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Duke University

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Date: Sep 29 2008
Major: Math (This Major's Salary over time)
Duke is a jack-of-all-trades highly selective private school. Do you want to be heavily involved and make a difference in the world? You can. Do you want to get in and out with minimal fuss? You can. Greek? Sure. Independent? Sure. Pre-law/med/business? Yes. Design your own major? Why not. Duke truly is what you make of it.

And that's the rub. While Duke has many resources and opportunities, you must seek them out, they won't come to you. During my years, I developed a scholarly bent, and I did exceptionally well - yet no professor ever pulled me aside and asked if I ever thought about graduate school. Only once did an advisor mention a particular career, and even then, it was just a suggestion I check it out. So unless you have strong parental guidance, you've got to go seek guidance on your own, ask in-depth questions, etc.

Undergraduate teaching quality is also largely what you make of it - and by that I mean: avoid the ubiquitous Dr. Staff! I made a significant effort to get courses with well-admired professors, and when this could be done, it made a huge difference. When I took a class with no clear "star" professor from which to choose, the experience was pretty mediocre - I could have learned as much from the same classes at any school. This was especially true for graduate students, adjunct professors, and visiting professors. For associate professor and above, I had generally a very good experience.

If you're the kind of person who naturally takes initiative, is outgoing and has a good vision of what you want to accomplish, you'll enjoy Duke a lot. If you don't quite meet this description, you CAN become a number here, even with only 6000 undergrads. No one will stop you - it's up to you to avoid becoming a number.

The sports scene (and the social scene accompanying it) is legendary, particularly with basketball, as most know. There might be a little too much focus on this, though; there's a bit of beer & circus quality to it all. For too many undergraduates, their main goal was simply getting in Duke, and with that past, they coast toward graduation, networking and partying all the way. They contribute a lot to the social scene but not so much to the intellectual atmosphere.

Grade inflation was a real problem in the humanities, and to some extent in the social sciences. Much less so in the natural sciences. I had a major in each.

Quality of life is generally very good. Mandatory on-campus freshman housing makes for a quick immersion/bonding experience. I'm not sure what their rules are now for Soph-Senior, but I lived off campus in apartments 2 of my last 3 years. That doesn't help networking, but it does help with peace & quiet (which can be a problem on campus) as well as what you get for the dollar. Food quality has improved dramatically since I was there, but with prices to boot.

Aesthetically, the campus is very pretty still, but behind the gothic quads on West Campus, new construction has pretty much filled in every imaginable space. So the resources are great, but you have much less of the airy, spread out campus feel than before. A few programs/classes are cross-listed with UNC-CH, and it is possible to secure borrowing privileges for there (and vice-versa); this is a nice benefit of proximity, though the sports rivalry with UNC is sometimes less than good-natured and that can detract from the collegial atmosphere.

People at Duke are generally friendly, though again, making friends is up to your initiative (after a few mandatory-fun freshman games). My advice to entering students would be to take your two favorite extracurricular activities and pursue them from the start, whether they be sports (at any level), performing, service organizations, publications, etc.

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