background image

How to Answer the Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

NOV 10, 2019 • 10 min read

Applying to Duke University?

With acceptance rates dropping to an all time low this year of 7.9%, making it nearly as competitive as the Ivy League, making a lasting impact on admissions officers with your supplemental essays.

Discover the creative ways you can answer this year’s supplemental essay prompts for Duke University, with tips and techniques from our expert essay mentors. With Crimson, increase your chances of gaining admission by 4 times!

Read how Class of 2023, Duke University admit, Allie, tackled the daunting personal statement and wowed admissions officers!

If you would like your essay reviewed by an expert so you can feel confident when submitting your college application, get your essay reviewed by Crimson.


Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Universities such as Duke.

Pratt School of Engineering: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (250 words maximum)


Trinity College of Arts & Sciences: If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (250 words maximum)

The first step here is to identify your strongest passions – experiences, hobbies, interests, academic pursuits, anything you consider relevant to you and integral to your personal and academic development . Then, you'll need to learn about the school and identify an aspect - a program, professor, research, community, etc. - that is unique to that school and relates to one of your passions. Lastly, you'll need to clearly draw the connection between the two and convince the reader that attending the school will contribute to your growth, and to the Duke community as a whole.

When it comes to identifying one's passions, I suggest starting with reflection. Why am I? What led to me being this person? What is important to me, and why? If having difficulty with this, it's always helpful to ask someone who knows you well what they think is important to you. You may realize something was far more important than you'd ever noticed, or you may realize that something currently appears more important than you want it to be. Either way, I suggest starting with reflection and then consulting other people. It's also important to choose a passion you can support with evidence: an activity, event, project etc. That way you can point to it and claim "I did this, which clearly demonstrates the degree of passion I have for (insert passion)." While there's nothing wrong with conjecturing about a potential new passion, it's simply less convincing to the school that you'll actually be able to realize your ideas.

Next comes researching the school; the most obvious resource is Duke's website. On Duke's website, you'll be able to find plenty of information about majors, academic programs, social life, clubs, and more. Prior to picking a topic to tie to your passion, however, you'll want to understand Duke's values. Under the "Educational Philosophy" tab, you'll find that Duke indicates "Self-defined Academic Pursuits," "Interdisciplinary Education," "Civic and Global Engagement," and "Undergraduate Research" as key principles of its educational philosophy. It may be beneficial to choose an aspect of Duke that resonates with you and tie that to your previously stated passions/interests.

Be concrete with your writing. It's okay to make claims regarding goals and general changes, but be sure to include concrete changes you'd make. What events would you like to run? Which competition would you want to compete in? Which types of students would you want to connect with? Duke wants to accept students who are excitedly hoping for the opportunity to effect the change they've already thought about and committed to.

Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specialising in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities find out about our admissions support program.

Learn How Allie Gained Admission to Duke

Optional Supplement: 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 to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. 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 gender identity and sexual orientation. If you would like to share with us more about either, and have not done so elsewhere in the application, we invite you to do so here.

As evidenced by this prompt, Duke values diversity and the humanness of its students. Readers should finish your essay and feel like they better understand you and your community. For this reason, be sure to write in your own voice. Obviously, make sure it is grammatically correct and appropriate, but if you have a strong sense of humor, show it here. If you are a literature-nerd, include quotations from your favorite books. The point is, aside from content, the reader can learn a lot about you just from the way you write.

I highly recommend thinking first and foremost about life experiences that are most meaningful, not what is most impressive. Again, this essay exists to help convey your personality to an application reader. If you choose a topic you're not passionate about, it will undoubtedly show. The most reliable way to identify ideal topics is reflection. Start by identifying an experience or relationship that is important to you. Don’t think too hard about it, just what first comes to mind. Who is the most important person in your life? Why? When was the last time you felt pure contentment and joy? Was it because of a situation, a landscape, a food, a person? What about that experience made you feel whole? Then, try to identify your core values. For example, if the first thing that comes to your mind is playing checkers at Christmas with your cousin, you may strongly value family, connection, tradition. Or perhaps you and your cousin have a special relationship where you joke around and poke fun at each other; in that case, you value not taking life to seriously.

The idea is to get a better understanding of who you are at your core and what makes you tick. Once you get a better handle on that, be sure to convey this somewhere in your essay.

Lastly, remind Duke that both you and Duke will benefit from your engagement in their community. Take a couple sentences to indicate your excitement to continue your personal development and your ability to engage with the community around you.

Crimson’s holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essay, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and more.

background image

Want to be a top applicant at Duke?

Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to a university like Duke.