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Duke University Without Frisbees

Updated: Apr 10


When I first started graduate school at Duke University in 1985, I noticed that the campus quad was full of students playing frisbee.  I did not see a single frisbee during my visit on a sunny Saturday in March 2024. 

Duke University West Campus
Duke's West Campus Quad Sans Frisbees

Duke Students


Schools change over time, and the student body is typically one of the easiest things for schools to change since about one-quarter of the student body changes every year.  In terms of interest in academics, the student body at Duke seems more like the student body at Johns Hopkins in 2024 than Duke back in 1985. 


As is common at highly selective universities, admissions staff confide that about 85 percent of the applicants can perform the academic work.  This gives these universities great flexibility to determine who they admit.


The student body does not appear very diverse when looking at the students.  Duke, however, recently admitted many students through QuestBridge to be part of its class of 2029.  QuestBridge typically serves low-income, first-generation college students who are often the children of immigrants.  The QuestBridge students I have met are all brilliant academically.


Duke Academics


Duke has two undergraduate colleges

·      Trinity College of Arts & Sciences is its liberal arts college and

·      Pratt School of Engineering is its engineering college. 

Students can move between the two colleges, but the movement from Pratt to Trinity tends to be easier because of the classes students at Pratt take at the beginning of their freshman year.  The tour guide encouraged prospective students who are undecided between the two to apply to the college for which they are best prepared.  Roughly 20 percent of the undergraduates are in Pratt.


A panel of four students indicated that their largest class ranged from 50 to around 300. The larger classes typically break into sections, and those sections might only have eight students. 


Teaching Assistants (TAs) do not teach classes, but they might lead the sections and make themselves easily available to students who want help.  One of the students appreciated “armies of TAs” in particular.  She explained that TAs learned the material being taught more recently than the professors.  The TA may be in a better position to explain the material than the professor.  (Disclosure:  I was a TA at Duke when I was a graduate student in public policy there.)


Writing requirements vary by major at Duke, which is common.  The percentage of classes that require papers can range from about 15 percent for a science major to about 95 percent for students in humanities and social sciences.  An engineering student indicated she typically wrote reports instead of papers.  Pratt, however, has a history of requiring its students to write more during their senior year so they can explain their technical work to laymen.  She might have more writing as she progresses at Duke.


Students indicate that Duke's academics challenge them. One student described tests that required her to extrapolate information. A strategy of memorization and regurgitation will likely not work here.


New Duke Core Curriculum


Beginning in 2025, Trinity will have a new core curriculum that places more emphasis on the humanities than in the past.  To graduate, students will need to complete two courses in each of the following areas:

1.     Creating and Engaging with Art;

2.     Humanistic Inquiry;

3.     Interpreting Institutions, Justice, and Power;

4.     Investigating the Natural World;

5.     Quantitative and Computational Reasoning; and

6.     Social and Behavioral Analysis.

Duke University public policy building
Duke's Neo-gothic Public Policy Building

Duke Majors


Duke continues to offer its popular undergraduate major in public policy, which cuts across disciplines.  Of the eight tour guides present, three were majoring in public policy. Duke does not offer a major in business, but many business-minded students choose to major in public policy at Duke.


Most Duke students double major.  Students at Duke also have the flexibility to design their own major.  In addition, Duke offers an array of minors and certificates.


Duke Builds Connections


Duke tries to help students build connections with professors and one another.  To that end, Duke helps students pay to have lunch with professors, aka FLUNCH. 


Students describe the atmosphere as being collaborative rather than competitive.  The collaborative environment extends to pre-med students.


Duke University West Campus
Duke University West Campus

Duke Housing


Duke has changed its housing practices to help students form connections.  Freshmen students live on East Campus, a red-brick campus around a mile away from the West Campus, which has the Gothic architecture and stone buildings for which Duke (and Princeton) are known.  Freshmen typically are assigned roommates based on a survey they complete.  The Freshmen students are housed in clusters that then move together as a unit to West Campus their Sophomore year.


What about the frats?  The fraternities that used to reside on West Campus are now city-affiliated rather than university-affiliated.  You do not need to join a frat to live on West Campus. 


Students have the flexibility to request to live with a group of other students as a block.  Duke has a policy of being a welcoming campus, so LGBTQIA students have the option to live in “All Gender” housing.


On-campus housing is neither guaranteed nor required for Seniors.  Students are supposedly required to live on campus for their first three years, but Juniors have “wiggle room” to live off campus.

Duke's LGBTQ Center
Duke's LGBTQ Center At Entrance To Student Union


Duke Athletics


Duke is well-known for its Division I men’s basketball.  Duke is less known for its students who engage in “tenting” to get tickets to basketball games.  Students wait in tents for days to get basketball tickets.  Duke students have sufficient school spirit to fill the bleachers for games against local rivals UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State, but they might find seats easily for other games.


Duke Cost


Duke is more generous with need-based aid than it is with merit aid.  At a cost of around $93 K, Duke is not cheap.  Duke, however, offers full tuition grants to families with incomes of $150 K or less if they are from North Carolina or South Carolina.  More information on state-based financial aid from those states is available here: and


Educ8Fit Consulting


I used to interview students for admission to Duke, and now I work with students and families on the college and graduate school admission process.  I help them navigate such complexities as merit aid and international admissions.  Please contact Educ8Fit Consulting at either or College Admission Counseling | Educ8fit Consulting | United States for a free 30-minute consultation.

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