For seven years running, the number of applicants to Duke has increased with more than 32,000 having fought for a place in the current freshman class. The Class of 2019 hopefuls will have the option of presenting themselves through a new supplement question. The 250-word optional essay prompt asks applicants to “share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had,” including experiences related to home communities, sexual orientation or gender identities and family or cultural backgrounds. Duke is the first university to explicitly mention sexual orientation and gender identity on the Common Application.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag has said the question emphasizes that “diversity is really broadly defined and not just in terms of a box you can check.” We agree with Guttentag, finding the short essay format gives a more intimate window than does a checkbox into how a student’s background has shaped her worldview. Whereas a checkbox is a one-dimensional identifier—emphasizing what someone is rather than who they are—an essay presents a more holistic sense of how an applicant thinks. Most importantly, an essay allows applicants to draw from the range of their life experiences in describing the perspective they wish to bring to Duke.