must be detailed and thoughtful in your response. Cite professors, professional resources, programs, internships, or other opportunities that genuinely excite you. However, it isn’t good enough to simply name a professor or class without connecting it to why it is important to 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:

I am infinitely 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. 

Generalized information does not effectively communicate your genuine interest in the school or how you plan to take advantage of the resources at such a reputable institution.  

OPTIONAL: 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 question is intentionally broad. Duke wants to know about an identity group that matters to you. 

You can use this essay to discuss a racial, cultural, or religious identity you belong to. But this identity should connect back to you in some way. It should offer a new perspective not offered anywhere else on your application. Therefore, if you wrote about your racial background in your personal statement, you shouldn’t write about it again in your supplemental essay. Discuss another facet of yourself that is important to who you are and how you operate in the world. 

Some students may feel their identities do not say anything special about who they are. That’s okay! If your race, culture, or other aspects of demographics have not impacted you in any way, think of other communities you belong to that matter to you. Perhaps the city where you live shaped your identity, perhaps the school club you belong to shaped your way of thinking. 

The major takeaway from this essay is how you will use these experiences to diversity the incoming class. For example, you may say growing up in a Hispanic household taught you the importance of family and community. You can discuss how to plan to be unconditionally kind and loving with your classmates to promote that culture at Duke. 

OPTIONAL: 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)

 

Try performing research over the summer, especially if you are interested in the sciences. Start by identifying a problem you want to learn more about. Use something you have some familiarity with and wouldn’t mind spending time learning about. Perhaps you want to learn more about the soil toxicity levels in your community. After you determine a subject, find a mentor or teacher who can help guide you through the process. For example, if you are trying to learn about soil toxicity, perhaps you want to reach out to your AP Environmental Science teacher or a professor at your community college.

Use your local library, the internet, and your mentor as tools to help you find answers to the questions you’re asking. Learning, experimenting, and asking questions is where you should spend the bulk of your summer. Afterward, try to find a place to publish your work. Consider academic journals, local newspapers, or even just as a report at your local community college. Whatever you decide to do, you should try to share your findings with your community. 

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 is similar to the last essay. You should be careful about how you answer each question to ensure they are not too similar. Try to allocate your answers strategically. You may want to talk about an experience in the first essay and discuss a racial, gender, or sexual orientation identity in this essay. Even if you don’t feel your external identities are significant, you should not leave this answer blank. Who you are as a person has impacted your life in some way or another, it is important you discuss that in a positive and reflective way. 

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 without explaining how it shaped you. Similarly, you shouldn’t write about your involvement in an organization without explaining why it was an important part of your growth. 

Or similarly, you can say volunteering with an environmental nonprofit every Saturday instilled the importance of environmental justice. Your essay should add another dimension to you as a person. 

Although difficult, these supplementals are an opportunity to prove you belong at Duke University. Use these supplementals to show just how stellar a candidate you are. Good luck! 

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