Current Duke Student (2021). Ask me anything!

Hi all! I remember having tons of questions about college about everything from classes and studying to dorm life and relationships.

As you start thinking about this next step in life, I figured you’d have tons of questions too! Ask me anything about Duke or college in general.

Edit: I made a previous thread with this same question. I didn’t get any questions for a long time and stopped expecting any! When I did get questions I didn’t see them. Sorry for that! I will try and answer these questions retroactively.

Retroactive answers to this thread: https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/duke-university/2141046-rising-duke-junior-ask-me-anything.html#latest

Transfers –

We do have transfers! A few of my good friends are transfer students. The transfer process is incredibly competitive and the transition from one school to another can be difficult. Even so, my friends who have transferred love Duke and don’t feel any different from other Duke students.

Relationships with Professors –

I’ve been in both small and large classes. I have been able to build close relationships with professors in both settings. Professors are people – you either click with them or you don’t. To see whether or not this happens, you’ll have to put the work in to get to know them. Professors see tons of students everyday and will only invest in you if you invest in them.

Language Barrier Issues with Professors –

The question was about whether or not Duke hires too many professors with strong accents and does this impact course quality.

I have not experienced this personally, but every department is different. In my experience, it’s mostly graduate students in large discussion courses who are still working on their accents. As a rule, most Duke students (myself included) are respectful of the fact that they are learning a new language. These students rarely lecture and most questions you ask are one-on-one. This allows you to clarify any confusion.

Do TA’s/graduate students teach classes? –

Mostly, no. In intro calc (Math 111L) and intro language courses, different sections are taught by both TA’s and professors. The TA’s do not have as much teaching experience and that can be frustrating. However, because they are closer in age, it’s often easier to go to them for one-on-one help.

This is often not the case for most classes you take. Often, larger classes taken (Chem, Physics, Bio) are taught in a lecture of 200+ students and then have smaller discussion groups led by TAs, with about 12-20 students.

Duke Focus –

I loved the FOCUS program I did!
It made it easier for me to make friends because we all lived together and took classes together. I am still friends with the people I knew from Focus.

The classes can be hit or miss. I personally liked my classes and my focus program, but not every student does.

My favorite part was that it helped me deal with the overwhelming amount of choice you have as a freshman. I was worried about choosing classes that would be overwhelming. A lot of freshman will take four large lecture courses all at once, or take all notoriously difficult classes. Without access to the advice of current students, who can set yourself up for an awful freshman year.

Hi there! I have a plethora of questions about the economics major and political science major. Could you give me some input on that?

@smileitsmunca

I am neither an economics or polisci major. What I know is relatively limited. I would need a more specific question than a request for “general input” if I were to ask anyone in these majors for advice.

At Duke, we do not have any pre-professional majors. We have vaguely defined “tracks” that are supported by a number of knowledgeable staff. As such, someone can be “pre-business, pre-law,” etc, without being a business or law major. These are not official tracks through the university. They are terms used to help potential mentors guide you.

These majors, among others, are popular choices for people who want to go into consulting, business, politics, or law.

The economics degree involves a lot of math and has been known for it’s difficult classes. PoliSci is rigorous in terms of reading, writing, and research.

I recommend combing through both of their official department websites. Develop direct, specific questions, as folks in academics get upset when asked things that require no forethought.

Once you have a good question, reach out to the director of undergraduate students. Perhaps stop by Duke and visit a large intro class. This is not possible for everyone. A better suggestion would be to ask to be connected with an undergrad in the major.

Undergrads have more time and are more likely to be excited to help you! We love sharing our Duke experience with potential freshman!

@MobsterDolphin could you please tell me more about these “tracks”? Also, how is the student culture at Duke? Are there mostly elite students? Are there reserved students? Does Duke culture encourage partying and so on!

@rantrantrantrant

Disclaimer: This is literally a novel. I am so sorry!

On “tracks”:

After re-reading my answer, I realized that my definition for pre-professional tracks was really vague. Sorry about that!

As a STEM major, I’m most familiar with the pre-med and pre-vet tracks. I will be basing my response on my exposure to people in those tracks.

The importance of labeling yourself as pre-med/pre-vet is that it signals to all students and faculty that you’re going to be in need of specific advice.

Every Trinity College (non-engineering) student is assigned an academic advisor prior to declaring their major, and then receive a major advisor within their department post major declaration sophomore spring. These advisors would need to know that you’re pre-med/vet because there are unspoken standards that these students need to meet.

These standards come from pre-professional schools, and include the they expect you to have taken and what activities demonstrate your interest and skill in the topic.

This is extremely important, for example, if someone is a humanities major who intends to pursue medicine. A philosophy major who is pre-med will not end up taking these required classes by accident.

At Duke, we have a lot of flexibility in how we design our education. We don’t have common core classes. Beyond your major requirements and the loose framework that forces students out of their comfort zone, it’s pretty much a choose-your-own adventure. As such, tracks are important. They provide guidance in a choice full system.

Additionally, labeling yourself as pre-professional allows you to connect with other people who have the same interests. There are many clubs dedicated to supporting students interested in these career tracks. It's just a good way to bond with people.

Duke Culture:

The great thing about Duke is that it’s big enough for you to find a place for yourself, wherever it is that you belong. As common with larger schools, there is a strong party culture for those who want it. Party culture is largely dominated by Greek life or Duke’s SLG’s (selective living groups). However, many people who have experienced Greek life at larger institutions have shared that Duke Greek life is no where near as intense as at public schools.

I am not a fan of Greek Life myself (source: GreekRank). Even so, it is much tamer at Duke. Many people form strong friendships in Greek life and gain a lot out of it. There are Greek organizations for the wealthy and traditionally attractive, and ones that are for more diverse groups of people. You have a good shot of getting into a sorority over an SLG (defined below).

Greek life is not the only opinion for students looking for social groups. We have SLG’s which are organizations that people can join based on their interests. They are seen as the “chiller” alternative to Greek Life, and are often co-ed. We have SLG’s that are more traditional in party culture (examples: Wayne Manor, which is a frat in all but name; Cooper; Maxwell; Brownstone) and one’s that are more nerdy, serve underrepresented groups, and are slightly less selective (Nexus - largely LGBTQ; Round table - the cool nerds; Jam - nerds who party hard; Ileria - empowered women who also party hard; Fusion - Asian culture interest group; and more recently, a black culture interest group that is starting next year! Note: there are many more SLG’s not mentioned here).

There are also LLC’s – living learning communities – that are almost like an off shoot of Duke’s focus program (mentioned in an answer above). You can live with students with similar intellectual interests, and there is a house course (a 1/2 credit course taught by other students) that gives students the opportunity to engage with new ideas and get to know each other. This is an increasingly popular, low pressure, non-selective option for the less out-going. There is an ethics LLC (the most established), a religion LLC, and a political LLC (favored by Duke’s male, libertarian population).

You’ve probably noticed a lot of talk about living groups. This is a byproduct of Duke’s housing system, where you have way too much choice, and the easiest thing to do is live with an organization of some kind. The housing system is undergoing reform at the moment, and many students are excited about it.

Many students identify with their freshman dorms and their freshman communities, long after freshman year (if this confuses you, this is a reference to Duke’s freshman only campus, East Campus). Duke has recently created a new housing option for sophomores, in which all freshman in a dorm are moved to West Campus as a unit, by default, unless an individual opts out to live with a chosen social group. I suspect this will make community building a lot easier for those not interested in joining social groups, but that is yet to be seen. I love forward to it!

Duke culture is pretty competitive, but not in a cut throat way. It’s mostly self-imposed pressure. It’s a byproduct of the type of student who applies and is accepted to Duke. All of my experiences with Duke students have been extremely collaborative. The desire to be impressive makes many students over commit themselves to extracurriculars and classes. We tend to pressure ourselves into studying hard and executing all of our responsibilities “perfectly.” I think this is true across all social groups at Duke (Don’t let anyone tell you a sorority girl/frat boy is dumb. They would have to be blind to say that).
There are a lot of discussions about “effortless perfection” and students are trying to build awareness around this pressure in the Duke community. I think this problem is not exclusive to Duke, but rather to all elite institutions.

@MobsterDolphin Wow, thanks a lot!! That really helped!

How competitive/cut-throat do you feel like life at Duke is?

@sydneyev13

Over all, this does not account for individual variation. Some people suck, others don’t. Duke is a big enough school that you can easily find pockets of toxicity. We have a great mental health network (especially if you have Duke’s insurance) that is free through CAPS.

If I did not take SAT subject tests, am I out of luck? 1480 SAT, 4/201, 4.5 W 3.9 UW GPA, 13 APs, AP Scholar w Distinction, tons of ECs

@lifeguard77

It’s important to recognize that these numbers don’t mean a lot in admissions. “Holistic admissions” is as aggravatingly vague as the sticker sounds. I remember how frustrating that is and how anxiety inducing it can be. Trust me — I was there too.

I haven’t looked at the admissions website in a while, but if they say you’re okay without the SAT subject tests, they mean it. I know a number of students that didn’t do “optional” application items because they didn’t have anything to add. They were still accepted to Duke.

For example, Duke is very open that the interview does not matter. I did not do an interview. I got accepted.

Additionally, I did not have exceptional standardized test scores. I had a very strong personal statement, was active in my high school, and had strong recommendations.

The essay is very important. I was at an accepted student event with admissions officers. Often they would ask for your name, and if you were in their region, they would often remember and complement your essay.

Beyond that, it’s important to recognize that selective admissions is — to a certain degree — a crap shoot. There are many qualified students applying. Not all of them can get in.

Rejection from any institution says very little about you. It seems like a big deal right now, but it’s really not. I’m sure you’re still a great student.

I was rejected from Emory, UNC-Chapel Hill, Rice, and Princeton. I was waitlisted at Cornell and Wakeforest. Does this change my quality as a student? Absolutely not.

Build a genuine application. Do your best. You’re going to be just fine. :relaxed:

If you want application advice, feel free to DM me.

How helpful were ap credits?

@bluedvlgal

Not very

What do people do for fun when it’s not basketball season?

Easiest major at Duke ?

Public Policy ?

@cmayer34

This is a good question, considering basketball is pretty important when people talk about Duke. Remember that this is not year round and the UNC-Chapel Hill game is really what people unit around. That’s once a year. For that, people will go through a process called “tenting” in which they sleep in tents to compete for spots in Cameron Stadium. Cameron is loved because it is small and intimate, and really great for heckling the other team (or so I’ve heard. I’ve never actually been to a basketball game. I won’t tell if you won’t!).

For insight into party life and how social groups form at Duke, take a look at my novel-length answer to rantranrant underneath the heading “Duke Culture.”

Additionally, Duke is large enough that there’s something for everyone. This is true at most colleges. Consider any university to be a sort of city on varying scales. Everyone has their own life and is doing their own thing. Most times you’re not going to want to go “go out” or go to an event. You’re going to want to hang out in the dorms with your friends. Those are the nights that really matter and that students value.

In terms of official events, there are literally tons every weekend. They are mostly organized by our student groups and are of top quality. We have amazing dance groups, ranging from ballet to K-Pop, great theater shows, and cultural celebrations hosted by student ethic unions, among other things. You won’t be bored – trust me.

@Publisher

Lol. Literally none of them.

@MobsterDolphin I was curious if there has been any word at Duke having to continue online instruction come this fall?

Disagree as I know several.

@socaldad2002

We’re planning for Fall 2020 as we normally would. We’ll see if things change.