Should I Go To Duke University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Rachel is a Kansas City tutor specializing in SAT prep tutoring, ACT prep tutoring, Writing tutoring, Literature tutoring, and more. She graduated from Duke University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and International Comparative Studies. Check out her review of her alma mater:

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?

Rachel: Setting foot on Duke’s campus is an amazing experience. It is often referred to as the “Gothic Wonderland,” a title that reflects the gorgeous Collegiate Gothic-style architecture situated within thousands of acres of gardens and the Duke Forest. Although Duke is located in the heart of Durham, the campus provides a safe, insular respite from urban life.

Although Duke is technically divided into three campuses—East, West, and Central—the distinctions are primarily for housing purposes. All are within walking distance from one another and connected by a bus system that operates day and night. While living on campus, some students choose to have cars, but many rely on bikes or borrowing cars from friends when venturing into Durham. I chose to have a car only after I moved off campus my junior year, which saved money I would have otherwise spent on parking during my freshman and sophomore years.

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

Rachel: I was always impressed with the availability of my professors and advisers. This was incredibly important during my freshman year, when I had many questions regarding the transition to college life. My First-Year Advisor was a faculty member who actually lived in my dorm with his family—it’s hard to beat that level of accessibility. During my sophomore year, I was assigned a faculty adviser within my major whom I met with at least once a semester to navigate my academic planning. I was able to build strong relationships with many of my professors, particularly in courses that employed papers rather than exams as the basis for students’ grades. My professors and their teaching assistants invested significant time and effort in evaluating my written work and were always willing to meet with me to provide guidance and suggest areas for improvement.

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

Rachel: One of my favorite aspects of the first-year experience was living on Duke’s East Campus, which exclusively houses freshmen students. Simply referred to as “East,” the campus features its own dining hall, gym, library, computer lab, coffeehouse, and post office, in addition to having several buildings where classes are held. Although courses offered on East are open to all undergraduates, the campus primarily serves as the epicenter of freshman life. I felt that East’s unique community fostered strong bonds among the students in my freshmen class, and it made the move to dorm life much less intimidating.

I absolutely loved dorm life at Duke. Each freshman dorm houses roughly 125 students and represents its own tight-knit community. Although my room wasn’t particularly palatial and the community bathrooms took some getting used to, it was impossible to feel lonely, and sharing close quarters served as the foundation for some of my strongest, most lasting friendships. I recently attended the wedding of two of my freshman dorm-mates, which was an incredible reunion of old friends.

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?

Rachel: Duke students enroll in one of two undergraduate programs: Pratt School of Engineering or Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. It’s difficult to say which majors are best represented or supported, as Duke offers over 100 majors, minors, and interdisciplinary certificates, and over 80% of students earn multiple degrees. I’m reminded of the countless academic paths that students can follow when I think back to the diverse degrees earned by my friends, such as Economics & Chemistry, Public Policy & Art History, Journalism & Religion, and Women’s Studies & Philosophy, just to name a few.

I was able to major in both Literature and International Comparative Studies due to the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts program. Duke places a great deal of emphasis on Global Education, with nearly half of students spending a semester studying abroad, which correlated well with my course of study. Within the International Comparative Studies major, my regional concentration was Western Europe. I was able to spend an educational semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain, where I took several courses that counted toward my major requirements. 

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?

Rachel: As I mentioned earlier, living on East Campus made it incredibly easy to make friends and get to know my fellow freshmen. The rush process for fraternities and sororities does not take place until second semester, so freshmen have ample time to formulate friendships before deciding whether or not to participate in Greek life. While fraternities and sororities do play a significant role in the campus social scene, the majority of Greek events are open to all students. Duke’s fraternities and sororities don’t have chapter houses, although fraternities have designated “sections” within West Campus dorms. Selected Living Groups including multicultural, co-ed, and sober living environments offer an alternative to Greek life, with each group maintaining a section similar to those of fraternities.

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

Rachel: The Career Center provides valuable services like DukeConnect, which is an online database of job listings posted by Duke alums. Twice a year, the Career Center hosts a sizeable Career Fair featuring employers from a wide array of industries. Since I planned to attend law school shortly after graduation, I didn’t have much interaction with the Career Center, but several of my friends obtained employment in consulting, finance, and design through Duke’s career services.

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

Rachel: Duke’s campus provides diverse study areas to accommodate any type of learning environment. The libraries are enormous, featuring large spaces and classrooms for collaborative study, and countless isolated spaces for private, uninterrupted learning. Many students also study in dorm lounges, the student union, on the quad, or in the Duke Gardens. I enjoyed varying my study locations and took advantage of working outside whenever possible—which was often, thanks to North Carolina’s lovely climate.

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? 

Rachel: Durham is a sizeable town of nearly 200,000 citizens that continues to expand its cultural opportunities. At times, the town-gown relations between Duke students and local residents can feel somewhat strained, but this relationship is generally amicable. Durham offers a wealth of amazing restaurants representing a multitude of cuisines. Off-campus events sponsored by fraternities, sororities, or other organizations typically take place at the same dozen venues, which has its pros and cons. While it can feel somewhat repetitive frequenting the same establishments time and again, the upside is that students are likely to encounter friends and peers whenever they venture off-campus, which I found to be comforting.

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

Rachel: I thought that Duke’s 6,500 undergraduates constituted an ideally sized student body. Less than five of my classes had an enrollment of over 50 students, and the majority of my courses had a class size between 10 and 20 students. I loved the small, seminar-learning environment because it facilitated close relationships among students and teachers and promoted an active, engaging learning environment.

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

Rachel: My most memorable class at Duke was a seminar entitled “Representations of the Holocaust,” taught by a visiting professor from Israel. I was enrolled in the class during the second semester of my freshman year, and it was my first significant exposure to cultural studies and critical theory, which influenced my course of study throughout the remainder of my time at Duke. We studied poetry, memoirs, novels, and visual art created both during and in the decades following the Holocaust. Engaging with such emotive material—particularly as it was taught by an expert in the field—was an incredibly rewarding academic undertaking and unlike any other I’ve experienced. 

Check out Rachel’s tutoring profile.

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