Duke University (visited 3/14/17)
Of course Duke is a great school, and the facilities are outstanding. Campus is gorgeous (the landscaping, gardens, and buildings are just amazing) and well maintained (including Wifi across campus). Although there is a central campus where most academics are held, many of the living areas are spread out with shuttles running back and forth to main campus. Parking is highly challenging, especially on the main part of campus. The town around Duke clearly caters to the students; there are lots of places to eat and shop.
Students have to live on campus for 3 years. All freshmen live on East Campus, located about a mile and a half from West Campus (the main part o campus); students ride shuttles to get to class there. There’s a dining hall on East Campus, serving breakfast and dinner for the freshmen. The junior giving me the tour is an RA out there. She loves it, but finds that meals are a problem because she has no meal plan (standard procedure for upperclassmen), so she has to come back to main campus for meals. After the first year, students get food points (1 point = $1) which they can use in the union and in grab-and-goes. Many of the upperclassmen, including Greek-affiliate, are housed on central campus.
Not surprisingly, students who are passionate and like to put time into learning, are really involved outside of classes will do well here. “Classes can be overwhelming, and there’s so much to be involved in,” she said. People tend to overextend, if anything here. One thing that surprised her was the variety of course selections. “Things here opened my eyes. I didn’t even know they existed. You can come in thinking there’s standard information, but there’s so much to explore and you can keep digging.” A few of the unusual offerings include: Biophysics, Evolutionary Anthropology, and Statistical Science.
My tour guide particularly liked the House Courses that she took. These are ½ credit classes taught by other students and are done on a Pass/Fail basis. They are taught within the residence halls (explaining the name!). She took a class on Theology in The Chronicles of Narnia.
In addition to these sorts of opportunities which are meant to extend learning beyond the classroom, the university actively helps students connect with faculty. She feels that it’s been very easy to get to know faculty on a 1-to-1 basis, including having lunch with them. Duke will pay for the meal! “The faculty are open to talking about anything, academic or not!”
Beyond the support for research that you’d expect at such a major research institution, Duke runs a program called Duke Engage: they pay for students to go on service trips. Last summer, 432 students were selected to go. My tour guide went to Argentina, and a friend of hers went to Tanzania. If there isn’t a trip already set up that students are interested in, they can plan one independently. They train on campus and go over the summer. “If you start applying your first year, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get to go at some point, but you can only go once.”
Sports, especially basketball, are clearly a big deal here. Basketball is the one sport that people put in effort for. Tenting is a big tradition: students camp out for tickets to the Duke-Chapel Hill game. The Black Tent is the most intense; “people literally start weeks in advance.” At least 1 person in the group has to be there at all times to save the group’s spot in line. For the other games, people will camp out a day or two in advance. Tickets are free, “but you have to wait.” Football is much easier: “you can just walk up.” Games are held on campus. If Duke wins, students will burn a bench on the quad, and then they’ll rebuild it.