How to Write the Duke Supplemental Essays 2020-2021 (Examples Included!)

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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.

Duke Supplemental Essays: How to Write Them!

Click above for a video on how to write the 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.

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

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.

Thanks 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 extracurricular that you’re excited to join?
  • Is there an aspect of your current education 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?

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Thus, ask yourself:

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

“Why Duke?” Supplemental Essay

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?  (200 words maximum)

This supplemental question is straightforward and 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.

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!

“Why Duke” Supplemental Essay Examples!

Here’s an essay from a student who applied and was accepted to Duke:

The forty-two volunteer opportunities at the Duke University Medical Center was one of the first facets of Duke that drew me in. The DUMC student volunteer program offers diverse and enriching experiences for undergraduate students, especially those interested in pursuing medicine like myself. Digging deeper into what Duke has to offer its pre-medicine students, I am drawn to the rigorous courses as I thrive in academically challenging environments. Furthermore, the university’s connections enable pre-medicine students to have meaningful experiences in professional workplaces, such as opportunities for shadowing. Shadowing is a key element that attracts me to Duke since it is an essential component in preparing for a health career. This opportunity is something that I value because it provides a realistic insight into the skills and proficiency needed in the professions, as well as an understanding of the numerous paths in health care.

Outside of experiences directed at pre-medicine students, Duke also offers a wide variety of activities and clubs to create a well-rounded atmosphere for their students. It is important to me to follow the hobbies and passions that lay outside of my educational focus, so I am excited to explore the variety of clubs and organizations. I have actively participated in traditional Indian dance and volunteered within my community for as long as I can remember, so it was exciting to find student groups within Duke committed to the passions I already have, such as Duke Dhamaka, Blue Devils United, and Environmental Alliance. I’m looking forward to finding communities at Duke, both inside the classroom and out, to which I belong.

Here’s another “Why Duke” Essay Example:

I am particularly interested in Duke’s strong emphasis on interdisciplinary education. This unique learning environment will allow me to explore my varied interests, which include studying neuroscience and economics. I am interested in understanding the intersection between these fields, where I can gain insight into our human decision-making system. Engaging in Duke’s renowned Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science will allow me to collaborate and take part in neuroeconomics research under the guidance of the field’s leaders and pioneers. I am specifically interested in the research of Dr. Huettel, who correlates quantitative behavioral data with neurobiology to reveal interesting analyses about human behavior. In the future, I hope to use my background in the social sciences and the interdisciplinary education from Duke to arm myself with a diverse set of skills to provide the highest quality of care in my career as a physician.

A third “Why Duke” Supplemental Example:

Duke students and professors exhibit curiosity, a love of learning and a contagious school spirit. I want to be a part of it. I was first drawn to this passion for learning and infectious school spirit when I attended the Duke Action Science Camp in fourth grade. During the camp, I was awed as I watched a professor’s excitement as he made a reaction with calcium carbonate hot enough to cook on. I waded into a creek to observe all sorts of critters, got to extract DNA from a strawberry and even went to visit the lemurs. I was hooked! The action-packed camp ignited my love of learning for science and the arts.

My decision to make Duke my home was made final by my visit last summer. My family spent the whole day exploring and talking to students on Duke’s campus. While each student had a different story, they all shared the same passion. Every student emphasized the diversity of the student body, the collaborative nature of the community, and each student we spoke to shared the same excitement that I remembered that science professor having all those years ago. Duke provides the academic challenges, collaborative environment, and impassioned, curious community that I am looking for.  Having been a Stanton Blue Devil for the last four years, I am ecstatic about the possibility of becoming a blue devil for another four years!

Duke 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)

These are fairly personal questions, 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.

Duke Diversity Supplemental Essay Examples

Example 1:

I was just trying to buy a Sprite and pay my hundred rupees. The cashier was starting to look as hassled as I felt, speaking urgently in a language I couldn’t understand. We were both frustrated and the cashier stormed off to another counter and grabbed a plate from under it. At this point, I’m thinking “Why would I need a plate for my Sprite?” Normally at shops, the employees know enough English, and I can understand the gist of the Tamil words with my own Telugu background. This time, we were both extremely confused. Eventually, after non-verbal communication and pointing, I realized she was supposed to offer me a free plate with my Sprite because of a deal. 

Most people are surprised to learn that moving to India was a huge adjustment for me even though I’m Indian. Yet, considering I was moving to a country I never lived in, a state whose language I don’t speak, and a culture I’m not fully part of, it has been a definite challenge. From the language barrier to the culture change, and even the conservative manners and customs, I have had to adapt to a new way of living. All of that and living in a country that is different culturally and socially from the United States gave me a new perspective of viewing my place in the world. I am confident that these experiences will help me make the community at Duke even more inclusive and understanding of differences.

Example 2:

Growing up in a Sindhi Indian family, I was brought up following unique cultural traditions of music, art, and dance. However, one of my favorite parts of my upbringing revolves around baking Sindhi desserts like khorak, majoon, and khus-khus seero. I have vivid memories of beautiful Saturday afternoons that my mom and I spent baking these sweets, filling the room with a brilliant aroma. I remember slowly gaining an appreciation for the patience, care, and subtle attention needed to cook these deserts.

These dry fruit desserts, traditionally baked in India, are used to celebrate important and beautiful occasions, such as weddings and holidays. My family and Sindhi community, however, also use them to remember and enjoy the often overlooked moments in life, aiming to spread joy and happiness to those who eat them. Through eating these desserts alone, I often see smiles from my family members, as they reminisce about their earlier joyful memories of relishing these sweets with their loved ones, celebrating life’s beautiful moments.

At Duke, not only do I hope to bake these deserts for others, but I also look forward to embracing new traditions from other students excited to share aspects of their cultural identity. Overall, I hope to use these sweets to share at least a snippet of my culture with the Duke community. With every small progress that I may make with my peers at Duke, I hope to share this beautiful emphasis on celebration that I have gained from my Sindhi cultural upbringing.

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!

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