How To Write The Duke Supplemental Essays

student writing duke university supplemental essays
Updated:
April 17, 2024
7 min read
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”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/16/23

Follow along to learn everything you need about the Duke University essays, including prompts, tips, and examples. 

If you are on this page, you are probably doing some college research and may have Duke University on your list. With an acceptance rate of 5.1%, Duke University is one of the most competitive schools in the U.S.

Writing compelling essays is one of the most crucial parts of your Duke application. You may feel pressured to be as perfect as possible, but the good news is we’re here to help. If you’re struggling with your Duke application, look at our definitive guide on how to get into Duke and read on for info on the all-important secondary essays.

Here, we break down each supplemental essay question, give you tips on how to write them, and share examples of excellent essays. By the end of this article, you'll know how to write the Duke supplemental essays.

Let's get started!

Duke University Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

In addition to the long personal essay on the Common Application or the Coalition Application, Duke has six supplemental essay prompts, and five are optional questions in which a maximum of two can be selected. The following prompts can be found on the Duke admissions page.

Prompt #1

“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.” 

Prompt #2 

“We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. (Optional)”

Prompt #3

“Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating. (Optional)”

Prompt #4

“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? (Optional)”
Prompt #5
“We recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you. (Optional)”

Prompt #6

“Duke’s commitment to inclusion and belonging includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Feel free to share with us more about how your identity in this context has meaning for you as an individual or as a member of a community. (Optional)”

All of these supplemental essay prompts have a 250-word limit. Make sure you choose the essay prompts you know you can answer well! 

How to Write Each Essay Prompt For Duke University

Here, we’ll cover how to write each essay prompt for Duke University. 

How to Write Duke University Supplemental Essay #1 + Analysis and Tips

Duke University prompt #1:

“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.)” 

Analysis of prompt #1: This essay prompt is your classic “Why do you want to go here?” question. Admissions want to see if you’re truly interested in what Duke offers. This includes specific programs, research opportunities, or extracurriculars. 

Duke is a very popular university with thousands of applicants each year. What can this school offer you, and how can it help you reach your goals? 

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Tip #1: Make it Personal:  You should make your essay as personal as possible. Share your interests and academic and career goals. Make sure to tie those into Duke’s mission and how you’d be a great addition to the school’s community. Be sure to add anecdotes as well. 
  2. Tip #2: Avoid Mentioning Elements Beyond the School's Control: such as the school's location, climate, or city. This information does not provide specific insights into what makes Duke unique. Remember, the prompt asks you about Duke specifically and why you’d like to attend the school. 
  3. Tip #3: Be Specific: Mention some specific things that Duke offers, such as a particular program or research opportunity. It’s always best to focus on a couple of things the school offers rather than adding a long list. 

How to Write Duke University Supplemental Essay #2 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompts #2, 5, and 6: Essay prompts two, five, and six are all considered diversity essays and are open-ended questions. These essay prompts help Duke learn more about you and your lived experiences. Duke University values diversity and believes it makes its community better. 

These prompts are an opportunity to share anything that makes you different, such as:

  • Race 
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic class
  • Disabilities
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Interests/hobbies
  • And anything else that makes you different!

Share what being a part of these communities means to you, how it has affected you, or what it can bring to the Duke University community. 

Here are some tips to help you out:

  1. Tip #1: Reflect on Your Background: Discuss aspects of your background, such as cultural heritage, family dynamics, or personal challenges, that have shaped your identity. Don’t list a bunch of things that make you different. Stick to one and focus on it. 
  2. Tip #2: Share Personal Stories: Provide specific examples or anecdotes illustrating your differences. Personal stories can make your response more engaging and help the admissions committee understand your experiences more deeply.
  3. Tip #3: Show Resilience: If you've faced challenges related to your unique life experiences, discuss how you've navigated them with resilience. This could include overcoming adversity, advocating for change, or finding support networks.

How to Write Duke University Supplemental Essay #3 + Analysis and Tips

Duke University prompt #3:

“Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating. (250 word limit.)” 

Analysis of prompt #3: Duke is interested in learning about your intellectual pursuits and your approach to the learning process. You have the flexibility to explore various aspects, such as a specific class that ignited your curiosity, an independent research project you started, or an experiment you conducted in a science course, among other possibilities.

Here are some tips to help you out:

  1. Tip #1: Choose One Genuine Experience: Select an intellectual experience that fascinates you. This could be an academic project, a research opportunity, a challenging course, or any other intellectual endeavor that left a lasting impression. 
  2. Tip #2: Express Your Passion: Convey your passion for the subject matter. Describe why this particular experience captured your interest and why it was so compelling. Use descriptive language to express the depth of your fascination.
  3. Tip #3: Share Any Challenges and Growth: Share any challenges or obstacles you may have faced during this intellectual journey. Emphasize how you overcame difficulties and highlight the personal and intellectual growth that resulted from the experience.

How to Write Duke University Supplemental Essay #4 + Analysis and Tips

Duke University prompt #4:

“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? (250 word limit.)” 

Analysis of prompt #4: This prompt focuses on your internal beliefs and values. The core of your essay should involve revealing one of your significant values to the admissions committee. Be careful not to get too political. Instead, talk about a role model or someone who inspires you and why.

Here are some tips to help you out:

  1. Tip #1: Choose a Role Model:  Choose a role model or someone who inspires you. You can talk about a time your role model let you down, or you had a differing opinion, but be sure to focus on what you learned from that experience.
  2. Tip #2: Pick Thoughtful Examples: Choose examples that reflect substantial beliefs or values in your life. These could be related to ethics, morality, societal issues, or personal principles. Select instances that are meaningful and can provide insight into your character.
  3. Tip #3: Highlight Learning Moments: Emphasize what you have learned from agreements and disagreements. Discuss how they have contributed to your personal growth, expanded your understanding, or solidified your convictions.


Examples of Duke University Supplemental Essays That Worked

Below, you’ll find some Duke University supplemental essays written by successful applicants who were admitted to the school! Let’s look at each one and discuss what worked about it.

Sample Essay #1

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.” 

“At Duke I was equally entranced by the articulate movements of 3D printers in the Co-Lab and the stunning Gothic architecture. Instead of forming a dichotomy, these aspects of Duke blended to symbolize its emphasis on interdisciplinary education, which will offer me a nuanced perspective of the world integral to becoming a leader in engineering…”

Why Essay #1 Worked

In this excerpt from a “why Duke” essay example, the student answers the prompt with specific aspects of Duke University. They relate the Co-Lab and Duke’s Gothic architecture with their interests in engineering, and they explain why these things are a good match for them. 

Sample Essay #2

Prompt: “We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community.”

“The pitter patter of droplets, the sweet smell that permeates throughout the air, the dark gray clouds that fill the sky, shielding me from the otherwise intense gaze of the sun, create a landscape unparalleled by any natural beauty. I have gazed upon the towering cliffs of Yosemite, stood next to Niagara falls as the water roars, succumbing to the power of gravity, and seen the beaches of Mexico basked in moonlight, yet none of these wonders compares to the simple beauty of an Arizona rainstorm. To me, our rain represents more than humidity and darkness; its rarity gives it beauty. The uncertainty of when the next day of rain will come compels me to slow down, and enjoy the moment.
Out of the three realms of time; past, present, and future, the present is the only one we can experience, and I take advantage of every moment I have. When I pause my running to enjoy a sunset that dazzles the sky with brilliant colors of purple and orange, when I touch my brush to a canvas and focus on my movements in the present, when I drive home after a long day of improving our robot, and decide to drive around my neighborhood to finish “Garota de Ipanema”, which just popped up from my playlist of 700 songs, I am taking advantage of the moment.
So next time it rains, step outside. Close your eyes. Hear the symphony of millions of water droplets. And enjoy the moment.”

Why Essay #2 Worked

This essay tells a great story about the student’s unique perspective observing a seemingly mundane event in their community. They use specific and compelling language to capture the reader’s attention. They show us a few of their interests rather than simply telling us they like to paint, build robots, and listen to music. 

Sample Essay #3

Prompt: “Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating.”

“Embarrassment’s red glow covering my face matched the red ink circling the “44” grade atop my AP Biology exam on Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration. I was devastated that day in Room 46.
Until then, Room 46 had been my magic school bus where we spent our time wandering wide-eyed through the world of science: dissecting pigs, testing our own DNA for the Alu insertion, and sharing community-creating laughs along the way. But receiving that “44” jarred me into feeling I didn’t belong there anymore. 
However, after meeting with my guidance counselor, contemplating dropping the class, and countless extra help sessions with my biology teacher, I realized my magic school bus journey wasn’t over yet, as I gradually concluded that my commitment to Room 46 was stronger than one bad test grade, that I was stronger than one bad test grade.
The journey was tricky and undoubtedly riddled with discouraging moments, but by applying myself and being resourceful, I made my “44” an isolated outlier before it was dropped from the gradebook entirely by semester’s end as my lowest grade. While my success can be quantified, it’s nonetheless my memory of Room 46 that’s continuously inspired me to transcend my limits and take on challenges even in areas of weakness (i.e. AP Bio). I consider this my best academic experience because it showed me what happens when you push past failure - success! - as I ended up getting an A in the class and a 5 on the AP test!”

Why Essay #3 Worked

This essay perfectly illustrates an intellectual journey the applicant had gone through that they persevered through. Initially, the applicant felt discouraged by their academic performance; however, they overcame it and learned through the experience and improved their grade tremendously. 

Get More Sample Essays Here!

Looking at examples of successful supplemental essays is a great way to discover strategies that work well. Use our extensive college essay database below to find many more samples!


FAQs

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning Duke essays.

1. How to Write Duke Supplemental Essays?

When writing the Duke secondaries, choose prompts that lend themselves to your story as an applicant. Your chosen prompts should allow you to talk about important lessons you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. 

The only required essay is the “why Duke” essay, which you should do plenty of research for before you start writing. Understanding and conveying why Duke would be an excellent fit for you is crucial based on your unique interests, passions, and values. 

2. What Makes a Good “Why Duke” Essay?

The trick to writing an excellent “why Duke” essay is doing plenty of research. You should learn everything the school offers, including clubs, programs, extracurriculars, awards, and history. Your essay should demonstrate how Duke is a uniquely perfect school for you and highlight what parts of Duke excite you. 

3. How Should I Start Writing My Supplemental Essays?

One of the best ways to start writing is to brainstorm and reflect. Have all your ideas written down on a page so you can pick the ones you think are the best. Do your research on Duke. By the time you start drafting, you should know what direction you want to take your essay and how to end it.

4. What If I Cannot Think of Anything to Write About In My Essays?

If you cannot think of anything to write about in an optional essay, it might be a good sign that you should leave it blank. If you have ideas but are stuck, try taking a break from brainstorming. 

Ask thoughtful questions and answer truthfully to get inspired. Try not to worry too much. Writing a 250-word essay is probably not the most challenging task you have ever done. 

5. How Long Is the Why Duke Essay?

Duke University’s supplemental essays are 250 words or less long, including the “why Duke” essay. 

6. Are Duke Optional Essays Optional?

Yes, the Duke optional essays are optional. Duke University has one required essay prompt that asks you to explain why you want to attend Duke. The other five essays are all optional. You can write a maximum of two essays in response to two or none of the four prompts. 

Final Thoughts

The Duke essays ask you to hone in on your academic interests, tell a story about your diverse experiences, and reflect on your sexual and gender identities. You should start researching and planning your essay as soon as possible, giving yourself enough time to develop your ideas. 

Use your authentic voice when you write these essays. The admissions committee has read enough about what other people have to say about you, and they want to know the person behind the printed name, transcripts, and score reports. 

Do not be afraid to be vulnerable in your essays. Be mindful of your spelling and grammar, and write about things that are important to you. Make your passion clear to your readers, and you will leave a lasting impression on them. 


Access 190+ sample college essays here

Access 190+ sample college essays here

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