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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Use the Duke Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

Duke's acceptance rate is only 5.9%—that's lower than some of the Ivies. To be a successful applicant to Duke, you'll need to have the grades, intellectual vitality, and extracurricular impact. You'll also need outstanding essays.

In this post, we comb through the Duke Common Data Set and discuss how to use its information to your advantage.

Let’s jump in.

How Duke Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

Duke’s Common Data Set is all or nothing: either a factor is very important, or it’s merely considered. The “important” and “not considered” categories are blank. In the “very important” category, we have all the standard factors, things like GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurriculars.

Notice that because of its historical religious ties, Duke does take religious affiliation into account.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor   Interview  
GPA   First generation  
Test scores   Alumni relation  
Essay   Geographical residence  
Recommendations   State residency  
Extracurriculars   Religious affiliation  
Talent/ability   Racial/ethnic status  
Personal character   Volunteer work  
    Work experience  
    Applicant interest  

Does Duke track demonstrated interest?

Yes, Duke does track demonstrated interest. It’s one of the factors Duke admissions officers consider when evaluating applicants. But it isn’t nearly as important to their review process as factors like GPA, extracurriculars, or essays.

Does Duke care about standardized test scores?

Yes. The Duke Common Data Set lists standardized test scores as “very important” in the Duke admissions process. This importance is reflected in the number of Duke first-year enrolled students who submitted their scores: 47% submitted an SAT score, and 46% submitted an ACT score. When preparing for your tests, you should aim for a score within or above the middle 50% if you plan to submit your scores.

Does Duke care about essays?

Yes, Duke cares a lot about essays. They’re one of the most important pieces of your application. They’re also one of the pieces over which you have the most control, so you should write them carefully. Not sure where to start? Check out our Duke supplemental essay guide. The Duke pool is extremely competitive, so it’s crucial to get these right.

What GPA do I need to get into Duke?

The Duke Common Data Set doesn’t provide any GPA data, but we do learn some information about average class rank. Among the first-year enrolled students who submitted a class rank, 80% were in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. A full 99% were in the top quarter. While we don’t know the correlated GPAs for sure, you can use this class rank information to assess where you fall in relation to your own peers.

Duke Acceptance Rate

Duke received 49,523 applications. They admitted 2,911, making the acceptance rate about 5.9%. That’s almost a Yale-level acceptance rate.

Duke Early Decision Acceptance Rate

Duke has an Early Decision application plan, where students can apply early and enter into a binding Early Decision Agreement.

Duke received 5,060 ED applications. Of those, 828 students were admitted. That’s an ED acceptance rate of about 16.4%, about 10.5% higher than the RD/EA acceptance rate.

What’s the right application option for you?

The right application option depends on your application strength, personal preferences, and application strategy. If Duke is your top choice and you have an application that stacks up to the evaluation criteria, then you might consider applying ED—just remember the binding nature of the agreement. To learn more about ED strategy, read our Early Decision post.

Most popular majors at Duke

The Duke Common Data Set reports how many students earned a degree in a particular field. From this data, we can get a sense of what the most popular Duke majors are.

As you can see, Duke is a popular school for engineering and social sciences. Biological and life sciences also accounted for over 15% of degrees awarded. Among the top ten are also majors like computer science, psychology, and history. Interestingly, Duke is one of the few institutions with an education major in the top 10.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Engineering 18.6
Social Sciences 16.98
Biological/Life Sciences 15.31
Computer and information systems 12.38
Public administration and social services 10.53
Psychology 5.94
Mathematics and statistics 4.68
Interdiscplinary studies 2.74
Education 2.27
History 1.62

Building your school list can be daunting, especially when you factor in major-specific considerations. Applying to engineering at Duke, for example, would mean applying to a very popular and well-recognized engineering program. But there’s also a downside: more popular = more applicants = more competitive. Applying to competitive majors isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it’s something to keep in mind.

What should you do with all this information?

Duke may seem like a safer bet than schools in the Ivy League, but it’s anything but. With an admit rate of 5.9%, Duke is more selective than Cornell’s 8.7%. So your application strategy to Duke should reflect that level of selectivity. When applying to any school with a sub-10% acceptance rate, you’ll need to excel in every area Duke ranks “very important”: GPA, rigor, test scores, essays, recommendations, extracurriculars, talent, and character.

Choosing the right application plan, ensuring your personal statistics hold up, and finding the right major to identify with are all important steps in the process, too.

When it comes to highly selective (or highly rejective) admissions, you should expect that the vast majority of applicants will be just as qualified as you are. If your qualifications are in line with the other tens of thousands of applicants, then what gets you admitted? That’s where your essays come in.

Sure, extracurriculars can demonstrate your talents and recommendations can speak to your character. But your essays are the one place where you get to create your personal narrative for Duke admissions officers. With that in mind, check out our How to Get into Duke guide next.

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