Although all applicants to Duke University must write a “Why Duke” essay matching their specific program, Duke also includes an “optional” prompt asking about your background and your experiences with community. We highly recommend writing this optional Duke supplement, as it’s a great opportunity to further showcase your personality and stand out as an individual!
First, let’s look at the required “Why Duke” essay. Although the wording is different depending on which program you apply to, both prompts are essentially asking the same question: who are you, and why do you belong at Duke?
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 max)
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 max)
Step 1: Define your interests and goals in 1-2 sentences. If you are in engineering, include some brief background information about your reasons for studying engineering. If you are applying to Arts & Sciences, you might not yet have such a single focus, but approximate and pick something you love. Either way, be as specific as possible in order to make your response more surprising and memorable to readers.
Step 2: Do plenty of research on what Duke offers so that you can discuss 2-3 specific Duke resources (classes, clubs, faculty) that connect with your passions and academic interests. Show how Duke is an ideal place for you to pursue your goals.
For example, an engineering student might begin with:
- “I started building robots out of LEGOS when I was six; seeing Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand in The Empire Strikes Back spurred my interest in using robotics to help people with missing limbs.”
Then, they might go on to discuss the following specific opportunities at Duke:
- Signal Processing, Communications, and Control Systems concentration and Robotics certificate program
- Duke Robotics Club
The same approach works well for an Arts and Sciences student.
- Self-defining sentence: “As a budding mycologist, I love foraging for edible mushrooms and hope to become a forest ecologist.”
- Opportunity: Conduct research in Duke Forest
- Opportunity: Study with mycologist and biology professor Rytas Vilgalys
Now let’s examine the “optional” background essay.
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 max)
Nice: Duke is assuring you that your essays will not be judged by an AI! This is very good news, because this prompts lets you show that you’re more than just the grades, test scores, and data in other parts of your application. In your program-specific “Why Duke” essay, you’ll make a case for why your interests match up with Duke’s offerings; here, with 250 words, you have space to tell a brief story showing what you’ll bring to Duke as a human being.
Try brainstorming about experiences that have made you the person you are today. Whether you discuss a community, your sexuality, or your background, pick one or two meaningful moments or realizations that no one else but you could write about in quite the same way. Then, devote a couple of sentences to exploring how your unique experiences, cultural knowledge, or perspective will enrich the Duke community.
Taken together, these required and “optional-but-recommended” essays can show readers that you and Duke are a great fit for one another, both academically and in terms of values and ideals!