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Duke: Home to One Unique Education

Duke: Home to One Unique Education

By Yanpeng Wang

After visiting four different schools on the same day, Mr. Christopher Briggs, Duke’s Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, rushed into the Northside conference room. Knowing full well that students were on a time crunch and that they had other things to do, Briggs got down to business and said, “Our time is always shorter than I think it will be, so I like to start at the end and let you ask questions...What I always find is that the questions that you ask are the ones that you want to know.” Perhaps Briggs’ straight-to-chase manner reveals a glimpse of the experience students will receive at Duke -- an education that focuses on their students and their experiences.

Duke University, a private institution located in Durham, North Carolina, is ranked as one of the top colleges in the U.S., comparable to several Ivy League schools. According to the U.S. News & World Report, Duke is currently tied with the University of Pennsylvania as the #8 best college in the country. Duke is well known for its emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, encouraging students to apply knowledge from a multitude of subjects to the activities they do. First-year students are offered the chance to take part in Duke’s FOCUS Program, where students attend a range of interrelated seminars bundled into what is known as clusters while incorporating a community aspect into the curriculum.


Duke also offers undergraduate students the Robertson Scholars Program: a four-year scholarship that pays for undergraduate tuition, room, and board, as well as most mandatory fees. Students have access to courses and extracurriculars held at both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, a neighboring university.

According to Briggs, about 25 to 40 incoming freshmen are admitted into the Robertson Scholars Program. The selectiveness of the program means that many students will not get the chance to experience some of the benefits of the program, such as paid tuition. However, not only does Duke meet 100% of students’ demonstrated need, but it also offer both merit and athletic-based scholarships. All applicants are automatically considered for merit scholarships and do not have to submit a separate application. More than 52% of students at Duke receive some form of financial aid.

Duke offers academic activities such as the HackDuke Competition for computer scientists, and the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program, a year long fellowship that allows students to create their own start-up. If students are looking to pursue a career in medicine, Briggs mentioned that Durham has one of the densest population of medical doctors in the world. Duke receives about $800 million worth of research funding annually, with much of it directed towards its medical center. Students can take advantage of the many research opportunities available at Duke, such as biological and nanoscience research. According to Briggs, “You can start to do research as early as your first year.”


Beyond the co-curricular activities, there are also extra-curricular  activities available to students. Students can expect to have school-wide concerts on the first and last days of school, as well as one in the spring, with notable artists like Lil Jon performing. Students can also show school spirit by attending athletic events throughout the year, including for the Duke men’s basketball team, one of the most successful college basketball programs in the nation. “A lot of events going on almost every hour of the day,” said Briggs.

For freshmen transitioning into college, life can be surprisingly difficult. When asked about the kind of help freshmen receive, Briggs spoke highly of Duke’s support system. First-year students are assigned an academic dean, then an academic advisor once they declare their major. Students can also partake in a program called FLUNCH -- short for faculty and lunch. During FLUNCH, Duke pays for its students to invite fellow faculty members to have lunch with them on campus, which allows students to build relationships with faculty members. Fun fact: Duke’s dining program was ranked 1st in the nation for “Best Colleges for Food in America” by Daily Meal two years in a row.

When applying to Duke, students can either apply through the Common or Coalition Applications. In addition to the required one-page personal essay, students are also required to write an essay about why they want to go to Duke. If they choose to do so, students can also answer one of the two optional essays prompts given by Duke. Duke requires either the ACT or SAT, as well as two optional (but strongly recommended) SAT subject tests. Briggs told the Northside students in the room, “[Test scores] matter more than you would like but not as much as they actually do.” What matters more, Briggs said, is who students are as people, shown through their extracurriculars and responsibilities. Ending the informational session, Briggs gave some words of wisdom to seniors who perhaps don’t end up getting accepted to their dream schools, “I don’t want students to feel like Duke is the only school that can fit their needs.” Harsh, yet realistic.


Basic Information:

  • Private Research University

  • Total Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,532 students

  • Female-Male Ratio: 51:49

  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 6:1

  • Tuition, Room and Board (not including books, personal expenses) : $68,298

  • Percentage of Financial Aid: 52%

  • Endowment: $7.9b (as of 2017)

  • Location: Durham, North Carolina (suburban)

  • Acceptance rate: 10%

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