A Day in the Life at Duke University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Anna is an Atlanta tutor specializing in GRE prep tutoring, AP English tutoring, Essay Editing tutoring, and several other subjects. She graduated from Duke University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Cultural Theory. See what she had to say about her experience at Duke University:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Anna: Duke University is divided into three sections: East Campus, West Campus, and Central Campus. A number of restaurants and shops are within walking distance of East Campus, and an easy-to-use bus line connects the three campuses. West Campus feels a bit more rural, and it is surrounded by Duke Forest. Many students have cars, but they are not necessary.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Anna: Professors are always happy to meet with students during office hours, and by my junior year, I was meeting with my major adviser frequently. Teaching assistants are friendly and available to answer questions. As a freshman, you are set up with an academic adviser who helps you choose courses and plan for the kind of experience you want to get out of your four years.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Anna: Students are required to live on campus for three years, and fraternities are housed in the dorms, as well, so the student body feels very concentrated on the campus. Juniors and seniors can live in small apartments on Central Campus. Dining options abound, with two large dining halls, a number of on-campus restaurants, and delivery options that accept payment through your DukeCard. In my experience, official social activities were rarely coordinated through dorm life, but many of my closest friends lived in my freshman hall.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Anna: Duke University has a number of very strong programs, including environmental science, biological anthropology, religion, and English. I majored in literature and cultural theory, which is distinct from the English major at Duke University, and focuses on popular culture, film, and theories of literature. The major was small when I was there, but it is very strong with a sizable faculty, so I felt well supported. 

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Anna: I initially made friends through dorm life and classes. Duke University also has optional programs for freshmen right before classes begin, and I would recommend participating in one as a way to make friends early on. About 30% of the men are in fraternities, and about 40% of the women join sororities. Sororities at Duke University are non-residential, but fraternities are housed on campus. Greek life is a large part of the social scene, but it is not the only part. Rush does not begin until spring semester, so freshmen have a chance to make friends before rush kicks off.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Anna: Many large companies recruit at Duke University, particularly investment banks and consulting firms. I visited the career center a few times, but I found my adviser and other academic mentors to be my most useful resources.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Anna: There are multiple large libraries on campus, and the Gothic Reading Room is a beautiful, silent place to study. You will get shushed for shuffling papers too loudly! There is also a large atrium with a café on West Campus, and the student union is a good place to study if you need a bit of background noise. I always liked to go off-campus to a coffee shop to do my work.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Anna: Durham is a mid-sized city that has seen a host of new restaurants and entertainment options in the past few years. The Durham Performing Arts Center and the American Tobacco Historic District, adjacent to the Durham Bulls stadium, are highlights. Although a lot of the social life takes place on or around campus, there are also a number of places to go out and dance or socialize near 9th Street.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Anna: The Duke University undergraduate population numbers about 6,500. Classes ranged in size; I took eight-person seminars and large lecture classes. Most classes in my major were about 40 people, which is quite large for a humanities class. My favorite classes had about 15 people in them.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Anna: My freshman year, I participated in a program called FOCUS, in which you take a set group of classes that concern a particular theme and live in the same dorm with your classmates. We took a field trip down to Wilson, North Carolina to learn about tobacco farming, then on to Wilmington to learn about North Carolina’s growing film industry. It was wonderful to get to know a group of fellow students through that program and to learn about how the state’s industry has changed over the last century. 

Check out Anna’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.