What is it Like to Attend Duke University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Margaret is a Washington D.C. tutor specializing in Writing tutoring, AP Psychology tutoring, all levels of Spanish tutoring, and more. She is a graduate of Duke University holding a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. 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?

Margaret: For my undergraduate, we had an interesting situation. There wasn’t that much public transportation at the time in Durham, North Carolina. I think that might have changed in the last decade. However, we always had a free bus service not only for the campus, but between our school and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called the Robertson bus. It was a way to go to not only different library resources if we needed them, but to a different, more typical college town. Durham’s not exactly the safest place as it’s very urban and not a place to walk alone at night, to be honest. Chapel Hill, by contrast, was the typical college hamlet and it was a fun place to be able to get to as a change of pace.

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

Margaret: I really had a great relationship with my professors as I got to my upper level classes. They were great mentors as I worked on applying for graduate school and on my senior theses. That said, as a freshman, I had pretty terrible teaching assistants for General Chemistry who were barely able to speak English. It made the class almost impossible to pass and I resented it.

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

Margaret: I always laugh about the dorm life. There was this show from the late ‘90s called Dawson’s Creek that filmed its final two seasons sometimes on Duke’s campus to show where Katie Holmes’ character went to college. Her dorm room was massive. I knew kids my freshman year whose living space was literally converted from an old janitor’s closet…for two people. Despite the price tag, you don’t go to Duke for spacious on-campus accommodations!

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?

Margaret: I know back in 2002, that the big thing to start majoring in was in Investment Banking. I know that since the bank crashes in 2008, that’s probably not the hot ticket major it was before. Of course, Duke’s extremely proud of its pre-med program and takes about 10% of its actual medical school classes from its undergraduate program, which is fairly unheard of. Also, they’re very supportive of their pre-law students and make sure they have the best resumes possible before applying to programs.

I was a Psychology major and we had a great wealth of access to lab research and paper writing opportunities. I always felt supported there. Similarly, as one of the few people involved heavily in their primate/lemur studies program, I had very enthusiastic mentors who were happy I was continuing their work.

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?

Margaret: It’s possible to make friends without Greek life. In fact, Duke won’t let anyone rush a fraternity or sorority until the second semester so bonds can be established before then. That said, I made great sorority friends when I did rush and join but I also had great friends whose weddings I’ve attended since then that I met the first week in my freshmen-only dorm!

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

Margaret: I honestly don’t know. I never used it because I was in a science track and relied on my mentors to help me apply to graduate schools.

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

Margaret: Again, this is sort of a sign of having been out of college for so long. When I was there, the main library was Perkins and hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s. However, by the time I was a senior, most of the library stock had moved to a beautiful, new spacious library called Bostock. I lived in Durham again for two years from 2011-2013 for other reasons and sometimes went into Bostock for books and research. It’s not overcrowded, has comfortable sitting areas, and tons of available computers. So, Duke’s come a long way from when I was using their stacks.

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? 

Margaret: It’s Durham, North Carolina. There’s just not that much to do. I like the South Point Mall off campus. I also liked going to Chapel Hill. Again, take the free bus over there on weekends. It’s your best bet!

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

Margaret: It was about 6,000 undergraduates back then with about 1,600 per class. The typical intro class sizes for things like General Chemistry are huge, but mostly, the classes are around 20 people. It’s very intimate past the general requirements.

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

Margaret: I don’t have one memory specifically as much as a whole year. I really enjoyed every minute of working on my senior thesis for lemur studies with my mentor, Dr. Digby. She had been my favorite teacher in the primate department and she was invaluable in helping me get grants and learn the art of being a good scientist and building up my own study from the ground up.

Check out Margaret’s tutoring profile.

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