How To Write The Duke Supplemental Essays

student writing duke university supplemental essays
December 21, 2022
Purpose of the Duke Supplemental EssaysWhat Are the Duke Supplemental Essays? Top Tips for Crafting the Duke Supplemental EssaysDuke Supplemental Essay ExamplesFAQs


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/5/22

If you are on this page, you are probably doing some college research and learning how to build your college list and you may have Duke University on that list. Duke University is one of the most competitive schools in the U.S. The application process can be pretty stressful after knowing these odds. You may feel pressured to be as perfect as possible, but you should just be yourself. And if you need additional assistance, read our definitive guide on how to get into Duke

With Duke on your list of target schools, it’s time to think about the Duke supplemental essays. In this article, we break down each of the supplemental essay questions, give you tips on how to write them, and share examples of excellent essays. By the end of this article you’ll be able to successfully write your Duke supplemental essays.

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Purpose of the Duke Supplemental Essays

Infographic outlining the purpose of the duke supplemental essays

As part of your application, you are required to answer two essay prompts: an extended essay from the Common Application or the Coalition Application and a supplemental essay specific to Duke. There are two optional supplemental essay prompts, and you will not be penalized if you do not answer them. 

The purpose of Duke’s supplemental essays is to allow you to present yourself and your experiences using your own words. The rest of your application is generally told from other people’s perspectives, so you can use the supplemental essays as a way to tell your story yourself. 

Essays are also a way to demonstrate your college readiness. Write in a way that is clear and concise and follows the necessary grammar conventions. You can also emphasize your passion for Duke and show who you are as a person outside of your GPA and test scores. 

If you want to make your application stand out, it is a good idea to write any of the optional supplemental essays that apply to you. That way, you can tell the admissions committee more about your background, and you have a better chance of leaving a lasting impression on them. 

If you feel that an optional essay prompt does not apply to you, do not feel like you have to fabricate or exaggerate a story to answer it. You are better off not answering an optional supplemental essay than you are lying about essential aspects of your life.

There are three prompts to choose from. Below we will include information on each prompt as well as examples. 

What Are the Duke Supplemental Essays?

In addition to the long personal essay on the Common Application or the Coalition Application, Duke has three supplemental essay prompts, only one of which is required. The following prompts can be found on the Duke admissions page.

Prompt #1

“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 supplemental essay has a 200-word limit, and it is your classic “Why do you want to go here?” prompt. Before you start writing, you should research the courses, programs, extracurriculars, and student groups specific to the university. Pick a few that interest you and list why you think each one is a good match.

You may focus on specific majors and professors that align with your academic goals or certain student clubs and communities that you want to join. Once you have a list of ideas, think about how you can tie them back to the prompt. Since you can only use 200 words, you should be concise and concentrate on one or two of these ideas in your answer. 

Prompt #2

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.” 

This optional essay lets you write up to 250 words, giving you some more flexibility with how you can answer. The key to starting this essay is to think about how your identities and experiences make you unique. Diversity can relate to your ethnicity and culture, health and disability, socioeconomic status, interests, talents, values, among many other characteristics. 

Start with a brainstorming session where you write about how your experiences have shaped you as a person or what you care about the most. Try to be detailed as you brainstorm so that when you draft the essay, you can pick the most important points to discuss. 

Prompt #3

“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 in these areas, you can do so here or, if you feel you have adequately represented your gender and sexual orientation in other parts of your application, feel free to not respond to this prompt.”

Like the second question, this prompt has a 250-word maximum. You can use this essay to communicate how your sexuality or gender identity have been significant aspects of your life. You may have grappled with your gender expression ever since you were little. Maybe you have just started to explore your identities. Think about how these experiences have affected your perspective, community involvement, and academic interests. 

Remember that you should only write this essay if it applies to you. Do not worry that your application will be weaker by not answering this question. Be honest with yourself and the admissions committee. Even if the prompt applies to you, only share what you feel comfortable telling others. This essay prompt is a very personal question, and you are not obligated to divulge the most intimate parts of yourself to anyone. 

Top Tips for Crafting the Duke Supplemental Essays

Tips for writing excellent duke essays

We know how difficult it is to actually start the essay. So, here are a few more tips to help you craft the best essay possible. 

Start early. You have probably heard this about every part of the college application process, and it is absolutely true. The sooner you can start researching Duke's programs and extracurriculars, the sooner you can determine what draws you to the university most. Give yourself enough time to reflect on these topics and plan your responses. 

Be specific. If you want your essay to stand out, write about specific interests and experiences that are unique to you. Tell a story and use detailed examples that apply to each prompt and demonstrate what type of person you are, a person that can fit into the Duke campus community. Avoid clichés and generalizations. If you want to “help people” or “change the world,” be specific about it. 

Use your own voice. Do not try to be a “perfect” applicant, just be yourself. It is better to talk about things that actually matter to you instead of things that do not resonate with your identity or your interests. The purpose of these supplemental essays is to present yourself using your own words. In case you have not heard it yet, never plagiarize. 

Stick to a simple structure. This essay is not a research paper. You only have 200-250 words to make a well-developed point, so skip an elaborate introduction. Make your essay straightforward and cohesive. Do not forget to explain the importance of what you are writing. The Duke admissions committee should not be wondering, “so what?” after reading your essay. 

Proofread. Edit and proofread your Duke supplemental essays as many times as possible. Ask others to read it over and look for typos and punctuation errors. Take breaks and come back to your drafts with fresh eyes. If you spend too much time proofreading your essay in one sitting, you may easily miss the small mistakes. You want your essays to be the best and most authentic writing you have done. Do not let a stray letter or a misplaced comma ruin your responses. 

Have a professional look at your essay. Seek help from experts in the college application process. The admissions consultants at Quad Education can give you additional tips on how to write and edit your supplemental essay for Duke. They have substantial experience with admissions committees and know what the top schools are looking for in applicants. 

Duke Supplemental Essay Examples

Here are examples of essays for the first two prompts listed above. 

Example #1

Essay Example #1 | Prompt: “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 is an excerpt from a Duke supplemental essay used for the required prompt. 

“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 this is a good essay: In this essay, 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. 

Example #2

Essay Example #2 | Prompt: “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.”

“The pitter patter of droplets, the sweet smell that permeates throughout the air, the dark grey 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 this is a good essay: 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 that they like to paint, build robots, and listen to music. 


1. What is Duke’s acceptance rate?

According to the 2026 class profile, Duke’s acceptance rate is 6.3%. This figure makes it one of the schools with the lowest acceptance rates in the U.S. 

2. What are the other application requirements for Duke?

Like most other colleges, you will need to send your academic transcript, SAT and ACT scores, and letters of recommendation. Duke does not accept separate resumes, but you have a space to fill out your extracurricular activities. Quad Education offers a definitive guide on how to get into Duke.  

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 have an idea for what direction you want to take your essay, but be open to new ideas. 

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 feeling stuck, try taking a break from brainstorming. Ask thoughtful questions and answer truthfully to get inspired. Try not to worry too much. Writing a 200-word essay is probably not the most challenging task you have ever done. 

5. What are the Common Application essay prompts?

For the Common Application essays, you can choose from the following prompts: 

6. What are the Coalition Application essay prompts?

You can pick from five essay prompts on the Coalition Application


The Duke supplemental 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, but make sure you are comfortable sharing such personal information. 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 can leave a lasting impression on them.

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