duke supplemental essays

Duke Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

Lauded for its academic excellence, Duke University is one of the most elite universities in the nation. If you want to stand out in the admissions process, the Duke supplemental essays are critical. But, before we dive into the Duke supplemental essay, let’s learn a little more about Duke University and its popularity. 

Ranking as #10 by U.S. News, national college rankings consistently affirm Duke’s prestige. Duke’s mission is to “provide a superior liberal education” to students who display “character, determination, and application.” This top university aims to not only educate its students, but also to instill ethical and moral integrity in order to create future leaders in various fields. 

If you’re set on attending Duke University, then first things first: let’s tackle writing each Duke essay. 

Duke Supplemental Essay: Quick Facts

  • Duke University acceptance rate: 6%—U.S. News ranks Duke as a most selective school.
  • Requirements for the Duke supplemental essays:
    • 1 essay (250 words)
    • 2 optional essays (250 words)
  • Duke University application note: Students may apply to Duke via the Common Application, Coalition Application, or QuestBridge Application. Be sure that you have all of the Duke requirements completed by the deadline. You can check the status of your Duke application after submitting all materials via the Duke portal
  • Duke supplemental essays #1 tip: We recommend giving yourself plenty of time to answer each Duke essay thoughtfully and thoroughly to maximize your admissions odds.

How many essays are required for Duke?

There is only one school-specific Duke essay on the 2022-2023 Common App. Students can also choose two of four additional Duke University essay prompts to answer. However, these two additional Duke supplemental essays are optional. 

However, you should plan to complete the two “optional” essays. With the Duke acceptance rate so low, well written essays can help your Duke application stand out to admissions. 

Students applying to Duke must also answer one of the Common App essay prompts

The Common App personal essay and each Duke essay are vital parts of the Duke requirements. However, there is much more involved in a successful “how to get into Duke” plan than just well-written essays. Check out our guide in order to make your application stand out to Duke admissions. 

What are the Duke supplemental essay prompts?

In addition to the Common App personal essay, students have to respond to the Duke supplemental essays. There is only one required Duke essay. However, students should plan to answer the optional Duke supplemental essays as well in order to stand out.

So, then, what exactly are the Duke supplemental essays? The only required Duke essay is a why school essay. Here’s the why Duke essay question:  

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)

Before delving into just how to answer the why Duke essay, let’s look at the four other additional—and optional—Duke supplemental essays. Applicants can choose two of these prompts to answer. 

Similar to the required why Duke essay, each of these Duke supplemental essays has a 250 word limit. 

Optional Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts

1. 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.

2. 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?

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

4. 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.

You can find the Common App essay requirements for Duke here. Or, check out the different Duke supplemental essays listed directly on the Duke website

Should I answer the optional Duke essay prompt?

duke supplemental essays

As you approach the Duke supplemental essays, you’ll notice that some are listed as optional. We encourage students to answer all of the Duke supplemental essays. However, choosing two that resonate with you to respond to, is extremely important as they can bolster your application narrative

In general, we recommend that all students respond to the first of the “optional” Duke supplemental essays, which asks about identity and background. The next two are also good options to respond to: how you deal with disagreements and your most meaningful academic experience. The final Duke essay, however, is a bit more complicated, as it relates directly to gender identity and sexual orientation.

Focus on the essays that interest you

Now, if your gender and sexuality are important to your identity, you can discuss them in this Duke essay. Also, you can use the last of the Duke supplemental essays to discuss allyship and community care in relation to marginalized genders. However, whatever you discuss, speak from your personal experience. And, of course, you should avoid any prejudice or bigotry. We’ll detail these nuances more later in this guide.

Overall, every part of your college applications matter. The Duke supplemental essays are no exception. You should use every space Duke gives you to tell the admissions committee who you are—but only if it’s appropriate to your identity and experiences. That’s why choosing the correct two Duke supplemental essays to complete is extremely important.

Aim for two additional essays

You should plan to write two additional, while technically optional, Duke supplemental essays. Be sure to choose the prompts that you can answer authentically, passionately, and comprehensively. Be as honest and thoughtful as you can when writing your Duke supplemental essays. 

If you need some inspiration on how to write a college essay, check out some college essays that worked to see what universities’ admissions committees like to see. 

Why Duke Essay

If you’ve written any other university application essays, then you’re probably familiar with the why school essay. Duke’s only required supplemental essay is a why Duke essay. Basically, you need to show admissions not only what unique features draw you to Duke, but also why you’re suited to be a part of the Duke community. 

“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)”

Unlike the other Duke supplemental essays, the why Duke essay is required for all students. This Duke essay is the classic “Why School” prompt, and you should take it seriously if you hope to gain admission.

Accepted Duke essays will show the admissions team why you belong at Duke. They should also show that you’ve done your research and that, if admitted, you would be excited to attend Duke.

This why Duke essay also gives you the chance to show off your research skills. Go to Duke’s website and look around for interesting extracurriculars, exciting classes, or engaging professors. If you’ve already visited the campus, now is the time to think about highlights—conversations that you’ve had, places that you saw that made a positive impression. Think about what truly interests you about Duke, and find one to three specific things to discuss that align with your candidate profile.

Be specific!

Additionally, don’t be afraid to mix specific details with broader statements about Duke’s offerings and campus culture in this why Duke essay. However, if you go this route, be careful not to over-generalize. 

For example, successful Duke essay examples might discuss how Duke is one of the foremost research institutions in the nation. However, you should also be clear about why you would like to attend Duke over a similarly prestigious school. After all, your readers don’t want to hear that you’re applying primarily due to prestige.

Make sure your why Duke essay remains true to you. For instance, don’t make up a desire to write for The Chronicle if you have no interest in journalism. Instead, discuss specific classes, clubs, and cultures that make Duke right for you based on your passions and aspirations. 

For example, you could specifically speak about how the liberal arts education at Duke appeals to you by mentioning study options only found at Trinity College at Duke. Or, get even more specific if you know your intended major. For example, if you know you want to pursue engineering, then mention offerings only found at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke. 

Duke Supplemental Essays Reflection Questions:

  • Do I know why I’m interested in Duke specifically?
  • Does my essay honestly and earnestly express that interest?
  • Where possible, have I talked about concrete and specific offerings Duke provides that I’m interested in?
  • Have I described how I hope to connect to Duke’s community?

How do you write a Duke essay?

Writing successful Duke supplemental essays will take time and planning. Accepted Duke essays will not only meet the requirements but will also show your passion for Duke. When answering the why Duke essay, make sure that you are specific about what draws you to Duke in particular. This isn’t the time to be vague and generic. Instead, you’ll need to mention Duke-specific programs. However, don’t forget to show why you’re a perfect fit for Duke, too!

The most important part of responding to the optional Duke supplemental essays is choosing topics that you can write about eloquently yet passionately. You’ll want to think of these two optional Duke supplemental essays as required. 

This year’s prompts give applicants a perfect opportunity to enhance their application narrative with two additional and meaningful Duke supplemental essays. Just make sure to choose the prompts that resonate most with you.

There are many resources available to help with college essay writing. While it’s great to read successful essays, keep in mind that there is no cookie cutter perfect essay. They all vary greatly. Just remember to be yourself and stick to the requirements. 

Duke Supplemental Essays- Optional Essays

Responding to the Duke supplemental essays doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task. In fact, the earlier you start planning, the easier it will be to write your Duke essays. As you research colleges and write other essays, keep the Duke essay prompts at the back of your mind. 

The Duke supplemental essays 2022-2023 are on the Common App site. You can also visit the main Duke site for a full list of application requirements.

Begin by outlining each Duke essay prompt. First, take a look at the word counts for the Duke supplemental essays. Use them to dictate the structure of your response. You’ll want to answer the prompt in the first sentence and then expand. For the longer, Common App or Coalition App essay, you can open with a related anecdote and add more description.

Remember your word counts

Since all of the Duke supplemental essays have a 250 word limit, you’ll want to make your responses as concise as possible. However, this doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself as you brainstorm and draft. 

Try this exercise: for each prompt, start a timer and free-write for ten minutes, paying no attention to the word count. Though you may not use all (or any!) of the content you generate, these free-writes can help you find engaging topics for your final Duke supplemental essays.

To read more on reflection exercises and choosing a great essay topic, check out our blog article.

Once you have drafts of your Duke supplemental essays, it’s time to revise. Remember, given the short word counts on each of the Duke supplemental essays, every word matters. 

Eliminate any filler text—every word should help admissions officers understand new details about who you are and why you should attend Duke. You might also ask trusted counselors, family members, or teachers to take a look at your Duke supplemental essays to see how they read to an outsider. This will help you write the strongest essays possible.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of the optional Duke supplemental essays.

Duke essay- “Diversity” essay

Another favorite type of essay when it comes to college essays, the “diversity essay” makes an appearance on Duke’s optional supplemental essay prompts list. 

“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.”

Every student has a story. In this optional prompt, the admissions team wants to learn yours.

This essay gives you the chance to talk about your identity and culture, whatever that might mean to you. Maybe you’re a first-generation college student whose family background strongly influenced your desire to apply to college. Or, maybe you’re an international student from Russia interested in expanding your understanding of the world by attending Duke. Whoever you are, this Duke essay is your chance to express your full self to your readers—in 250 words or less, at least.

To begin this Duke essay, consider the key parts of your identity and heritage. This can manifest in your culture, values, or experiences. This prompt asks you to discuss a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had; essentially, your readers want to know what makes you you. Moreover, they also want to see how your identity will help shape the community at Duke. Successful Duke essay examples will fulfill both of these requirements.


Begin brainstorming for your Duke essay by writing down 3-5 characteristics or experiences that shape you as a person. Set a timer and write for ten minutes about each of them. Which one feels most natural to write about? That’s your essay.

With only 250 words on each of the optional Duke supplemental essays, you don’t have much space. Stick to one primary characteristic, experience, or value. Then, use it to discuss how you relate to the world around you. Be as concrete as possible, referencing specific ways in which your identity will influence your interactions with the Duke community.

Reflection Questions for your Duke Supplemental Essays:

  • Do I communicate clearly what’s most important to me about my identity?
  • Do I tell my story authentically?
  • Have I shown how I use my unique experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds to engage with those around me?
  • Do I reference specific ways in which my identity or experience will influence my contributions to the Duke community?

Duke essay- Difficult conversations

This next optional essay prompt focuses on how you deal with differing opinions and tricky conversations. Alternatively, you may also choose to highlight someone you agree with on big topics.

“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?”

Duke University promotes a respectful learning environment of people from different backgrounds. They understand that it’s not only important to connect to people who you see eye-to-eye with, but to those with different perspectives and opinions than your own. 

If you respond to this prompt, be specific about the person and the topic that you choose to highlight. Whether you choose to focus on an agreement or disagreement, this essay should show how you shine as an empathetic listener and/or speaker. After all, change usually comes from hard conversations. So, feel free to emphasize a moment where you shifted your perspective or the person who you were speaking with did. If you choose a moment of agreement, make sure that your beliefs and values on big topics come through. 

Duke Supplemental Essays Reflection Questions: 

  • Did I focus on a meaningful agreement or disagreement?
  • Were my beliefs and values clearly displayed?
  • Did I show growth or understanding from the agreement or disagreement that I focused on?
  • Does my essay highlight my personal approach to hard conversations clearly?

Duke essay – Best academic experience

duke supplemental essays

Duke admissions looks for students who excel academically. With such a low acceptance rate, the admissions team only selects the most academically motivated and intellectually curious applicants. So, it makes sense that one optional Duke essay prompt focuses on a meaningful academic experience. 

“What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?”

The key to successfully responding to this optional essay prompt is showing academic passion. Avoid the urge to simply highlight academic excellence; you’ll need to do more than just mention a paper that you got an A+ on. 

For example, did you discover your passion for buying locally while writing a paper on mass manufacturing? Did it lead you to more research and a shift in lifestyle? Or, maybe you study Italian and went on a trip to Italy, where you could practice the language while discovering the culture. Show how the experience sparked your interest in linguistics or European studies. 

Basically, it’s not the academic moment you mention that particularly matters—it’s the impact that it’s had on you. You’ll need to show how the experience impacted or expanded your academic world. 

Reflection Questions for your Duke Essay:

  • Did I highlight a recent academic experience (within the last two years)?
  • Do I show how it fed or ignited an intellectual curiosity?
  • Am I specific when explaining the experience?
  • Is my passion for learning evident? 

Duke essay – Gender & sexuality

The final of the optional Duke supplemental essays asks you to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression insofar as it relates to your background and identity. For trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQ+ students, this Duke essay can offer a chance to share an important part of yourself with your application readers.

“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.”

If you are not comfortable discussing this element of your identity with the admissions committee, you do not need to complete this Duke essay. You also do not need to disclose your gender or sexuality to Duke admissions, whether you’re proudly out as trans or if you’re only starting to question your identity. However, if your sexual orientation or gender identity forms an important part of the story you want to tell, this Duke essay may be for you.

Defining “allyship”

Additionally, if you’re not LGBTQ+ but have personal experience related to allyship, you might use this opportunity to discuss how LGBTQ+ issues inform your own self-perception. This can be particularly useful if you’re the child of a same-sex couple or have family or close friends who have faced marginalization due to who they are or who they love. 

However, you should only speak from your own experience. Do not co-opt the stories of others, and don’t feel obligated to submit a half-baked response to this Duke essay just to affirm your ally status. If your response to this Duke University essay does not ultimately relate to your own background and identity, it may be best to exclude it. Just because you care about the issues in and around the LGBTQ+ community does not mean that you need to write about them in your Duke supplemental essays.

If you choose to complete this essay, start by thinking about exactly how you want to present your identity. What language and labels do you want to use? What method of expressing yourself feels most comfortable and appropriate?

How to structure your response

With only 250 words, the Duke supplemental essays offer you little space to expand on the nuances of your identity. Accordingly, don’t feel pressured to make this Duke essay fit a narrative structure. State who you are, why it matters, and how your set of identities influence your daily life. You should also use this Duke essay to discuss how your identity will inform who you are on Duke’s campus.

Finally, it’s not always easy to talk about these parts of your identity! As you complete this Duke University essay, don’t feel pressured to dig into parts of your life that are traumatic or overly personal. Present who you are proudly and on your own terms. Preserving your boundaries as you answer the Duke essay prompts will ease your stress as well as that of the admissions team. 

Duke Supplemental Essays Reflection Questions:

  • Does my essay communicate my identity clearly?
  • Do I describe how my identity affects my life in concrete terms?
  • Am I comfortable with the level of openness and vulnerability that I’ve expressed?
  • Do I tell my own story?
  • Have I expressed myself on my own terms?

How do I answer a Duke essay?

Above all else, your Duke essays should be honest. The Duke supplemental essays are designed to help admissions officers learn who you are as a person beyond your grades and test scores. Your essays, therefore, should reveal what makes you unique.

Many of the Duke supplemental essays focus on your identity. Your Duke supplemental essays should reflect the reality of this identity in all of its complexities. Be authentic, be yourself, and use your Duke essays to explain who you are as a person rather than just as a student.

What does Duke look for in essays?

duke supplemental essays

Above all, your Duke essays should make admissions officers say, “I want to meet this student.” They should be authentic to your identity and experiences, and they should convey how valuable you will be as a member of the Duke community. Successful Duke supplemental essays should reveal what makes you unique.

On a pragmatic level, your Duke essays should show your writing and communication skills. The best Duke essays will use powerful language, tone, and diction to tell a story that only you can tell. In your Duke supplemental essays, try to use your writing chops to accurately and engagingly represent your identity. And of course, your Duke essays should be free from any spelling or grammatical errors.

Use this guide

We have provided the prompts for the Duke supplemental essays 2022-2023 in this guide. Use our breakdown of how to approach each of the Duke supplemental essays in order to craft your best essays and, subsequently, add meaning to your application narrative.

Keep in mind that while it’s vital to impress admissions, college fit needs to work both ways. So, before obsessing about getting into Duke, make sure you do your research on things like tuition costs, campus life, financial aid, and academic offerings. 

You can also check out this webinar to learn more about all things Duke related from admissions experts, Duke alumni, and current Duke students. 

Five Tips for Writing your Duke Supplemental Essays

Writing your Duke supplemental essays doesn’t need to be an overwhelming experience. Check out these final tips as you approach the Duke essay prompts:

Tips for Duke Supplemental Essays

#1- Start early

Duke has a few admissions options. Your application may be due in November or January. Begin gathering your application materials early—at least 5 or 6 months in advance. You should write your first Duke essay drafts the summer before you apply. You can also add to your application with college application letters. So, give yourself plenty of time to create the most competitive application and essays possible. 

#2- Stay organized

Writing the best essays and crafting an application narrative that beats the low Duke acceptance rate will require planning and organization. Create an essay checklist for each prompt. Review your initial draft against the checklist: do you answer every part of the prompt? Are your answers authentic to who you are? Do your Duke essays tell a story?

#3- Find an extra pair of eyes

It’s always good to have a second (and sometimes third) set of eyes reading your Duke supplemental essays for grammatical errors, as well as clarity and tone. However, when applying any feedback, keep in mind your personal writing style. The Duke supplemental essays should be an extension of you—not anyone else. 

#4- Write passionately

Be sure to not only meet all of the Duke requirements for the Duke supplemental essays, such as fully answering the prompt within the 250 word limit, but to also do it with passion. That means being authentic and showing your true self. Get excited about the opportunity to study at this elite university—and channel it into some stellar writing. 

#5- Be specific

You want to be specific in the way you answer each of the Duke supplemental essays. However, be especially sure that when taking on the required why Duke essay, you do your research and reference specific programs, faculty, or opportunities only found at Duke. 

Need a little more inspiration for your Duke supplemental essays? Check out this video from a few years ago, when a Duke student asked her fellow sophomores, “Why Duke?” The answers may surprise you, and/or help you think about how to approach the why Duke essay beyond the obvious answers.

Duke Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts

Completing the Duke supplemental essays can seem daunting. But, keep in mind that there are many resources to guide you in how to write a college essay. So, rather than getting overwhelmed, think about the Duke essays as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions team. A well-written set of Duke supplemental essays can work in your favor.

So if you’re dreaming about an acceptance letter from Duke so that you can focus on college enrollment and how to pay for Duke, use this guide to help you approach each Duke application essay with a solid strategy. Then, build a timeline that gives you a few months to draft and revise each of your answers. 

If you’re still at a loss for where to get started, check out some more examples of college essays to see what works. But, remember that successful Duke supplemental essays will vary greatly from student to student. So, your Duke supplemental essays need to represent you. Refer to this guide or get help from one of our expert advisors along the way in order to write your best Duke supplemental essays. Good luck!