Duke Extracurricular Essay


Duke University Application Essay Prompts


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)


The 250-word essay reminds applicants to consider what makes them unique as people, and what diversity they can bring to the Duke community. This should be similar to other essays you have written, or if not, just write about yourself. What makes you you? What makes you unique? What makes you an actual person instead of just a generic applicant? As the prompt says, Duke wants to get to know the real person behind the application, so write in your own voice about your own experiences, and try to tell it as a story.


Pratt School and Trinity College Prompts


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)


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)


The 150-word Trinity/Pratt essays will require more in-depth research. For Pratt applicants, probably about a third of this essay (50 words) should be spent on what attracts you to engineering in general, with the remaining 100 words spent on why you want to study engineering at Duke. For Trinity applicants, “Why Duke?” will take up the full 150 words.


For this type of essay, it’s best to avoid generalities unless you can speak passionately about why they’re important to you — you’ve probably heard this advice before, but if you can drop in ‘Princeton’ or ‘Vanderbilt’ instead of ‘Duke’ and have the essay still make sense, you need a lot more specificity.


A piece of advice would be to dig deep into the many special programs that Duke offers, and choose a couple that are of particular interest to you. Interested in taking seminar classes on a specific topic in your first semester at Duke? Look into Duke’s freshman FOCUS program. Love theater? Write about the Mainstage Productions series or Hoof ‘n’ Horn, the completely student-run musical theater society. Maybe you’ve always wanted to study marine biology or ecology, and Duke’s Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC is what attracts you.


Whatever it is, find one of the many offerings that piques your interest and is unique to Duke, and use that to demonstrate your interest in attending. Since you are also asked why you consider Duke a good match for you, how does this unique aspect of Duke relate to your personal background, experiences, and interests?


To summarize, for the first essay, delve deep into your own background and experiences, and tell the story of what makes you different from the thousands of other applicants — that is, why should Duke want you? For the second essay, be as specific as possible about why you want Duke (and also why you want to study engineering, for Pratt applicants).


For further assistance and advice, check out the CollegeVine admissions specialists and mentorship services!


Write for the Future essayists Anton Kliot (left) and Calvin Thompson (right)

Amherst Supplemental Essays

By Anton Kliot

Amherst gave applicants the opportunity to respond to a quotation in an essay of not more than 300 words. The instructions stated, "It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay."

Anton chose the following quote: "Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight--insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments."

Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College

Sitting in the shade of a tree in Central Park with two close friends, I absentmindedly pick up a fallen leaf and begin crumpling it in my hands. With that, a seed begins to form in my mind. As I look at the tree overhead, I think of the immense amount of solar energy necessary to its growth--yet this leaf could disintegrate into debris with little energy input.

I look up at a crumbling, pre-war building a hundred meters away. Hours, days, months, even, of manual labor and tons of fossil fuels had gone into its construction; yet it would take only time and the persuasion of the elements to break down into dust. This, I realize, is free energy in action. To build things, natural or man-made, to move from chaos towards structure, requires energy. However, it is the tendency of the world-the universe even--to regress towards disorder.

When my professor initially taught the concept of free energy, I was perplexed. I vaguely understood that entropy stood for chaos, and enthalpy for energy, but beyond that I was stumped. What were these values? And why did they determine the spontaneity of reactions? I learned the equations provided, and how to tackle basic problems, but without grasping entropy's role in the reactions of the world around me I found true understanding of the concept elusive.

The power of insight lives in its ability to grow outside of the normative places where we expect to foster revelations, such as classes and labs. Ultimately, it was that day in the park, as much as any classroom experience, that bolstered my understanding. My passion for chemistry comes not from solving equations, but from the insight into the workings of the world I have gained, both in and out of the lab.

Duke Supplemental Essays

By Calvin Thompson

1.) Please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you? (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I love many things, but learning and sports top the list. The moment I stepped onto Duke's campus, I leaned over to my mother, gasping, and said, "Whoa," even before beginning my tour. I was stunned to immediately see signs of my loves everywhere. My dreams of tenting in K-Ville for the annual Duke-UNC game almost made my mouth water. As for learning, the cross-disciplinary study options that Duke offers ignite my passions. I have always loved business, and as I have aged, I discovered a deep interest in education. At Duke, I saw the opportunity to combine these two interests in many ways. I would love to initiate lunches with Professor Elizabeth Garcia, whose work focuses on educational motivation, and Mark T. Brown, Director of the Management Communications Center. Exploring commonalities in business and educational spheres would be uplifting, and will engage all of my most profound interests.

2.) Please discuss one of your extracurricular activities that has required a particularly significant time commitment or that has played a meaningful role in your personal development. (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I struggled academically in middle school. So, in my sophomore year of high school, I started a tutoring program for 6-8th grade African-American and Latino students, who, like me at their age, were experiencing difficulties in school. I noticed at the high school level, I was among a tiny number of students of color taking honors and advanced classes. However, this problem clearly started earlier. To solve it, I thought about what I wished I had in middle school: privacy and attention. I provided this so my students could receive help without feeling like they were "idiots" compared to their peers. Since beginning the program, I have tutored the same kids for 3 years. All my students have improved their grades and are on track for honors level classes in high school. Watching them work hard and succeed has been the most gratifying experience of my life thus far.

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