El Segundo High School

A tour of Duke University


We arrived at the Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina at about 9 p.m. and the sky was the first thing I noticed. It was dusk and the darkness was framed against a backdrop of white light, and it had unexpectedly rained so there was a shiny quality to the skyline.

We were welcomed with an unexpected flash storm with thunder and lightning and a wall of rain as it grew dark. So we drove toward the Duke campus with no awareness of the beauty around us.

In the morning as I took my first glimpse of the campus often called “the Harvard of the South” and as far as the eye could see was lush greenery. In fact, I learned that Duke is a 9,000-acre campus, 8,000 of which is the Duke forest which surrounds the main East and West campuses where students study.

West campus is a gothic wonderland, while East campus is a mecca of Georgian-type architecture and where first years live. The 6,400 undergraduate students travel 1.5 miles by Duke University bus on Campus Road between East and West to study at this mid-size research institution (there is also a thriving graduate school population housing some of the most acclaimed graduate schools in the nation).

After meandering through the lush, bucolic campus on our own, we sat down for an information session and tour with Samuel Carpenter a senior director of admissions. He was an animated speaker and very informative. Here are my key takeaways for anyone thinking of applying to Duke:

  • Duke is a residential, suburban college, fairly ensconced away from anything urban; while Durham is a small but vibrant city which is about 20 minutes from campus.
  • We passed the French Center, named after Melinda French Gates, who had attended Duke as an undergrad and the Duke Fuqua Business School. The building was named after The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $35 million to Duke.
  • Duke basketball was hardly touched upon in the Duke information session. It was almost as if Duke does not want its stellar education to be outshined by their phenom basketball program. So, for more on Duke basketball go to Dukeblueplanet.com
  • Duke seemed pretty remote. A large campus with nothing super nearby. Thus, it was nice to learn that there are 30 places to eat on campus!  The West Union is a state-of-the-art dining facility just opened and will serve as the central stop for student life.
  • The iconic Duke Chapel which is the most iconic and identifiable visual representation of Duke, sits at the center of campus. It is stellar to view in person.
  • 80% of the undergrads study at Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. The rest of the student body studies at the Pratt School of Engineering.
  • And, over 80% of students pursue a number of interests beyond just one major. Hence, Duke is known for its liberal arts education.
  • I stopped for chicken and waffles in Durham, and learned that it is one of the best places to live in the United States.
  • The weather was hot, very hot, and humid. I understand this is the weather from May to September.
  • Duke has a robust study abroad program, offering 200 options to undergraduate students.
  • Duke is also big on community service and students can participate in DukeEngage.

DukeEngage empowers students to address critical human needs through immersive service in the U.S. and abroad. DukeEngage provides one-time funding for Duke undergraduates who undertake a minimum of eight weeks of service domestically or internationally.

  • Undergraduate students must live on campus for the first three years, and 85% do so all four years.
  • There are over 400 clubs and organizations for students to participate.
  • I was really excited to learn that Duke has a yearly Hackathon. HackDuke.com is the largest collegiate hackathon addressing social good. Students work with non-profits and development organizations as well as top tech companies to create projects in four categories: Poverty & Inequality; Health & Wellness; Energy & Environment; Education. As a hacker myself, I was blown away by the project that created a sign language translator (in my second year of ASL I should have thought of this).
  • I am a true creative, so I was particularly interested to learn that Duke has a plethora of art museums on campus, including an Arts Annex where students make art. The annex has rehearsal studios, and programming spaces for student artists and organizations. Its mission is to make the arts accessible to all Duke students. But, I particularly enjoyed the Nasher Museum of Arts (sculpture from the front loan featured in this article).

Duke has a Southern charm that was engaging. It is a beautiful campus with a world of opportunities. It is a place where students will flourish.