Duke University Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to Duke University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Mascot: Blue Devil

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 6,700 undergrads, 16,600 total

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About Duke University

Duke University was established in 1838 by Methodists and Quakers. The school has a strong academic tradition and beautiful architecture; students refer to their campus as the “Gothic Wonderland”. Duke Forest is one of the largest private research forests in North Carolina and among the largest in the nation. The forest is not only for research, many students use its more than 30 miles of trails for recreation.

Duke University Statistics

Year Founded: 1838

4 Year Graduation Rate: 86%

Gender Distribution: 50% male, 50% male

Acceptance Rate: 10%

Residency: 62% out of state, 21% international, 17% in state

Location Type: Suburban 

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 8:1

Average Class Size: 20

Demographics: 45% Caucasian, 34% Other or unknown, 14% Asian, 7% Black, 6% Hispanic

National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #8 Best Value Schools 
  • #10 National Universities
  • #17 Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • #20 Best Undergraduate Engineering Program
  • #26 Most Innovative Schools

Independent Rankings:

  • #1 Best College for Student Athletes in America per Niche
  • #4 College with Best Professors in America per Niche
  • #8 Best Employer for Diversity per Forbes
  • #9 Top Colleges per Forbes
  • #16 Best Value Colleges per Forbes
  • #19 Best Value Colleges per The Princeton Review
  • #20 Global Institutions per World University Rankings
  • #30 Graduate employability per Top Universities

Duke University Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 3rd
  • Transfer Deadline: March 15th

Notification Dates:

  • Early Action: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: April 1st

Acceptance Rates:

  • Early Action: 16%
  • Regular Decision: 8% 
  • Transfer: 7%

Average Applicant Pool: 33,100

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 3,300

Average Number Enrolled: 1,700

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 4.03 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th percentile – 1450, 75th percentile – 1570

ACT Scores: 25th percentile – 33, 75th percentile – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections optional but recommended.

Comprehensive Breakdown



Demonstrated Interest: Duke does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies:

  • The school requires 3 letters of recommendation. One from a counselor and two from teachers that taught in a major subject. If you are applying to Pratt School of Engineering be sure that one of the letters comes from a math or science teacher.
  • One additional personal letter is permitted from someone who knows you well and can give the committee a better idea of who you are.

Duke Essay Prompts for 2021:

    • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)
    • Short essay prompt: (200 words)
      • Please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you.  Is there something in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that attract you? 
    • Optional essay prompts: 
      • Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 words maximum)
      • Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. If you would like to share with us more about your identity, you can do so here, or use any previous essay prompt you feel is appropriate. (250 words maximum)

Duke University Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

  • If you have exceptional talent in dance, theater, art, music, photography or film/video/digital media, you may submit supplementary material to be evaluated by an appropriate faculty member. You may begin to submit artistic materials on February 15th.  All submissions are due by March 20th.
  • Alumni interviews are available on a very limited basis, and have a negligible impact on admissions.


  • The majority of transfer students are admitted as sophomores, although a few are admitted as juniors. Students need to have completed a full year of college before being able to transfer to Duke.
  • The student must apply using the Common or Coalition App.
  • Two letters of recommendation are required, one of which must be from a college-level instructor.
  • Standardized test scores must be submitted.
  • Students must complete the same supplemental essays as high school applicants.
  • Duke admits transfers students regardless of need, and meets 100% of demonstrated need for US citizens.

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Duke University Academics


Core Requirements:

Trinity Arts & Sciences: (Arts, Literatures, and Performance (2.0 Credits Required), Civilizations (2.0 Credits Required), Natural Sciences (2.0 Credits Required), Quantitative Studies (2.0 Credits Required), Social Sciences (2.0 Credits Required). 6 modes of inquiry: Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI) (2.0 Credits Required), Ethical Inquiry (EI) (2.0 Credits Required), Science, Technology, and Society (STS) (2.0 Credits Required), Foreign Language (FL) (1 to 3 Courses Required), Research (1 course required), Writing (W) (Writing 101 and 2.0 additional credits coded W required), First-Year Seminar Requirement (1 Course Required), Small Group Learning Experience Requirement (2.0 Credits Required), Major courses – (10 Courses Required).

Comprehensive Degree Core Requirements

Pratt School of Engineering: Writing – 1, Math – 5, Natural Science – 4, Humanities and Social Science – 5, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Digital Computation – 4, Engineering Department Courses – 15

Comprehensive Degree Requirement information

Courses of Study: 

  • Trinity Arts & Sciences: 53 Majors Offered
  • Pratt School of Engineering: 5 majors 
  • No more than two majors and a total of no more than three programs of study is permitted for graduation. 
  • Popular majors include Computer Science; Econometrics and Quantitative Economics; General Public Policy Analysis; General Biology/Biological Sciences; and General Psychology.
  • Trinity Arts & Sciences: 52 Minor Offered
  • Pratt School of Engineering: 25 Minors Offered
  • Course Catalog

AP Credit Policies:

Academic Strategy

Admissions Criteria: 

The factors Duke considers important for admissions are: course rigor, GPA, test scores, essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, talent, and character. In terms of academic preparation, high grades in challenging classes are key, as are high standardized test scores.

Other factors Duke considers in an application are: legacy status, first generation status, interviews, geographic origin, race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, demonstrated interest, and volunteer or work experience.

The way factors are weighted varies between Trinity College and the Pratt School. As these schools handle admissions separately, each has their own priorities. Trinity considers course rigor, GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations; each weighted the same. Pratt considers test scores, GPA, course rigor, extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations, with two-thirds of the overall weighting focused on academic preparation.

Interviews are not a guaranteed part of the admissions process, and students who are not granted one are invited to submit an additional letter of recommendation.

Recruited athletes are given a boost to their admissions chances, though they are still expected to be highly achieving academically. Around 5% of Duke’s students are recruited athletes.

What is Duke Looking For?

Duke, especially Trinity, is looking for passionate and dedicated students, who seek to make a genuine difference in the world. They read essays and extracurricular lists before examining grades and test scores and have a holistic approach to applications as a whole. Pratt is more focused on numbers when weighing the overall strength of an application, and stellar achievement there can make up for a lack elsewhere.

Both schools want specialists in terms of extracurricular involvement. Specializing shows a dedication and passion that Duke, much like all other top programs, looks for. Students should be the best at whatever they’re focusing on, or at least have high achievement. This will make their applications stand out more, and give them a stronger narrative to weave throughout.

For character, Duke wants students who are not just talented, but who want to apply their talents. They want students who enjoy learning for its own sake, not merely as a means to an end. Finally, they want to see authenticity, especially in the essays, rather than just bland statements that students believe they want to hear.

Duke has recently been promoting programs in the quantitative sciences, in both the Trinity and Pratt schools, and has hired a number of new faculty to support this venture. Students wishing to study quantitative sciences, especially in an interdisciplinary fashion, should make a note of this in their application essays.

Duke Strategy:

The easiest way to improve your chances of admission to Duke is to apply ED. Close to a third of Duke’s class is admitted early, and the pool is far smaller, and the admission rate much higher, than applying Regular Decision. If you know that Duke is your first-choice school, you should definitely apply early.

Next, you should determine the strengths of your application, and see which of Duke’s two schools would suit you better. If you have incredibly strong academics and a weaker “hook” through extracurriculars or essays, the Pratt School is likely a better choice. If you have some weaknesses academically but have very strong extracurriculars and a compelling narrative you should focus on Trinity College instead.

Duke’s yield rate is middling, and their appreciation for certainty is clear from their ED admit rates. While demonstrating interest will not guarantee admittance, it will give you a slight edge against comparable candidates. Here too the essays are important, especially the first, mandatory, prompt; which asks why Duke is a good fit for you. Take time and care answering this, and explain why you are a good fit for Duke, and how you specifically would benefit from the programs and opportunities they offer.

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

Research Availability:

Duke Undergraduate Research Society provides opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

Pre-Med Options:

  • Duke offers a top 10 pre-med school where 85% of their undergraduate students get into a medical school.
  • Duke pre-med undergraduate advising helps students plan out their courses and advises them on what to take when they are considering medical school, but have not officially decided and everything between those two goals to help students feel confident in their course load and their goals.
  • Opportunities for Pre-med Students

Pre-Law Options:

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

  • Focus Program is offered to incoming freshmen where they explore 15 interdisciplinary clusters. Its purpose is to expose your intellect and allow you to broaden your knowledge in order to help figure out what matters to you.
  • Duke Certificates are another option for students. Different from minors they require 6 classes instead of 5 and give students the opportunity to focus on multiple disciplines and departments instead of focusing on a specified discipline.
  • Duke Engage

Programs for High Schoolers:

  • Summer Session at Duke allows high school students in grades 10-12 to take 4-week immersive courses on Duke’s campus
  • TIP Scholar Weekends The Talent Identification Program(TIP), is for academically talented students in grades 8-11 to attend weekend-long programs featuring short courses.
  • Duke Youth Programs are two-week summer programs for students in high school to explore various short form intensive courses of study and investigation.
  • Summer Training in Academic Research (STAR) Program is an 8-week program for undergraduates and high schoolers to expose them to hands-on science and medical research techniques and methodologies.

Need assistance with the college admissions process?

Student Life at Duke University

School Motto: Knowledge and Faith

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: ‘provide real leadership in the educational world’ by choosing individuals of ‘outstanding character, ability, and vision’ to serve as its officers, trustees and faculty; by carefully selecting students of ‘character, determination and application;’ and by pursuing those areas of teaching and scholarship that would ‘most help to develop our resources, increase our wisdom, and promote human happiness.’
  • Values: Excellence, Integrity, Teamwork, Respect, Innovation
  • Additional Information
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Grad Reports)

Duke’s Residential College System:

Duke’s residential life nurtures learning, living, and friendship through programming. With most students living on campus the entire time at Duke, the housing experience can impact students long after they graduate.

Housing Statistics:

  • 99% of freshmen live on campus
  • Students are required to live on campus the first three years if housing is available. 
  • 85% of undergraduates live in on-campus housing for the entirety of their stay.

Campus & Surrounding Area:  

  • Duke’s 8600 acres gives plenty of space for students to roam including an open lawn, residence halls, research labs, tennis courts, dining halls, cafes, convenience stores, library, theatre, and a gym; so students have everything they need at their fingertips. Freshman live on the east campus and are only a short bus trip to the west and or into downtown Durham where there are many restaurants, bars and shops. The area is also known for a flourishing art scene. Points of interest include Duke’s gardens, the Campus Farm, the Tower Climb, Duke Forest, picnicking and other outdoor activities.
  • Schedule a Visit and/or take a Virtual tour.
  • Safety and how Duke handles safety.



  • Krzyzewskiville Duke/Carolina rivalry where students put up tents ahead of the big basketball game annually that sells all 9 thousands seats out.  
  • Burning the benches is not a literal event at the Cameron Indoor stadium anymore. Now when Duke beats UNC they instead build a bonfire and celebrate in a much safer way. 
  • Cameron Crazies is the basketball student section and can be seen doing pranks, painting their bodies blue and white, dressing crazy among other shenanigans.
  • Unofficial requirements to graduate include Climbing Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus, exploring the underground tunnels on east campus, and driving backwards around the circle that connects Chapel drive to Campus drive. 

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life:

More than one third of students participate in greek life. Students rush fraternities and sororities and after three rounds will receive their invites to those that want them to join. The Interfraternity Council oversees 15 fraternities, the Multicultural Greek Council handles multicultural fraternities and sororities. The National Pan-Hellenic Council oversees eight traditionally African American fraternities and sororities, and Panhellenic Association handles 10 sororities at the University.


  • Wednesday nights start the weekend for any student that wants it to. Shooters Saloon is a popular spot, but other bars are also popular on other nights on the strip near east campus. 
  • Friday nights have greek parties as an option.
  • Duke also offers artistic performances and opportunities to hang out with friends, 
  • The Devils After Dark first-year-residential-experience creates events every weekend for freshmen as a non-alcoholic option such as Midnight Breakfast (fall and spring), Night with the Hypnotist, and Spring Carnival.
  • Disney sing-along marathons are put on about once a month.

Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $81,382
  • Tuition: $60,488
  • Room & Board: $17,484
  • Books, Supplies, & Personal expenses: $3,410

Financial Aid and Student Loan Information:

Duke does not match other offers. The majority of assistance offered is need based grants and scholarships. Endowments pay for most of this type of aid and students are not required to pay them back. Loans and work-study are also determined by the family’s earnings.

Undergraduate Applicants Financial Aid & Student Loan Information


Duke offers several prestigious full ride merit based scholarships. Students’ aid does not change based on outside scholarships they receive. 

Merit Scholarship Programs

Fun Facts

  • In 2012, the first “Invisibility Cloak” was made by Duke researchers who found a way to hide a tiny object from all wavelengths of light that a human eye can see.
  • Other than in Madagascar, Duke Lemur Center is the biggest and most diverse collection of Lemurs in the world. The center contains more than 240 species of lemurs. The center conducts research, preservation, and visitation; tours are offered year-round.
  • Familiar foes: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim share similar records of nearly 40 seasons and one thousand wins. The two both also achieved three gold medals, putting aside their rivalry and coaching the U.S. Men’s Basketball team together in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
  • The tobacco road rivalry is called that for the three main schools of UNC, Duke and NC State all  within 10 miles of one another in North Carolina which is the nation’s leading tobacco producer. 
  • Duke traces its founding to tobacco money. Yet, smoking isn’t permitted within 10 feet of any residential buildings, dining halls and medical centers. 
  • Duke Weddings are almost as popular as their basketball games. To get married in Duke’s iconic Chapel is as hard as getting a ticket to the UNC/Duke basketball game.
  • The Old Trinity Club is the most visible Secret Society on campus. Floating around campus you may see someone wearing black graduation gown and sunglasses during the year. They will be holding their hands up in the air and shouting out, “Eruditio et Religio,” Latin for Duke’s motto: “Erudition and Religion.” You can be sure this isn’t a random act, it will be that of a secret society member.
Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

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