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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: November 1st, 2023
How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts

When applying to a school as selective asDuke University with a 6% acceptance rate, the supplemental essay portion is key to making your mark. There is sure to be a sea of stellar applicants with impressive transcripts and extensive extracurricular involvement. Standing out on the Duke supplemental essays relies on telling your story in a compelling way. 

It is helpful to break each prompt into pieces and identify the points you hope to address. Proper planning helps keep your responses clear, concise, and example-driven. Below, we give you more tips on how to tackle each prompt. We also provide thought starters for incorporating anecdotes from your own experiences.  

Also see: How to choose a college

Required Essay

Prompt #1

“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)”

For this essay, it will be important for you to do a little bit of research about Duke as a school and a community, and to make a list of the things that you like the most. Then, make a list of the things that you are looking for in a school unrelated to Duke. Look at both lists together, and make the connection between the two. 

A 250 word limit is the perfect number of words for this type of question. This would be a good question to dive into specific things that draw you into Duke University– mentioning things that you are looking for in a school that maybe only Duke has.  

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Questions to consider: 

  • What professors are you looking forward to working with?
  • What research opportunities does Duke offer that you are interested in?
  • What draws you in about the community at Duke?

Optional Essays

Although these essays are optional, we always encourage students to write them anyway so that the university is able to see who you are at a deeper level. If you have the same academic statistics as another student and the admissions professionals are trying to decide between the two of you, it could come down to the essays and which student they know more about. Help them get to know you better!

Each of these essays should be a maximum of 250 words, and there is no minimum. However, it would be a good idea to write at least 150 words so that the admissions committee has enough writing to get to know you. You may choose to write a maximum of two prompts to write essays for.

Prompt #1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community

This is a question that you may be asked quite a bit on college supplemental essay prompts, just worded in different ways. Think about an experience that you did not write about on your application that makes you unique compared to other applicants. They are looking for something personal, honest, and open, so take a deep look into your life to see if there is anything that you feel comfortable sharing with them. 

Once you have figured out what experience you want to share, it may help to free write in a stream-of-consciousness type of way to help you get your thoughts flowing. After that, you can always go back and edit for length and clarity. If you don’t feel comfortable writing about a personal experience, that is okay! That is one of the reasons why this prompt is optional. 

Questions to consider:

  • What type of person do you consider yourself to be?
  • What experiences have shaped you?
  • How have you been influenced by the experiences in your life?

Also see: How to respond to the Common App essay prompts

Prompt #2

“Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating.”

This is another one of those questions where you want to look deeper than the surface. It is important to not just re-word what you already wrote on your application or what your transcript already revealed. It also may be helpful to think about something more than just the classes that you took. Did you go on a field trip that made you passionate about what you wanted to study after high school? Maybe you had a career fair at school that shifted your mind academically. These are all great things to think about before you start writing this essay.

This type of essay tells the admissions professionals a great deal about who you are as a student, so this would be an important essay to write if you had to pick one of the optional ones. 

Questions to consider: 

  • What was your favorite class in high school?
  • What about that class made it special?
  • Did you have a specific teacher that made you decide what major you wanted to go into?

Prompt #3

“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?”

In college, often the beliefs that you held as a child or in high school tend to develop or change completely. They are asking you this to get a feel for what kind of person you are, and more specifically, what kind of student or team-player you are. Generally, colleges and universities want to find students who are willing to test the beliefs of themselves and others so that they can see more than just one side of a situation, whether that be academically, socially, or personally. 

This is a difficult question to answer because it is sometimes hard to admit that our beliefs are sometimes wrong, or to admit that we disagree with people often. This is an important question because they want to see your response to the challenge.  

Questions to consider: 

  • What is something that you and your friends often debate about?
  • Is there a topic that comes up at the dinner table a great deal that you end up having banter over?
  • What are you passionate about?

Prompt #4

Orientation, identity, expression Duke’s commitment to inclusion and belonging includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Feel free to share with us more about how your identity in this context has meaning for you as an individual or as a member of a community.

This prompt is great because it is generally something a regular college application cannot answer. This is the place where you can talk more about who you are as a person, what your personal identity is, and why that makes you you if you choose to do so. You can write as little as you’d like or go right up to the 250 word maximum– whatever makes you most comfortable.

Questions to consider: 

  • What type of person do you identify as?
  • How has your culture shaped who you are?
  • How will you use who you are to shape your college experience?

Prompt #5

“We recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you.”

This is another great opportunity to talk about things that you wouldn’t otherwise get to talk about. Take some time to think about any aspects of your life that you may have ever felt “different” in. Remember too that “different” does not mean bad. What are some ways that you have felt your differences have been to your advantage? 

Related: How to write a 500 word essay

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • “Show don’t tell” as much as you can through short story examples 
  • Do not shy away from injecting your personality and voice into your responses
  • Think of what makes you truly distinctive and has formed the person you are today for prompt #1
  • Take some time to read through the optional essay prompts and try to respond to at least one
  • Remember, the more you can share about yourself, the more you can set yourself apart as an applicant
Key Takeaways

Additional supplemental essay guides

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