How to Get into Duke University

November 19, 2022
By AdmissionSight

How to Get into Duke University

Located in suburban Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is one of the top schools in the nation. A combination of excellent academics, an absolutely beautiful campus, and Division I athletics, makes Duke a great choice for students who have put in the hard work in high school. But gaining admission to Duke can be quite difficult. You will need to have the right combination of test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities if you want to be a strong contender. In this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know before you apply to Duke in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in. So, let’s talk about how to get into Duke University.

How hard is it to get into Duke?

Like many competitive schools, Duke University has become even more selective in the last few years. Students putting off college because of the pandemic has significantly increased the number of applications that many schools receive, but all of these students are competing for the same number of spots in the freshman class. Three years ago, Duke had an acceptance rate of 7.7%, which is already very low. Currently, Duke has an acceptance rate of 4.3%, which puts them more in line with Ivy League schools, and in some cases more selective.

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For the class of 2025, Duke had a total of 44,481 undergraduate applications. They ended up admitting just 1,907 applicants, which shows just how selective Duke has become. As is the case with most selective schools, applying early gives you an advantage if you know that Duke is your number one school.

What does Duke expect from their applicants?

In order to give you the best information about how to get into Duke, we’re going to break this down into the different criteria that Duke considers when they look at your application. Duke states that there are a number of factors that they consider “very important,” while other factors are considered as part of the application process but are not as influential.


Known as one of the “Southern Ivies,” Duke has only been getting more difficult to get it, and because of this, you need to make sure your application is as good as possible. Duke doesn’t have specific benchmarks that applicants must satisfy, but in order to be competitive, you will need an excellent GPA and test scores, along with a number of other criteria. Duke doesn’t publish the average GPA of their admitted applicants, but it’s safe to say that having a GPA of 4.0 or better is necessary. If your GPA isn’t above 4.0, you will need to look for ways to make up for this in other parts of your application.

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In order to maintain a GPA above 4.0, you will likely need to take a rigorous course load in high school including AP, IB, and honors classes. Getting excellent grades in these courses allows you to present Duke with an impressive GPA, but it does something else as well. The first factor that Duke considers to be “very important” is class rigor. Essentially, Duke want to know that you have challenged yourself in high school. This demonstrates academic integrity as well as intellectual curiosity. Duke wants to admit students who will go above and beyond in their studies and taking challenging courses in high school shows that you intend to challenge yourself in college as well.

Many colleges are impressed with students who show significant improvement in their grades over their high school career, but highly-selective schools like Duke want to see that you’ve been committed to academic excellence throughout your entire high school career. Part of the reason for this is they want to see that you value hard work, but they also want students who show sincere intellectual curiosity. Taking more rigorous courses shows that you want to challenge yourself as a student, and this is the kind of motivation they are looking for.

Test scores

Standardized test scores were an optional part of the Duke application during the 2022-2023 application cycle due to the pandemic, but this may change in the future. With this in mind, you need to be conscious about how to prepare for the SATs or ACTs in order to score as highly as possible. Typically, accepted Duke applicants had an average of 1480 to 1570 on the SAT and 33 to 35 on the ACT.

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There is a common misconception that you need a specific score in order to ensure admission to a top school. But at Duke 1510 was the average score, meaning some students scored lower and some students scored higher. Obviously, your test scores aren’t the only criteria by which you are judged but applying with a lower score typically means you will need to make up for it somewhere else on your application.

Extracurricular activities

Top colleges these days want well-rounded students who have an active life outside of the classroom. But they also want to know what you’ve been doing with this time. If you’re wondering how to get into Duke, one of the keys is to have extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership skills and commitment to your community.

When it comes to your particular extracurricular activities, schools care less about what you did than how you did it. If you took part in community service activities, did you take the initiative to spearhead new projects or ideas? If you spent much of your time outside of school working a part-time job, what lessons did you learn, and how did you make the most of your time at work?

If you participated in sports, were you a leader on and off the field for your fellow players? Maybe you took it upon yourself to start a social justice club at school or you found a way to solve a specific problem in your community. Regardless of how you’ve spent your time, the goal is to show Duke that you grew both personally and intellectually.

Some students are laser focused on their favorite field of study, and they use their time outside the classroom to dig even deeper into their academic passions. And just because these pursuits were academic, it doesn’t mean they don’t qualify as extracurricular. Perhaps you spent the summer exploring your passion for Geology by spending a month at working in Moab National Park with researchers. Or you have used your passion for music to start a music instruction program for less fortunate people in your community. Regardless of your particular passion, Duke wants to see how your activities contributed to your growth and personal integrity.

Academic research

While it’s not necessary that applicants to Duke have taken part in academic research in high school, it will demonstrate that you are uniquely prepared for the Duke experience. Duke is a pioneering research institution, and depending on your field of study, research may be an important part of your education. The Duke Undergraduate Research Support Office offers students a variety of ways they can get involved in research once they reach campus. This includes research grant, seminars, and assistantships in a variety of fields.

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What does Duke look for?

Duke describes itself as “a community of doers.” As a result, Duke wants to know that you will be proactive about your education, and they want to know that you have been proactive about your time in high school.

According to Duke undergraduate admissions, “Duke students don’t play it safe. As imaginative as they are ambitious, our students are community-minded and unafraid to confront difficult and complex issues head-on, challenge the status quo, and drive real-world change.”

Young woman opening a letter on a table.

As you can see, Duke puts a great deal of emphasis on how their students have been involved with their communities in the past, and how they plan to stay involved in the future. But they also stress that they are looking for innovative thinkers who will question existing ideas and confidently develop new ideas. The Dean of Duke Undergraduate Admissions puts it like this:

“We look for students who operate at the intersection of imagination and impact—students who are unafraid to undertake things that are messy, complex, and outside of their comfort zone.”

So, what does this look like in the real world? Duke reports that 85% of their students take classes outside of their major in order to gain a more well-rounded understanding of their field. This includes 54% of students who take part in faculty-mentored research projects. In short, Duke is looking for students who go well beyond what is expected of them.

Personal statement/supplemental essays

Top schools want to see more from students than just numbers on a transcript. Schools like Duke want to know how you think and how you express yourself. Numbers on a transcript don’t tell a school how your mind works, so making the most of your personal statement and supplemental essays is a vitally important part of your application. Students who wonder how to get into Duke need to understand that your essays are what give the Duke undergraduate admissions staff a clear picture of who you are and what makes you special.

Schools like Duke get plenty of applications from students who have excellent grades and test scores. So, in order to make it through the application process, you need to set yourself apart from the crowd. Duke is looking for intelligent, hardworking students, but they’re also looking for interesting people. In order to build an extraordinary student body, Duke needs to know how their applicants approach the world and the experiences that have shaped them. This is the purpose of your essays.

Duke’s current supplemental essays asks you to think about how you will engage with the greater Duke community. They also want to know why Duke, specifically, is the right school for you. When it comes to writing this essay, consider the many different opportunities that you will encounter at Duke, and how you would become involved. Keep in mind that Duke is strongly hinting that you should do your homework and find out what they have to offer before you start writing. This can’t be a generic essay. It must focus on specific aspects of the Duke community and experience.

Letters of recommendation

When it comes to how to get into Duke, one of your most valuable tools is your letter of recommendation. This allows Duke to see you from someone else’s perspective. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you choose people who know you in a variety of different ways. The teacher who gave you an A in their class isn’t a great resource if that’s all they know about you. But the teacher who mentored you or guided you through challenges in your studies will know you as a student and as a person.

Duke currently requires one letter of recommendation from your school counselor as well as two letters from teachers in core subjects. You may also submit a letter from someone outside of school, like a mentor or employer.

Duke uses eight main factors when considering your application: the academic rigor you have chosen in high school, your GPA, test scores, essay, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, talent, and personal qualities. But they also consider your interview, whether you are a first-generation college student, legacy, geographic residence, state residence, religious affiliation, racial/ethnic status, work experience, and volunteer work.

Campus visit and interview

While Duke doesn’t require that you do a campus visit or alumni interview, they do consider your level of sincere interest when considering your application. Obviously, a campus visit or interview is the best way to demonstrate your interest in Duke, but you can also accomplish this by reaching out to the admissions department to introduce yourself and ask any specific questions you might have about the school or the application process.

Depending on where you live, a campus visit may not be feasible. You can communicate this to the Duke undergraduate admissions department by asking for additional resources to satisfy your curiosity about the campus. Because interviews are not held on-campus, students have the option of setting up an alumni interview anywhere in the world either in-person or via Skype or Zoom. Having an interview with one of their alumni representatives gives you the chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for Duke in a more personal way.

Other supplemental materials

Duke takes into account the serious talents of their students. As a result, they give talented applicants an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities by submitting additional information for consideration. According to Duke:

“If you have exceptional talent in dance, music, photography, film/video/digital, or theater, you may submit optional arts supplement(s) to be evaluated by a Duke University faculty member in that program or department. Typically, such submissions should demonstrate extraordinary talent beyond standard high school level accomplishment. Arts supplement applicants have often received significant awards and honors at a state, national, or international level. Consider carefully whether your supplemental materials demonstrate unusual talent before submission.”

Duke does not accept resumes or research abstracts as part of its admissions process, but if you feel as though you have an extraordinary experience that needs to she shared, you are able to submit additional letters of recommendation if necessary.

Academic Competitions

While it is certainly not required that you have competed in or won any academic competitions, these activities can demonstrate to schools that you have taken your education to a higher level. Academic competitions like the Model United Nations, USA Computing Olympiad, and the National Mock Trial are all well-known competitions that can help students confirm just how committed they are to academics and personal excellence.

Students often wonder if these competitions will really help them during the admissions process, and the reality is that it highlights a student’s academic accomplishments beyond GPA and SAT scores. For competitive universities such as Duke, academic competitions are especially useful if the competition was in your chosen field of study.

A holistic approach to admissions

Like many schools, Duke uses a “holistic approach” to their admissions process. This means looking at the whole student rather than just grades and test scores. This means the Duke undergraduate admissions office will look at your life circumstances in addition to your transcripts and test scores.

Universities know that some students come from backgrounds that offered fewer opportunities, while others may have faced unique challenges, and some simply have extraordinary gifts that schools find attractive. The bottom line is that there is no simple answer to how to get into Duke University. Instead, your goal as an applicant is to highlight what makes you a strong, unique candidate.

Because Duke is such a selective school, you may have a lot of questions about the application process, and whether your application meets their criteria. At AdmissionSight we have many years of experience guiding students through the college admissions process in order to give them the best possible chance of getting in. Our counselors know what college admissions officers want to see, and they can help tailor your application to make it as competitive as possible. You’ve already done the hard work of excelling in your studies. AdmissionSight can help you get across the finish line.





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