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Last updated March 22, 2024

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How to Write the Duke Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

For your Duke application, you'll be writing two supplemental essays. You'll be required to write the first prompt, and you'll have a choice for your second. In this post, we walk through all the prompts and give you tips for responding to them.

Duke requires you to write one 250-word supplemental essay. You can also submit two optional essays.

Let’s get right into it.

How to write the required Duke supplemental essay prompt

What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you?  If there's something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (250 word limit)

This prompt asks for a mix of a “why us” and a community essay. With this combination of prompt types, your goal is to a) show genuine interest in and understanding of Duke and b) show that you are, indeed, a good match.

Before you start writing, we’ll break down the prompt into its central questions:

  1. What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community?
  2. Why do you consider it a good match for you?
  3. What in particular about its offerings attracts you?

Your essay should be specific and draw on particular examples from the Duke community and from your own life. You can answer the questions in the order they’re listed, or you can mix it up if that feels more natural.

Browse Duke’s website for specific details you can draw on. Don’t be afraid to look for community, institutional, and academic areas that interest you. You can even take a look at Duke’s motto and mission statement. You’re on the hunt for areas where your values or experiences match up with what Duke has to offer—that’s what we call “alignment.” Alignment signals to your admissions officers that you belong at Duke.

How to write the optional Duke supplemental essays

Duke’s admissions office emphasizes that the following essays are optional—you should submit them if you feel like they add value to your application. You’re allowed to respond to up to two of them.

Now, these are optional. But we recommend that you write at least one. Don’t write any old essay just to have it in your file, but do write essays that add explicit value to your application narrative.

Okay, that said, let’s dive in.

  1. Lived experiences: We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself.

A pretty standard diversity prompt. You might find this essay useful to write if there’s something significant about your lived experience that you haven’t been able to write about elsewhere in your application. You could write about an aspect of your identity, a particular part of your background or home context, or something related to how you see or experience the world. As always, if you’re writing about a challenging subject, remember to keep the majority of your focus on growth, hope, and positivity.

  1. Beliefs and values: We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?

You could take this prompt in a lot of different directions. Whatever topic you choose, make sure that your beliefs and values align with the beliefs and values that Duke holds as an institution. This essay is the perfect place to show good character fit and value alignment.

  1. Best academic experience: What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Here is the place for your academic interests to shine through. It might be a good one if you’ve had a particularly noteworthy academic experience. Or you might use it to describe a great relationship you have with a teacher or your favorite project you’ve ever worked on. If you’re not sure which other prompt to choose, an academic essay is almost always a safe bet.

  1. Orientation, identity, expression: Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you’d like to share with us more about your identity in this context, feel free to do so here.

And with this final prompt, we have another kind of diversity essay, but this one’s more specific. Duke doesn’t want you to feel obligated to share anything you’re not ready to share yet, but feel free to answer this essay prompt if you think it will help Duke admissions officers understand you better.

Want more information about Duke? Check out our How to Get into Duke guide or Duke Common Data Set post.



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