How to Get Into Duke

Padya Paramita

How to Get Into Duke

You might have heard of the Blue Devils during March Madness, and you’ll probably come across them when researching your college list. Duke University is one of the most prestigious schools in the country, known for its state-of-the-art research facilities and strong involvement in athletics. If you’ve looked at the astounding college acceptance rates for the Class of 2023, you might be surprised to see Duke ranked very high on the list. Duke was one of the most selective schools this year, with a 5.7% acceptance rate. If you’re wondering how to get into Duke, simply put, it’s not easy. Duke has gotten significantly more competitive over the years, outdoing the 2018 and 2017 acceptance rates of 7.3% and 9.2% respectively. This year’s record high number of 41,600 applicants exceeded last year’s record high of 37,302 candidates, which can only mean one thing: the competition will just get tougher.

From the pleasant weather of Durham, North Carolina, to 47 Rhodes Scholars across the years, there are a lot of reasons to apply to Duke. Admissions officers don’t simply look at your grades or your extracurriculars. They want to see you stand out holistically, and bring unparalleled passion into the areas that interest you. So, how exactly do you get an edge over the 41,600 applicants? To help you get a clearer understanding of how to get into Duke, I’ve outlined the two schools within Duke’s undergraduate college, what Duke looks for in its students, deadlines and requirements, supplemental essay questions, and more tips on how you can make sure you stand out as a top-notch applicant at this very competitive institution.

Campus and Academic Overview

 

How to Get Into Duke

 

Did you know that 85% of Duke’s campus is forested? Duke University makes it a priority to conserve its nature-centric setting and limit construction on campus as much as possible. At the heart of campus is the Duke Chapel, which has become a symbol of the school. The Chapel hosts major university events and serves as home to the wide variety of cultures and religions represented in the student body.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy to know that Duke always ranks among the colleges with the best dining experiences in the country. Sushi lovers can enjoy fresh made-to-order rolls at the on-campus sushi counter. Campus restaurant JB’s Roast & Chops serves paella and steaks. Plus, the Broadhead Center hosts 13 eateries, including Au Bon Pain, Enzo’s Pizza, and Sitar Indian Palace. Check out their Instagram for more of the delicious dishes that could be your everyday meals!

When you apply to Duke through the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you will be asked to choose between two academic paths: liberal arts at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering.

  • Trinity College of Arts & Sciences offers courses in almost a hundred different programs in the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and arts. If you’re not entirely sure of what you want to study just yet, but have a few areas of academic interest, this is the right college for you. You can pursue a preexisting degree program, or design your own program of study with the help of a faculty advisor. There are research opportunities for students of all majors. The flexibility in Trinity’s interdisciplinary programs helps students hone skills in thinking critically and exploring different perspectives, along with expanding their global awareness through languages and study abroad programs.
  • Pratt School of Engineering helps students explore different engineering tracks and form career goals through hands-on engineering experience at internships, study abroad programs, and research opportunities. At Pratt, you can choose from one of the following primary majors: Biomedical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Environmental Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. You can choose to double major in two engineering disciplines or combine engineering with one of the 48 majors offered at Trinity School. You must bring a strong background in calculus and physics to be a competitive candidate for Pratt.

Regardless of which school you’re applying to, Duke looks for students who love thinking deeply about issues, and wish to make a difference in their community and the world. Admissions officers consider the accumulation of your high school academics, grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, the quality of your essays, and your standardized test scores. They want the standout students - the ones who have “put their heart and soul into the areas that interest them.” So your personality and passions need to shine through in your application!

If you’re wondering how to get into Duke, make sure you enroll in high school courses that challenge you; strong performance in a rigorous academic environment is one of the criteria Duke admissions officers seek. Before you apply, try to meet their academic guidelines. Duke recommends that you take four years of English in high school, along with at least three years of math, natural sciences, foreign language, and social studies. Students applying to the Pratt School are required to have taken (and excelled in) advanced level courses in calculus, while physics is strongly recommended (meaning you should take it!).

Admissions officers look for students with the ability to combine their talents and ideas with the abundance of opportunities offered at Duke University. You should be enthusiastic about engaging with the campus community, be open to new opportunities, and not be afraid to channel your creative and fun side.

Numbers

If you’re considering how to get into Duke, you probably know that the level of academic excellence you need is very high. Students have an average GPA of 3.85 on a scale of 4.0. Not only do admissions officers expect you to take difficult courses throughout high school, but they want to see you finishing at the top of your class.

Duke requires that you take the SAT or the ACT. Start studying as early as possible because admissions officers can easily note top applicants through a quick glance at quantifiable data. The average SAT range is 1490-1560, while the average ACT range is 33-35. Try to meet or surpass these scores. Duke uses score choice for the SAT, which means you get to choose which scores to report, and Duke only sees what you send. If you submit multiple scores, Duke will look at the highest marks. So if you’re not happy with your score the first time, you can take it again (but avoid taking it too many times, as schools can see how many test sittings you’ve done).

Duke strongly recommends that you submit two SAT subject test scores. Again, “strongly recommends” indicates that it’s pretty much a requirement. Applicants to the Pratt School must submit either Math I or Math II subject tests - submit Math II because to be an engineer, you have to be really good at math! At the end of the day, choose to take SAT IIs for subject areas you feel good about. Receiving a high score is the most important factor with subject tests. If you study for subject tests at the same time as your final exams, the material will be fresh in your mind!

Extracurriculars

Duke is not just looking for excellent grades - most students who apply to Duke stand out in the classroom. They want to know what you enjoy participating in beyond academics, and how you have made an impact in your community. If you plan to apply to a top school like Duke, it’s important that you start participating in clubs, volunteer work, and internships as early as the 9th grade. It’s more than okay to try out new things at first, but as you discover which areas really resonate with you, begin engaging in activities which follow a similar pattern to develop your application persona, a concurrent theme maintained throughout the components of your application. An application persona will distinguish you from other applicants, and help admissions officers remember you. For example, your application persona could be a prospective Environmental Sciences and Visual Arts double major who advocates for environmental justice through detailed posters and infographics.

Duke repeatedly emphasizes its appreciation of students who have the ability and desire to make a difference. If you’ve been a general member in a long list of clubs which offer few to no connection to each other, you will not have done enough to get into Duke. You need to step up and take on leadership roles. If you’re the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper or the president of the debate club, you should think more creatively about your activities because these are common among many applicants. Duke rejected almost 95% of its applicants this year. You are not going to get in with just debate club!

At the same time, don’t do something only because you think it would look good on college applications. Admissions officers want to know what you’re passionate about. If you choose an activity just for the sake of listing it on your application, that doesn’t align with your interests and future plans, Duke will easily be able to tell. If you’ve never touched a basketball in your life, don’t start playing for your senior spring just to list it in your Duke application, especially when Duke has the best athletes in the country. Be genuine in choosing and listing your activities and stay true to you.

Think outside the box - what would help you look like a must-admit candidate? What can you do that others haven’t? When wondering how to get into Duke, think about which activities would seem most impressive on your Common App Activities and Honors sections. Find something that you are genuinely passionate about, and form your own club or organization based off your interests and application persona. If you’re applying to the Pratt School, gain hands-on engineering experience - for example, start a maker space at your school or lead projects to help build infrastructure in your community.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement should highlight your ambitions, the way you overcome challenges, and how you choose to pursue your passion - all of which are highly valued characteristics at Duke. The personal statement is your story and a major step in getting you ahead when thinking about how to get into Duke. The essay should capture your application persona to focus on what makes you unique in a way that admissions officers read it and immediately know that you are a student who would be an asset to Duke. The personal statement needs to be a well-written in its narrative and quality of expression. Consider topics to avoid and brainstorm multiple angles before finding the perfect one. After you’re done with the first draft, be sure to edit as much as possible and have a parent, friend, or teacher proofread it and offer feedback.

Ensure that all areas of the application - the tests, the essays, the activities - are top-notch to help distinguish you from the other strong contenders and give you a shot at admission into a highly selective school like Duke.

Supplemental Essay

If you’re thinking about how to get into Duke, you probably have specific reasons for why Duke stands out to you. Take advantage of the supplemental essay questions to show that not only have you done your research and know that Duke is a great school for you, but that you too would bring a unique perspective to Duke. In the 2018-19 cycle, Duke asked three supplemental questions - two were required and one was optional.

The first required prompt asks:

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 150 words.)

Or

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 150 words.)

It’s important to note that you only get 150 words to say why you want to spend the next four years in Duke’s rigorous academic environment. Don’t waste precious character space going into wider features such as the beautiful campus or the broad course offerings. Make sure what you write is personal, highlights one or two specific programs or courses that stand out to you, and relate it back to your application persona. Take the time to thoroughly research the school’s website. How do the resources that Duke has to offer align with your own academic interests and future goals? Look over the course catalog to see if there’s a program that checks all the boxes of your niche interest. For example, if you are a filmmaker interested in media history, write about how the Visual and Media Studies department, along with Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image certificate, pertain uniquely to your passions and goals.

The second required question asks:

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)

Duke proudly selects a diverse student body consisting of students of all backgrounds. This essay is another way to make sure the school admits students with all sorts of experiences by learning more about where applicants come from. For this essay, choose a community or part of your identity that you feel comfortable describing. You can talk about the community in a larger context, about your culture and family, and then bring it back to you - how your upbringing has been shaped by the food, clothes, language etc. of where you come from. If there is a club that celebrates this part of your identity at Duke that you are interested in joining, note that as well to show you’ve done the research. If you don’t come from a diverse background, think about the unique projects and activities you’ve done to highlight a different side of yourself. Have you won a statewide award? Have you been published in a magazine? 250 words isn’t a lot, but it is enough to give admissions officers a look into a meaningful aspect of your life, and the perspective you would bring to Duke University.

The optional question asks:

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)

This question is another way for Duke to continue admitting students from all backgrounds - including from different sexual orientations. If you feel comfortable sharing your story and experience, do so. It will provide admissions officers another set of context for viewing you as a potential student. Remember that this question is not applicable for everyone, so if you want to go on a 250 word rant about the importance of your heterosexuality, this is probably not the best place.

Your supplemental essays should enhance your application in a new way. They should convey the interest and effort you’ve put into learning about the school, as well as advocating for yourself as a strong candidate. And just like for your personal essays, don’t forget to proofread and go through multiple drafts! These essays may be short, but they are crucial.

Requirements and Deadlines

You can’t apply to a school without knowing what documents and information you need, and when you need to submit them. When thinking about how to get into Duke remember that you must meet all requirements and deadlines.

The Early Decision (ED) deadline for Duke is November 1, and the Regular Decision (RD) deadline is January 2. If there is a Duke alumni committee in your area, you can choose to apply for priority consideration for an in-person alumni interview, which is given on a first come, first serve basis. The alumni interview is optional, but this opportunity can provide more depth to your application. The deadline for priority consideration is December 20.

The material you need to submit for your Duke undergraduate application, regardless of which school you’re applying to, is outlined below, along with deadlines and any additional notes:

Requirements for Duke Application Deadline and Notes
Personal statement The Common App limit is 650 words, The Coalition App recommends that you stay below 550
Duke-specific essays These will appear when you add Duke as a school on the application system
School report This is submitted by your counselor to summarize your academic performance, including your official transcript
Official high school transcript Must be submitted directly from your school
Counselor recommendation This letter is very important to help you stand out from your peers
Two (2) letters of evaluation from teachers These letters are also crucial, as admissions officers want to know what you are like in the classroom
Early Decision agreement (if applicable) Early Decision (ED) to Duke is binding, so when you apply ED, you agree to join if accepted
First-quarter report Only for ED - deadline is November 12 (or whenever your first quarter ends)
Mid-year report Due February 15, or whenever your first semester ends
SAT or ACT The last tests students can take for ED are the October ACT and November SAT and the last tests students can take for RD are the February ACT and December SAT
SAT subject tests (optional) The last test students can take for ED is the November session and the last test students can take for RD is the December session
Arts supplement If you’re a gifted artist, musician or designer, you can submit an arts supplement to Duke on the Common App. For ED, deadline is November 3, and for RD, the deadline is January 7
Financial aid documents If you are applying for financial aid, the CSS Profile and FAFSA are due November 1 for ED, and February 15 for RD

Use the table to make sure you stay on top of upcoming tests and submission dates and send your documents and scores on time. Once you’ve submitted your application to Duke, ED applicants are notified on December 15, and RD applicants are notified on April 1.

Next Steps

  • Apply Early Decision - The ED acceptance rate for Duke’s Class of 2023 was 18%, a significant difference from its RD rate. Students accepted early decision will make up 51% of the class. Even though legacies and recruited athletes inflate the ED acceptance rate, statistically speaking your application is against a much smaller pool, and your chances of admission increase. Attend information sessions, visit the school if possible, and talk to current students and professors so that you make an informed decision. And if you’re absolutely sure that Duke is the school for you (remember, it’s binding!), go ahead and apply ED.

  • Get to Know Alumni in Your Area - If you can’t submit your application early enough to get an alumni interview, Duke also values the recommendation from alumni (who are not related to the student). So if you are able to find a Duke alum in your area, get to know them. Talk to them about your interest in Duke, what you hope to study, activities that are important to you. Since alums know what it takes to thrive at Duke, they can tell if you’re a good fit, as well as serve as an advocate for your qualities through their recommendation.

  • Browse Student Blogs and Social Media - Duke recommends that you read as much as possible about the school by browsing its student blogs, and checking out its accounts across the various social media platforms. When researching the school, spend some time on the website and reading the blogs - learn about the tight knit community, the activities and organizations, the class sizes and more. Going through the sites will prepare you well for your supplemental essays and your interview (if you get one), and you will learn exciting new things about what might just be your future home for the next four years.

  • Talk to Your College Counselor - It’s important to start building a relationship with your high school college counselor early on. You can talk to them about your interests and seek their help in figuring out whether Duke is the right school for you. The recommendation your counselor writes holds a lot of value - give them the chance to familiarize themselves with you and your goals so that they can write a truly convincing letter. If Duke has any questions about you or your application, they will turn to your counselor for an opinion. If there are multiple students applying to Duke from your school, the counselor’s advocacy on your behalf can help guide admissions officers’ decision, so make a note to go talk to them regularly.

 

There’s no one correct way to answer the question of how to get into Duke. Duke values highly motivated applicants who are involved in their communities, share their interests with others, and are strongly determined to drive change. Realistically, the odds are stacked against you. But, if you continue to stand out in school and your extracurriculars, and start drafting unique personal essays, you’ll stay ahead of the game. The chances may be difficult, but if you prove to be an emerging leader who is enthusiastic about making a difference, you might just have a better chance. Good luck!

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