6 Duke Supplemental Essays That Worked for 2023

by Ryan ChiangUpdated Nov. 29, 2022

Getting into Duke University is difficult in 2023. But you make sure you have your best chances by writing great supplemental essays.

In this article, I've gathered 6 essays from admitted Duke students so you can get inspired.

What is Duke University's Acceptance Rate?

Duke University has highly competitive admissions, and this past year over 45,000 students applied to Duke. Duke had an overall acceptance rate of 4.8%.

Duke University Acceptance Scattergram

If Duke is your top choice school, then consider applying Early Decision. For the Class of 2026, the acceptance rate for ED admissions was 21.3%!

Regardless of if you apply regular or early, admissions to Duke is competitive. But that only means writing stellar essays matters even more.

What are the Duke University Supplemental Prompts for 2022-23?

This year Duke asks applicants to write one required essay of 200 words and two optional essays of 250 words each.

Here are the 2022-23 Duke writing supplement prompts:

  1. 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 attracts you? (200 word limit)

We want to emphasize that the following questions are optional. Feel free to answer them if you feel that doing so will add something meaningful that is not already expressed elsewhere in your application. If you have already addressed either or both of these questions in your application, please don’t worry about leaving them blank. We appreciate how much time it takes to fill out this and your other college applications.

  1. 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 word limit)

Duke University Nondiscrimination Statement

  1. 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 in these areas, you can do so here or, if you feel you have adequately represented your gender and sexual orientation in other parts of your application, feel free to not respond to this prompt. (250 words maximum)

If you're serious about getting into Duke, you should definitely answer the second optional prompt.

Because everybody has a unique background, and this prompt is another opportunity to show admissions officers why you deserve admission.

6 Duke University EssaysThatWorked

Here are 6 of the best Duke essays that worked that respond to the writing supplement.

I've also included an example of a Common App personal statement essay from an admitted Duke student.

Let's get started and inspired writing great admissions essays like these.

#1. Duke "Diversity" Essay Example

Prompt: 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 max)

The pitter patter of droplets, the sweet smell that permeates throughout the air, the dark grey clouds that fill the sky, shielding me from the otherwise intense gaze of the sun, create a landscape unparalleled by any natural beauty. I have gazed upon the towering cliffs of Yosemite, stood next to Niagara falls as the water roars, succumbing to the power of gravity, and seen the beaches of Mexico basked in moonlight, yet none of these wonders compares to the simple beauty of an Arizona rainstorm. To me, our rain represents more than humidity and darkness; its rarity gives it beauty. The uncertainty of when the next day of rain will come compels me to slow down, and enjoy the moment.

Out of the three realms of time; past, present, and future, the present is the only one we can experience, and I take advantage of every moment I have. When I pause my running to enjoy a sunset that dazzles the sky with brilliant colors of purple and orange, when I touch my brush to a canvas and focus on my movements in the present, when I drive home after a long day of improving our robot, and decide to drive around my neighborhood to finish “Garota de Ipanema”, which just popped up from my playlist of 700 songs, I am taking advantage of the moment.

So next time it rains, step outside. Close your eyes. Hear the symphony of millions of water droplets. And enjoy the moment.

(249/250 words)

#2. Duke "Diversity" Essay Example

Prompt: 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. (250 words max)

Ever since I can remember, the comforting lullabies my mother sang to me planted a deep seed in my mind. In my dreams, I began a journey for my identity to discover the hidden stories within those songs. Perhaps that's what led me to explore Hindustani music. "Sa-re-ga" encodes my ancestors' songs just like "do-re-mi." With this solfege, I began exploring a vocal part of my culture, collecting the keys to my identity.

Each song I learned further educated me about myths and legends that helped form who I am today.

When I face adversity in male-dominated activities, I remember Sita, who fought heroically in revolutionary conflicts hundreds of years ago. This has empowered me to believe in my talents and goals, whether I am doing research or organizing a STEM fair in my community. The character Arjuna, who became one of the best archers, taught me perseverance and a desire to learn from others. When chosen to fly to Denmark to play badminton with local clubs, I embraced this experience to play among outstanding competitors and to enhance my competitive abilities. As an Asian American, I am reminded by the Indian National Anthem that I am an American and an Indian.

I plan to bring my music and stories with me to college. The keyboard in my Duke dorm will ring with strong Hindustani notes. I hope to share with my dorm mates and friends the history of those heroes and the strength I gleam from them every day.

(250/250 words)

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#3. Duke "Why Engineering" Essay Example

Prompt: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first-year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (150 words max)

At Duke I was equally entranced by the articulate movements of 3D printers in the Co-Lab and the stunning Gothic architecture. Instead of forming a dichotomy, these aspects of Duke blended to symbolize its emphasis on interdisciplinary education, which will offer me a nuanced perspective of the world integral to becoming a leader in engineering.

I will join the Academy for Model Aeronautics and share my passion for designing drones, while taking fascinating courses such as “Taboo Markets” and “Banality of Evil”, while simultaneously working on an engineering project that improves real people’s lives in “Engineering Design”. By joining the Duke Robotics Club, I can expand upon my love for robotics, and I hope to write for the Duke Engineering magazine, as well as join the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. By drawing from this diverse range of educational experiences, I can become a leader in creating a better future.

(150/150 words)

#4. Duke Personal Statement Example: "Forest of Lights"

Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (250-650 words)

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I close my eyes and find myself within a forest of lights.

The diamond leaves of gnarled oak trees throw spectrums of color onto mounds of frosty snow that gleam melancholily under the moonlight. The leaves chime as wind violently rustles them in a haunting melody. I splinter a leaf off its branch and inspect the shard of my illusion, eyes dancing with amusement.

I breathe a cloud into the nipping air and half­consciously crunch through a path of snow as it languorously carves its way through the forest. I walk to the sound of clinking, broken gems as they scratch my ankles, and wonder what circuitry must be alight in my wits to create this particular fantasy. I stumble along in hope of unravelling this enigma, my mind guiding me on its own inclination.

The path opens up at last, and I approach a cabin shrouded by thick fog. The door opens for me and I wonder at the foreboding as I sit in a cherry­wood chair and sip a sparkling chartreuse drink. My feet swing idly as I listen to the forest’s indiscernible whispers, wondering whether my mind would ever allow me to unstitch its knots.

As I dwell in my worries, a cold hand reaches from behind me and taps my shoulder.

I jerk away, fear bubbling in my amygdala as I look into the nonexistent eyes of my intruding visitor.

The moon illuminates a blob of pink squish as it draws back slowly, points its spindly hands towards my drink and asks: “Could I have some of that?”

I wordlessly offer the eerie thing some Mountain Dew. I watch as it eagerly chugs the drink, and think, Ah. My mind is definitely acting strangely today.

The blob wipes its invisible mouth with its nonexistent sleeve. I ask: “What are you?”

It shakes its head, invigorated with soda. “S’pose it’s natural not to recognize me.” The thing smiles ominously and declares itself as my brain.

I stare mutely at the absurd being. I wonder at how I will be able to paint it in my waking state.

The blob tells me to stop looking at it so suspiciously. “I can prove it,” It says. I tell it, please, go ahead.

Suddenly we are back in the glowing forest. “Diamonds? Pah!” The blob dismisses them. Instantly, the leaves turn solid gold, the snow melts, and the wintry world is thrown into a blistering summer.

The blob laughs heartlessly. “Your cortex is under my control,” it says smugly.

I blink under the sudden intensity and acknowledge its greatness, humbled by its supremacy.

“I heard you had a question for me?” It taps its invisible ears knowingly.

This is perfect, I think. Here I was all this time wandering through my mind, searching for the answer, when now I could ask my brain for it directly.

The blob wriggles its invisible brows as it waits.

I open my mouth and ask it my most crucial question.

It smiles that wicked smile. It laughs that sinful laugh. Then that insufferable blob wakes me up.

As I sit up in the dark and rub my bleary eyes, I am vaguely aware of the deep­set unfulfillment settling itself inside me. I yawn and plop back into bed, the soft red glow of my alarm clock indicating that it is still before midnight.

I cover myself with blanket, and drift back into sleep to continue my search.

(573/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
The essay is written competently but may not showcase a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered as average by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Creative Structure and Premise:

    One thing is for sure about this essay: it has a unique idea that has surely not been written before. Regardless of your topic, you want your essay to be unique in some way, even if it isn't as fantastical as this essay. You can use a unique structure, such as having central symbolism, metaphor, or being structured as a recipe, for example. But this can easily become "gimmicky" if it doesn't have a clear purpose. In general, the most effective way to have a unique essay is to focus on having deep and unique ideas and reflections. By focusing on interesting takeaways and connections that are ultra-specific to you and your experiences, your essay will standout regardless of the structure.

What They Might Improve:

  • Unnecessary And Long Descriptions:

    This essay uses a lot of fiction-like writing that is fantastical and "flowery." Although moments of this kind of writing can make your essay more vivid, it is quite easy to end up with dense storytelling and descriptions that ultimately don't share anything interesting about you. The purpose of your essay is ultimately to learn about you: your values, your ideas, your identity, etc. By using dense story-like writing, it can be easy to lose focus of what admissions officers are looking for. In general, avoid writing "fancy" stories like this essay, unless you have a clear and distinct purpose for doing so. Everything in your essay should have a purpose in "going somewhere" (i.e. reaching interesting ideas and takeaways).

  • Lacks Meaningful Reflections:

    This essay is definitely creative, but lacks meaningful takeaways and ideas. By the end of the essay, we don't know much about the author besides the fact that they have an affinity for creative writing and are "on a search." Although the content is unique, the end result comes off as quite generic and surface-level because no interesting thoughts are explored deeply. The most interesting part of this essay is "I open my mouth and ask it my most crucial question," but this is super unsatisfying because the question is never divulged. Instead, the reader is teased by this fantasy story and the essay goes nowhere meaningful, which comes off as gimmicky and "creative for creative's sake," rather than deeply personal and interesting.

  • Weak Conclusion:

    This essay ends on the idea of "continuing my search," but for what exactly? It is never explained, elaborated, or even implied (besides one reference to painting earlier). That makes this conclusion comes off as somewhat surface-level and uninteresting. Admissions officers won't care about "your search" unless they have a reason to care. That is, unless it tells something specific about you. On it's own, this idea of "exploring" and "searching" is meaningless because it is too broad and unelaborated.

#5. Duke Personal Statement Example: "Shadow-Box Stick Art"

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

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It was a crisp fall morning. In the distance, the outlines of trees resembled people. Some were tall, slender, brown bodies; some with sparse green-yellow clothes, some naked, some with arms spread, some folded, some heads straight, and some hidden. I got out of the bed, stepped outside, and to my amazement, discovered these beautiful sticks laying in the grass. To most, they are just sticks, but to me, they were pieces of art.

As I went to pick one of the sticks up, I recognized the brilliance of this simple object that had fallen from those beautiful people-like trees. This small yet remarkable brown stick that fell from the branches of the tree was part of nature's way to renew life for the coming spring. On that brisk fall day, I picked up every stick that fell in the small backyard of my house and brought them inside. My mother was annoyed and immediately asked why I was bringing garbage into the house. But that didn't stop me. I had an idea, and I knew these sticks that she saw as garbage could be turned into something beautiful.

I took those sticks into my room and placed them on my desk. I then took a small brush to gently remove the dirt and some of the bark that had started to decay. They were even more beautiful than I had first imagined. The next day, I asked my father to pick up a 3x4 shadow box frame at the local store and waited in anticipation until he arrived home. When I got that frame in my hands, I immediately started working on my computer desk, which I turned into a makeshift studio. As I carefully observed, no two sticks were alike, even though some fell from the same tree. The vivid image detailing the randomness of nature was sitting on my table. As I put sticks together in different patterns, I saw various shapes and I quickly recognized that I could use nature to create art. I opened the frame and began assembling the sticks in patterns that made sense to me. I closed the back of the frame, locked it, and felt my heart pumping to turn it over and see what I created. When I did it was beautiful! I had taken something that would typically be discarded and turned it into something worthy of being displayed on a wall – I had created art. That first piece of art still sits next to my bed, though I have created more shadow-box stick art since then. Some have been given as gifts to friends, but more importantly, some have been sold for a loftier goal.

The funds raised from selling these shadow boxes help to support a charity I have created. The charity is called Redacted, an umbrella 501(c) organization. Working in conjunction with Redacted Charity, a local non-profit, we are providing safe drinking water to women and children in developing, and underdeveloped countries. Being a young and impressionable woman spending many of my family vacations residing in my grandparent’s village, I know first-hand the struggle these women face daily to fetch basic clean drinking water for their families. Similar to how I gathered sticks to make art, I plan to continue gathering funds and resources to create change in these communities with need. Every autumn and beyond.

(561/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to be very well-received by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Unique Ideas And Perspective:

    This essay shows a strong thinking ability because the author shows how they view the world differently than others. Specifically, the author is able to see something as mundane as fallen branches as an opportunity to create artwork. Showing how you view things differently is a great way to demonstrate your unique perspective. Another strategy is to think deeply about things that are often easily overlooked or things that are mundane on the surface. Everything can be reflected upon deeply, and doing so shows a strong thinking ability and level of thoughtfulness. Ask yourself: what do you see differently than others around you? What do you find fun that others find "hard"? What do you find fascinating that others find "boring"? What is something mundane in your life that you do, and what's the greater meaning behind it?

  • Storytelling Without Unnecessary Details:

    This essay uses a lot of narrative writing—that is, recounting of a specific story and moment. While most essays use storytelling, what most applicants get wrong is they describe unimportant details to the story. Don't write like a fiction book and describe everything in the scene, like what others were wearing, what people looked like, what the environment was, each small action that took place. This is a common mistake that students make in trying to write compelling stories, but it ends up with a lot of unnecessary details. This author shows how a story can still take up a lot of the essay, while also including interesting reflections throughout the story and making it purposeful by only including details that move the story forward.

  • Connects To Accomplishments Naturally:

    This essay has a somewhat unexpected conclusion where the author connects to their significant accomplishment of starting and running a charity. Even though this is such a large and meaningful activity, the author chose to only write about it when it came in naturally and not make it the whole focus of the essay. Counterintuitively, by de-emphasizing your biggest accomplishments, they will seem more impactful and you will seem more ambitious. This is because students often try to showcase their achievements and make them the focal point, but instead if you have the attitude of, "Yeah, this is what I did, but really it is nothing in comparison to what I'm going to do" it makes your accomplishments even more impactful. You don't want to be nonchalant, but you do want to make your accomplishments small in comparison to your future goals and achievements, which will show both humility and ambition.

What They Might Improve:

  • Use More Words (Add Meaningful Details):

    This essay is almost 100 words less than what is given. In general, you should try and make your essays as close to the word limit as possible. Why? Because you should have a lot to say and it should be a challenge to fit it all into your essay, not the other way around. Especially for personal statement essays, its almost always better to use most of the words. Being within 10-20 words of the limit is usually the target. In this essay, they could include further meaningful details that make their essay more vivid. They could describe what their "stick art" actually looks like, because it is hard for the reader to imagine since it is an obscure type of artwork. They could reflect on the impact of their charity: how many people did it help so far? What are their goals for the future of it? What have been challenges with it? Don't add words just to add words, however. As with everything, each sentence should be meaningful and have a clear purpose, but this essay could definitely use more words.

#6. Duke Personal Statement Example: "Kiki's Delivery Service"

Common App Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? (250-650 words)

I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.

I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.

Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.

(520/650 words)

What Can You Learn From These Duke Essays?

If you're trying to get into Duke, writing great essays is one of your best ways at standing out. These 6 Duke essays that worked are successful examples of essays admitted into Duke so that you can get inspired and improve your own essays.

What did you think of these Duke essays?


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