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These are two classic why essays, albeit short ones. Regardless of whether you’re applying to the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences or the Pratt School of Engineering, your essay should be personal and, if possible, unexpected. This is not the place to detail your love of the campus or dining hall. And Duke already knows it has “world-class” professors. Admissions wants to know what excites you about the specific school within Duke to which you are applying — something that is aligned with your interests and academic background. Since this is a short essay, try to narrow your focus to one or two elements and make a bridge from Duke’s resources to your own experiences and goals for the future. Is there is a professor in your department who has done research you admire that you hope to work with? Is there a program that combines your unique interests that is not offered at any other school? Get specific. Let Duke know what resources you will take advantage of that others might not think of or know about.
This is a classic community essay, through and through. Admissions Officers want to know what or who has made you into the person you are today. Where do you come from? What has shaped you as a person, and how has that made your perspective unique? What you focus on here can be reflective of larger cultural constructs or specific to you and only you. Admissions is looking to add diverse perspectives to the melting pot that is their student body. Is there anything you can teach your classmates about your hometown, traditions, culture, cuisine, orientation, identity, race, or ethnicity that they might not already know? Also consider why your particular background or experience will be useful in an academic setting. How will it help inspire and/or inform others? Were you raised in a Muslim family? Do you identify as genderqueer? Were you adopted as a child? What has influenced your identity? What do you believe and how will your worldview bring something of value to the community at Duke?
Duke was one of the first schools to embrace the subject of sexual orientation in their essay questions (see the community essay prompt), and this is yet another step in their overt attempt to recruit a truly diverse pool of applicants. The school wants you to know that they are embracing all sexual orientations, and if you are open to discussing your own history and identity, feel free to share your story. Note that this question will likely not be applicable to all students, so if you don’t have a related story to tell, this is one of the few “optional” supplemental essays that we would encourage you to skip.