If Duke University’s location in Durham, North Carolina, conjures up images of a staid
institution in a lethargic southern town, a closer examination of the institution will change those
impressions. Set in the middle of the state, this 8,000-acre campus exudes the energy and
entrepreneurial spirit of the Research Triangle Park area, Duke’s home. Just as the region is a
relatively recent hotbed for economic development and growth, Duke is a relatively young
university that pulses with activity and enthusiasm.
Complemented by eight graduate and professional schools, Duke’s Trinity College of
Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering have climbed to the top tier of undergraduate
There is a sense on campus that the best is yet to come. That expectation
translates into energetic students and faculty pouring themselves into bettering
the university and themselves.
Duke is an institution full of surprising and pleasant contrasts. The most dramatic and
immediately apparent contrast is the widely divergent architecture of Duke’s West and East
Campuses. West Campus features the soaring 210-foot-tall chapel framed by Gothic buildings,
creating an inspiring picture of intense academic pursuit.
On the other hand, the Georgian architecture and long, lush lawns of the East Campus
convey a sense of relaxation and peace. Weekends on East are often filled with outdoor concerts,
Frisbee on the quad, and sunning students.
In the same way that the architectural styles of the campuses work together to create a
magnificent place to grow academically, emotionally, and spiritually, the intense nature of
Duke’s academic program is enhanced by a sense of balance and perspective as students
engage in a wide array of interesting activities and events.
With eighty-six percent of the student body coming from outside North Carolina, and a
significant international and minority presence, the university is a model of diversity. Student
backgrounds vary from America’s top prep schools to large public schools in some of the country’s
most impoverished areas. In the midst of this divergence of experiences, however, Duke
has created a unique sense of “family” among its community members. This closeness is evident
in the informal chatting of students crossing Duke’s pristine quads or in the chaos of the
Cameron Crazies cheering for Duke’s revered basketball team.
Perhaps the men’s basketball program has contributed to a “team mentality” among the students. It’s great to feel a part of something bigger during
your college years.
Some students cite Duke’s friendly environment as the reason for such a close-knit community.
Others believe that the students attracted to the university represent multi-dimensional,
engaged individuals with common desires to excel in every activity while they develop lasting
relationships in the process.
It is not uncommon to walk from one end of the main quad to another
and know the first names of most of the people around you.
This camaraderie often stops at the campus gates during athletic seasons, however,
since Duke is in close proximity to two of its primary athletic rivals, North Carolina State
University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Outside of sports, however, Duke
utilizes its relationships with these schools to benefit its students.
An inter-library loan program allows the three schools to share resources, enhancing
Duke’s impressive library collection of more than 4.8 million volumes. In addition, students can cross-register at the other campuses, greatly expanding the number of available
courses. These relationships have also translated into a large number of local internships available
to students during the academic year or the summer.
The active, inclusive climate at Duke has given the campus a feeling of constant
change. Students are encouraged to share ideas and participate in the affairs of the university.
There is a sense that the university is not interested in resting on its laurels but constantly
and creatively thinking about ways to grow and develop.
While Duke’s Trinity College traces its origins to 1838, the university proper was founded in
1924. Because of its relative youth as a university, Duke does not boast graduating Revolutionary War heroes or America’s earliest presidents. However, alums like Judy Woodruff,
Elizabeth Dole, Gary Wilson of Northwest Airlines, and Phil Lader, founder of the famed
Renaissance Weekends and an ambassador to Great Britain, represent a sterling presence in
political and corporate leadership. Duke is fast becoming a training ground for top participants
in American and international affairs. For instance, the Terry Sanford Institute’s Hart Leadership
Program brings together classroom, extracurricular, and internship
experiences to prepare students from different majors to think about lessons of ethics and
leadership. This is just one way that Duke instills a sense of responsibility and challenge in its
graduates as it continues to produce tomorrow’s leaders.
Duke has been a growing experience. Instead of being a part of a university
community, I learned to become an active participant. Duke taught me
to act after thinking, to encourage, and to constantly push.
Duke is uniquely positioned to provide students with a remarkable opportunity to develop
and learn. No other school in the country has such a strong sense of possibility throughout its
campus. This aggressive positioning involves and excites students who
are working to make Duke’s vision of excellence a reality. In this move to preeminence, however,
the university never loses sight of its commitment to develop and foster personal relationships
among students, faculty, and the entire campus community. It is common to find Duke grads
congregating at parties or events around the country, watching Blue Devils basketball and sharing
stories of their student days. Their loyalty to the university speaks volumes of the power of
the Duke undergraduate experience.
Every March, I feel a strong urge to pack my bags and flee to Duke. My
memories of the friendships I made, the classes I struggled with, and the ways I
grew are intense and sweet. Returning to the glorious campus with friends
reminds me of how we all grew up in those four years.
In the end, Duke is transforming. Students who are fortunate enough to enter the
“gothic wonderland” will find challenge and reward. On the road to gaining these rewards,
however, students also build the kind of relationships that last and will encounter opportunities
to actively lead in all settings—laboratories, classrooms, athletic fields, organizations,
and living groups.
After four years, you will feel refreshed, renewed, and ready to excel in new settings with
a cadre of “family” members to assist you on the way. I can hardly think of more precious
experiences to gain from college.
Duke’s motto, Eruditio et Religio (Erudition and Religion), signifies the university’s
commitment to infuse learning with moral responsibility, and to use the educational experience
to enlighten others and help communities.
Students at Duke enter the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences or the Pratt School of
Engineering. Both schools provide stimulating curricula that allow students to experience different
courses across departments. In the first and second years, Duke’s Pre-Major Advising
Center encourages students to explore areas of potential interest.
I was really encouraged to use my first two years as an opportunity to
get into some of the departments in which I had some interest. This opened my
eyes to new ways to think about using the major.
By the end of the second year, Duke students choose one or two concentrations from
thirty-six arts and sciences majors or five engineering majors, or arts and sciences students
can pursue one of their own devising with faculty guidance. The diversity of these
offerings is complemented by a selection of minors and certificate programs ranging from
neurosciences to markets and management studies. While most students take approximately
eleven courses within the major, there is plenty of room to fulfill Duke’s requirement
of courses in five areas of general knowledge (arts, literature and performance, civilizations,
natural sciences, social sciences, and guidance studies) as well as requirements in a
broad spectrum of focused areas, including writing and foreign language, ethical and cross-cultural
inquiry, research and science, and technology and society.
To graduate, Duke students must fulfill thirty-four semester courses, which makes a normal
semester load for undergraduates four courses and occasionally five. While this
often seems like few courses to new students, the amount and difficulty of the reading and
work quickly prove this to be a rigorous course of study.
Students should come here ready to work. Professors expect a certain
level of excellence that requires not only keeping up with the reading but adding
creativity and new ideas to class discussions. It’s an intense experience.
Faculty and Programs
The faculty at Duke is made up of renowned scholars who are surprisingly accessible to
students. Formal office hours and after-class question periods are supplemented by
regular meals together and informal meetings. Some students complain that professors are
sometimes burdened, but most faculty members are willing to connect with students if students
make the effort to stop by and get to know them.
Some of the first-year courses are large introductory lectures, with discussion sections
run by teaching assistants. Others, like those in Duke’s more than forty-five First-Year
Seminars, are courses for no more than fifteen students taught by senior faculty in specialty
fields. A former Duke president and the dean of the college are regular participants.
Freshmen build lasting relationships with faculty members and are encouraged to begin
specialty research projects early in their academic life.
Duke has made its freshman Focus Program an integral part of its offerings. A quarter
of the first-year students participate in one of eleven to fourteen semester-long programs. For
example, in the Game2Know Program, students take courses in virtual culture with an eye
toward understanding the impact of computer gaming and modeling on real-world data manipulation.
In the Exploring the Mind Program, students examine how the brain functions from
the perspectives of philosophy, computer programming, and visual perception as a way to
understand the brain’s contribution to the human experience.
The Focus and First-Year Seminar programs are dynamic. Our small
group studies the same materials, has fabulous interaction with leading faculty,
and meets weekly for dinner discussions. This is what I came to college for!
A final, unique trait of Duke’s curriculum deals with its emphasis on experiential
learning and independent study. Rather than simply studying under Duke’s faculty, students
are encouraged to join with faculty members in independent research. The students
are also given ample opportunities to take the ideas of the classroom into the Durham community
and into the world. Community service, internships, and summer experiences are
all used by the faculty to drive home lessons begun in the classroom. The vibrancy of the
student body and faculty is demonstrated every day in the intense quest for learning, both
in and out of Duke classrooms.
Most Popular Fields of Study
It works to Duke’s advantage that the Admissions Office hosts its accepted students
weekend in mid-April when the North Carolina spring is in full bloom. Flowers are everywhere,
students are studying outside, and the sweet Southern air hovers at about seventy degrees. It
is perfect weather, and the students who attend are appreciative because they have made it
through a tough cut.
Each year, nearly 20,000 students from around the world apply to Duke for a class of
less than 2,000. Applications come from every state in the country, with eighty-five foreign countries represented
in the Duke student body.
While admitted students at Duke have impressive academic credentials, like most top-tier
institutions, grades and test scores are far from the only factors in the admissions process.
Duke students are amazing. They are leaders, and they possess a
resilience that excites others around them.
Applicants are evaluated on talent and active participation in learning. The Admissions
Office focuses on six areas:
- quality and rigor of secondary school academic program
- academic record
- recommendations from teachers and counselors
- extracurricular activities and accomplishments
- standardized testing (SAT, ACT)
- application essays
To be admitted, most students must possess strengths in each of these areas. While
these six areas are used to evaluate the candidates overall, Duke does a good job of assessing
applicants in the context of their individual circumstances. Through school profiles and guidance counselor reports, Duke attempts to get a picture of the strengths of each high school to
understand the differences in the rigors of secondary school programs. As one admissions
officer has said, “We admit students, not schools.” Therefore, a student’s ability to excel in his
or her own high school environment is of utmost relevance.
Duke’s student body is active and engaged. The application should
reflect a real desire to actively partake in the life of the community.
Recommendations should point to a depth of interest in academics and an ability
to translate intelligence and leadership into understanding among others in
A group of undergrads helps provide visitor programs and tours of the campus. These
students give wonderfully honest assessments of the university and also complement daily
group information sessions offered by the Admissions Office. Those sessions are consistently
praised as friendly and helpful.
My tour guide at Duke made the difference as I toured college campuses.
He was positive, yet frank. When I enrolled, I felt I had a better sense of what
The Admissions Office can also arrange overnight stays with current students at certain
times during the school year. This provides prospective students with a chance to stay in the
dorms and get a clearer picture of the undergraduate experience.
Although the admissions process is extremely competitive, as in many other top-tier
institutions, the university has done a good job of making the process as friendly and helpful as
Duke’s president and Board of Trustees repeatedly stress their belief that the undergraduate
admissions process should be “need-blind.” Your family’s ability to pay is not a factor
in determining your admission to Duke. Therefore, when you apply to Duke, one form goes to
the Financial Aid Office while the application goes to the Admissions Office.
Once I was accepted, the Financial Aid Office did everything possible to
creatively work with my family to design a package to meet our needs.
Once accepted, the cost of attending is one of the factors students (and their families)
take into account as they decide where to go to college. Students receive their financial aid
analysis with their acceptance letters. Duke admits students on the basis of academic ability,
then provides one-hundred percent of their demonstrated financial need for U.S. citizens and
permanent residents. The university has also made need-based financial aid available for a limited
number of foreign students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It is important
for accepted students and parents to remember that their perception of need may be
different from the “demonstrated need,” which is calculated using federal and institutional
guidelines. Fortunately, the Financial Aid Office at Duke works well to alleviate this shock by
putting together manageable financial aid packages to make a Duke education accessible for
most accepted students.
More than forty-two percent of Duke undergrads receive financial aid of some sort. Aid
usually consists of a package combining:
- federal and university grants
- work-study funds
Students and parents have the ability to pick and choose from the funding options
offered to them.
The process of applying for financial aid can be a cumbersome one. Parents and students
will find themselves filling out many forms throughout the four years at Duke. (Aid is
granted one year at a time, so students must reapply annually.) On the whole, though, the
Financial Aid Office at Duke is friendly and easy to work with. If a family situation changes
during the year, the Financial Aid Office tries to adjust packages. In addition, good counselors
often explain packages and changes to students and are accessible to parents. In this challenging
process, it is good to have helpful assistance.
One of the recent developments in financial aid at Duke has been the increasing
number of commercial payment plans available to parents and students. Rather than
paying the bursar’s bill in large, semesterly chunks, Duke has contracted with vendors to
allow parents or students to spread out their payments to the university over ten to twelve
months. Duke’s bursar’s office has an extremely resourceful and diligent staff. Clerks as
well as the bursar are willing to sit down with parents and students to help them in choosing
options that work best with individual needs.
Students often are curious about merit scholarships at Duke. While many of the students
who are admitted are eligible for scholarships at other schools, they often are
not offered a scholarship at Duke because of the quality of the student body and the relatively
few scholarships available. All applicants are considered for each scholarship that is
appropriate based on their qualifications. Full-tuition scholarships include the A. B. Duke
Scholarship, B. N. Duke Scholarship, Reginaldo Howard Scholarship, University Scholars
Program, and the Robertson Scholars Program.
Students at Duke are also very resourceful when it comes to finding further financial
aid. Many look for outside scholarships from local organizations. Students will find that the
Duke name brings much attention from local organizations that provide scholarships funds.
Once my local Rotary Club found out I had been accepted to Duke, my
chances for receiving its scholarship improved greatly.
While figuring out the financing of a Duke education may be one of the more difficult
parts of the four years, most students find the process bearable by tapping into the university’s
Student Financial Aid Details
After Duke students leave the classroom, day planners and tight schedules are the norm
as students balance their wonderfully intense academic, extracurricular, and residential lives.
In any week the pulse of Duke’s campus is energetic. Almost 400 clubs and organizations
meet at different times during the week. A cappella singing groups and orchestras rehearse.
Students work in hospital internships, and community service groups plan outings into the
local community. Duke is a busy place, with something to match every interest.
There is so much to do here. If an activity that interests you doesn’t exist,
the student government provides seed money to get the event up and running.
My best college memories have been dashing from meeting to meeting making
During basketball season, the famed tents
that make up Krzyzewskiville pop up outside
Cameron Indoor Stadium. Students
camp out for the best seats in the house
as Duke takes on the finest teams in the
Atlantic Coast Conference and the country.
Tickets are free, but there is heavy
demand for those courtside seats.
Residential life at Duke is another draw for many of the students who choose to be a
Blue Devil. Around eighty-five percent of the students elect to live on campus for all
four years, and on-campus living is required for the first three years as long as space is
available. So campus life is a crucial part of the undergraduate experience. All of the freshmen
live together on Duke’s East Campus. Activities, meals, and special campus programs
are tailored to build comfortable interaction for Duke’s newest community members. Many
students cite class unity and quality of life as the best traits of the East Campus experience.
To help students become acclimated to Duke and Durham, upperclass FACs (Freshmen
Advisory Counselors) are assigned to the first-year students to help them adjust. In addition,
upperclass “quads” adopt freshmen houses as a way to introduce first-year students to
the intricacies of campus life.
My freshman year was incredible. Imagine living with 1,600 of your
classmates on a campus that allows you to know almost everyone’s first name!
It is wonderful to “come home” to our campus every night and find a comfortable
place to grow. We had movie nights, arts events, and the all-too-often all-night
academic discussions. It was a great transition into college life.
Most upper-class students, including all sophomores, live on Duke’s West Campus where
they are assigned to sections of university housing. Most of the sections are randomly distributed
through a lottery system. Extensive dining choices are available to replace the board plan of the
first-year campus, and some students feel a letdown moving from the bonded first-year community
to the larger, more individualized feel of West. As one way to counter this feeling of upperclass
autonomy, Duke offers traditional fraternities (some of which are residential), sororities
(which are not residential), and selective living opportunities (which are residential).
Duke isn’t a “Greek or geek” campus. Most of the students interrelate
with each other at sporting events, weekend trips, and open campus parties.
While a majority of the students do not belong to Greek organizations, it is one outlet
of community building at Duke. Most students feel at home in the various organizations,
groups, and residence halls on campus. Social life at Duke is vigorous and open-ended as
most campus groups encourage all students to attend their parties. Durham is booming
with new restaurants, a revitalized Ninth Street, Satisfaction’s, and the Durham Bulls
Athletic Park (home of the Durham Bulls AAA baseball team), but the city doesn’t provide
a particularly active college social scene. Students have many options for on-campus activities,
many of which are expressive of their creativity. Movies, Broadway at Duke,
Springfest, and large quad events highlight the social calendars of Duke students each year.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Many students choose to participate in athletics,
from fitness or recreational programs to
intercollegiate sports. Although many of Duke’s athletic
teams are of national-championship caliber
(and students love to support them), other teams
exist at the club and intramural levels. This array of
opportunities gives students the chance both to stay
physically fit and to be spectators of first-rate athletics. State-of-the-art athletic facilities
are located on West Campus and East Campus.
Duke’s incredible reputation has led to a demand for its graduates in the work force and at leading
professional schools. As senior year approaches, most students don suits for job interviews or
get ready to take graduate or professional school entrance exams. In the process, most find that
the Duke name on their résumé can take them far.
All of the large management consulting, investment banking, and accounting firms
flock to Duke each year hoping to pick up future grads. The students’ well-rounded background
and personable style serves them well in interviews and most students have very little
trouble finding jobs. One of the recent trends at Duke has been the increase of small,
entrepreneurial companies recruiting at Duke. The nontraditional style of many of these
start-up firms seems to be a good match for the energetic, motivated students at Duke.
Many of my friends decided to look for jobs at firms that allowed for
maximum independence and creativity. I don’t know if this is a need for most of
our generation or a special characteristic of Duke students.
Most students get word of job offers in late February or March, so a pleasant euphoria
settles on the senior class for its final months in Durham. Seniors enjoy the peaceful
spring months in North Carolina—after graduation, many will flock to Washington, D.C.,
New York, and Boston to begin careers in these large urban areas.
Graduate and Professional Schools
For those choosing to go to graduate or professional
school, Duke offers exceptional counseling
and preparation that allows the students to
compete for spots at America’s top graduate schools.
Duke boasts a ninety-nine percent acceptance rate
for those applying to law school. For pre-meds, the rate of acceptance is slightly lower—around eighty-five percent, or
about double the national average. Students desiring to go to business school have access to the Pre-Business Advising
Office as well as resources at the Career Center.
- Shane Battier, NBA Star
- Elizabeth Hanford Dole, U.S. Senator for North Carolina
- John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley
- Charlie Rose, Talk Show Host
- William C. Styron, Author
- Judy Woodruff, Anchor, CNN
The rigor of Duke’s academic program is intense. The faculty represents a
demanding group of individuals who are known to expect incredible academic performance
from students. In the midst of this push, however, Duke’s faculty is made up of a
group of caring and interested scholars, many of whom are available for lunches with students
so they can get to know the students personally.
A faculty associates program pairs top faculty with specific resident halls to encourage
collaboration and student-faculty interaction. Most students also take on independent
research with Duke’s faculty members to develop relationships and experiences.
Faculty mentoring and interaction with the students seem to be genuine
goals of the university administration. Many resources are funneled into creating
opportunities to build relationships.
With its natural beauty and eye-catching architecture, dedicated faculty, and friendly
environment, Duke is an invigorating, friendly, competitive, challenging, and beautiful place to
spend the undergraduate years.