Categories:

How to Write Powerful Duke Essays: The Complete Guide

Apply to Duke with powerful essays. Stand out from competition. Apply to college with your admissions advantage by enrolling in one of our college application boot camps.


Duke University has an acceptance rate of 9% and is a prestigious school that is appealing to thousands of applicants, thanks to its excellent programs and warm southern climate.

Duke also ranks in 9th place on the list of Top National Universities by US News.

So, can you stand out from such a competitive applicant pool?

One way to do so is through your supplemental essays! This guide will help you write the best Duke supplemental essays.

What are the Duke Supplemental Essay Requirements?

Duke requires you to submit a supplemental essay for the program that you are applying to, and gives you the option to respond to up to two other essay prompts if you feel that there are aspects of your background that were not covered in other parts of the application.

The supplemental essay prompts can be found on Duke’s admissions website and are also reproduced later in this guide.

Tips from Duke University

Before we get into the specific questions associated with each program, Duke has some general tips for their applicants when writing the supplemental essays.

  • It is not easier or harder to be admitted to one program or another.
  • Pick the school and academic fields that best match your interests.
  • One of the short essay questions is required, and the other is optional.

Concerning the third bullet, Transizion recommends that you respond to optional essays that pertain to you.

That is, if the essay has something to do with your life, you should answer it. Writing essays can be tiring and stressful, but this advice is for your own good.

The main point of the first two tips is to remind you that it will be easier to write your essays on the field you’re interested in than on the field you think has the higher acceptance rate.

Finally, when answering a question about why you want to attend Duke and study at a program, never write about the following:

  • Sports
  • Location (perhaps your fascination with the Research Triangle)
  • Social life

Pratt School of Engineering Essay

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)

One thing that you may notice about Duke’s supplemental essay questions is that they are generally more straightforward than some of the other more creative questions you may have received from other schools.

Due to this straightforward nature, just write:

If you have a firm idea of what you would want to study at Duke, use this supplemental essay to show the admissions committee!

  • Talk about the classes and resources that you would take advantage of as a student at Duke.
  • For example, discuss an upper-level mechanical engineering course on mechatronics that you want to take.

Admissions committees don’t necessarily expect students to know exactly what they want to study before they step on campus, but they do want to make sure that their school, or in this case, engineering, is really what you want to do.

Think about why you want to study engineering and what about studying the subject at Duke interests you.

For example, you might be interested in tissue engineering and drug development but aren’t sure whether you’d like to major in biomedical engineering or chemical engineering.

  • Is there a professor whose research fascinates you? Why?
  • What classes would you take as a student at Duke?
  • Is there an engineering-based extracurricular that you’re excited to join?
  • Is there an aspect of your current education in engineering that sparks inspiration within you?
  • What about engineering do you love? Design? Solving problems? Inventing? Math?
  • Do you have inventions that you’d like to share with the world?

Whatever you are interested in studying, use real examples of people, places, and things associated with the Pratt School of Engineering to show the admissions committee that Duke University is the only place for you.

At the end of your essay, you need to make sure you are connecting your interests and passions in engineering back to Duke’s program.

Thus, ask yourself:

  • How will Duke’s engineering program help me accomplish my goals?

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences Essay

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)

This supplemental question is similarly straightforward to the last one, so your approach to writing it will likely be similar.

The question can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Why do you consider Duke a good match for you, and
  2. Is there something in particular about Duke that attracts you?

When approaching the first question, you should focus on your own experiences and why you think that you would be a good fit for Duke.

You might focus on the following:

  • Your academic interests
  • Your community interests, and how your experience would add to the existing communities at Duke.
  • Alternatively, there may be a community that you see Duke does not have, so you could argue that bringing your community to campus is what makes Duke a good match for you.
  • For example, you might be interested in the political issues of an obscure social group that Duke is not aware of. Write about that.

The second question is a bit of a trick question – if there wasn’t something in particular about Duke that attracted you, you probably wouldn’t apply.

In contrast to the first question, this is the time to talk about the resources that Duke would offer you as a student.

  • This might be a certain major, a particular professor, or a student organization.
  • You should talk about how you might use those resources as well.
  • For example, there might be a music group on campus that you’d be interested in joining because you’ve been in choir for the past few years.

Still having trouble? Here are more straightforward questions:

  • What student organizations do you want to join?
  • What do you plan to study? Why?
  • What professors do you want the opportunity to talk to?

Tie the answers to these two questions into your essay, and you’re done!

Duke General Prompts: Diversity Essays

If you read through these essay questions and find that there is something you want to say that hasn’t already been mentioned elsewhere in your application, go for it. Your perspective and experience are important.

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 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 is a fairly personal question, so if there are any experiences that you feel have shaped your upbringing and/or led to your decision to apply to Duke, let them know here.

For example:

  • Did a grandparent raise you?
  • Did you have to work to support your family?
  • Have you been diagnosed with a chronic condition?
  • Did you immigrate to the United States from another country?
  • Are you an active member of an organization that promotes the welfare of a particular social group?

Whatever it is, Duke’s admissions committee wants to hear it and is giving you the space to tell them here.

You don’t need to feel constrained when writing this essay. Think about your strengths, weaknesses, struggles, challenges, accomplishments, family life, genetic conditions, and other elements that have influenced your life.

“Diversity” doesn’t mean ethnic or racial diversity; think about what you bring to the table. These questions will help you brainstorm:

  • If you entered a room full of people, what would you tell a stranger about your life story?
  • What have been your greatest struggles and challenges?
  • Name an accomplishment, no matter how small or large, that you worked hard to attain.
  • What are three traits that are essential to understanding you?
  • What do your family and friends love about you?
  • Is there a story from your life that is a crucible? Name the dramatic changes you went through after this crucible.

Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here. 

This is also a personal question, but if you do have experiences relating to your gender identity or sexual orientation that you would like to share with the admissions committee, do so here.

  • For example, you may have realized you were bisexual in high school, or maybe you don’t identify as male or female.
  • Has your gender identity changed over time?
  • Did you discover that your sexual orientation was not what you originally thought it was?

Again, you do not have to write a response to this essay if you would prefer not to.

Conclusion: Writing the Duke Supplemental Essays

Now that you’ve finished this article, you should feel prepared to start writing your supplemental essays for Duke University.

Additionally, don’t forget to proofread. These essays are short, but you don’t want to apply with a false sense of confidence. Go through every line looking for the passive voice, typos, and punctuation errors.

If you get stuck, feel free to revisit this article for some brainstorming tips. Good luck!

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions essay writing, check out our college essay boot camp.