The Requirements: One required 150-word essay, one required 250-word essay and one optional 250-word essay.
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Topic of your choice, Community
Duke University 2017-2018 Application Essay Question Explanations
If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences/Pratt School of Engineering 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 150 words.)
This is a classic why essay, albeit a short one. Your answer should be personal and, if possible, unexpected. This is not the place to detail your love of the campus or dining hall. And Duke already knows it has “world-class” professors. Admissions wants to know what excites you about the specific school within Duke to which you are applying — something that is aligned with your interests and academic background. Since this is a short essay, try to narrow your focus to one or two elements and make a bridge from Duke’s resources to your own experiences and goals for the future. Is there is a professor in your department who has done research you admire that you hope to work with? Is there a program that combines your unique interests that is not offered at any other school? Get specific. Let Duke know what resources you will take advantage of that others might not think of or know about.
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 to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background-we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 word limit)
This is a classic community essay, through and through. Admissions Officers want to know what or who has made you into the person you are today. Where do you come from? What has shaped you as a person, and how has that made your perspective unique? What you focus on here can be reflective of larger cultural constructs or specific to you and only you. Admissions is looking to add diverse perspectives to the melting pot that is their student body. Is there anything you can teach your classmates about your hometown, traditions, culture, cuisine, orientation, identity, race, or ethnicity that they might not already know? Also consider why your particular background or experience will be useful in an academic setting. How will it help inspire and/or inform others? Were you raised in a Muslim family? Do you identify as genderqueer? Were you adopted as a child? What has influenced your identity? What do you believe and how will your worldview bring something of value to the community at Duke?
(Optional) If you would like the opportunity, we invite you to share more about your sexual orientation either below or in the Duke optional essay. (250 words)
Duke was one of the first schools to embrace the subject of sexual orientation in their essay questions (see the community essay prompt), and this is yet another step in their overt attempt to recruit a truly diverse pool of applicants. The school wants you to know that they are embracing all sexual orientations, and if you are open to discussing your own history and identity, feel free to share your story. Note that this question will likely not be applicable to all students, so if you don’t have a related story to tell, this is one of the few “optional” supplemental essays that we would encourage you to skip.
The following question is required for Engineering applicants.
If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (150 words maximum)
This is a fairly standard college application essay question. Here’s what their REALLY asking: does your interest in Duke specifically feel genuine, to the point where your likeliness of engagement (and therefore success) is that much higher than the next guy who is applying with equal interest to several programs? In other words, do you REALLY have a special interest in Duke? Or are you applying everywhere and hoping for the best?
If you can demonstrate a preference for Pratt, it will bode well. Great, so how do you do that exactly? Well, here’s a neat exercise to help you tease it out. What are the five best engineering programs for undergrads, as far as you are concerned, or as far as “the industry” is concerned? MIT and CalTech surely make that list. Well, imagine these two schools not only accepted you, but gave you free rides. Let’s just pretend that in spite of that impossibly tasty predicament, your ultimate choice was to attend Pratt.
If you can embrace that conceit, and deliver a believable argument, you will be bulletproof. Be concise, be specific, and be sure that your arguments can’t apply equally well to another program. If you talk about cutting edge facilities as a reason you prefer Pratt over School X, it begs the question… “so CalTech does NOT have cutting edge facilities?” See how that works? Subject your arguments to THAT level of scrutiny. Make emotional arguments. Make precise arguments.
The following question is required for Arts & Sciences applicants.
If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (150 words maximum)
Imagine explaining to the object of your affection (boy or girl) that the reason your heart is set on them is due to the fact that they have a lovely… beating… heart!
They’d likely furrow their brow and say “Ahem, you’ll have to do better than that, champ.”
So, you continue… “My sweet, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you because you have eyes, and a nose, and ears, and eyebrows. Oh, the eyebrows.”
The furrowed brow may now turn into a scowl. “Congratulations, you just described 95% of humanity. This doesn’t exactly make me feel… special.”
See where we’re headed? If your reasoning allows for multiple schools to qualify, you haven’t made a meaningful case. It has to be specific to that exact school, in a way that applies to you. This is easier said than done because truth be told, most schools are pretty damn similar. It really comes down to minute details, or emotional factors that can’t be argued. Try to make an argument that projects a sense that your likeliness to succeed in life is an A+ at Trinity, and maybe an A or lower anywhere else. What gives you that potential for “A+” at Duke? What are the supporting elements that will help bring out the best in you? Identify, explain, convince.
The following question is optional for all applicants to Duke University.
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 to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. 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)
This can be classified as a “reveal” essay. In order for a reveal to be effective, there needs to be SOME disruption of status quo, otherwise, it’ll fall completely flat. “Psst, stop what you’re doing, I have news for you. I just breathed in and out.”
On the surface, that is just about as boring a statement as one could make. Right?
Well, not necessarily. It depends on the status quo. Let’s explore.
Scenario 1: I’m a healthy male or femaile in my thirties. I’m an athlete. I eat extremely well and have never had medical issues. I have tons of creature comforts. My life is pretty damn good. The fact that I just breathed in and out is therefore… incredibly predictable? And extremely in-line with my personal status quo?
Conclusion: not dramatic, not interesting, I just wasted the reader’s time.
Scenario 2: All 400 passengers on a commercial flight have lost consciousness… Including the pilots. Somehow, impossibly, my eyes remained open. I clamber my way to the cockpit, establish a line with air traffic control, and they walk me through an emergency landing, in the Pacific. I make it, but barely. I was underwater for minutes before airlifted to safety. I just awoke from an eight-month coma. Taken off the respirator. And, on my own, for the first time in my new life, just breathed in. And out. (Yeah, THAT gal/guy has more than earned the right to be proud of respiration.)
What made the difference?
Both gals/guys breathed in and out right? It’s all about context. The status quo in each case couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The status quo in the second version was wildly disrupted such that the simple action challenged our expectations, surprised us, etc. This is what you need for a reveal essay.
Whatever your personal issue is, your first job is to establish what’s considered normal, aka “the status quo.” Whatever it is you “reveal” must be some kind of disruption to that norm. There must be some kind of ripple effect, or impact, that presented a challenge. Otherwise, you’re gonna end up telling your reader you just breathed in, as a normal human being.
A good way to get to a solid first draft is first to establish the status quo. Then propose the threat to it, which is whatever your issue is, whether it has to do with race, religion, sexual orientation or the like, it really can be anything. It can be as simple as a family squabble. Something specific about your geography. Your neighborhood. Truly can be anything. In this section explain the challenges and the consequences. If I did this, then this would happen. My other choice was to do this, in order to achieve that. Show us the dilemma. Bring us into the conflict.
Then, explain what you did, and how you chose the path you chose.
- What influenced it?
- Why was it hard?
- Or, what made it easy?
Show us the gears. And don’t be afraid to walk us through times when you were uncertain, or made a mistake in judgment, or chose incorrectly. All of those bumps and bruises is “essay gold.”
Finally, assess it all. How have you grown? What’s next? What have you learned? How will any of that influence your future? How will it affect the way you interact with fellow students, or learn from others with similar or different backgrounds?
Get some version of that down, and you’ll have a solid hunk of stone that you can then start sculpting with smart revisions.