What is Duke like? Describe it.
Duke is a very energetic, vibrant, bright, dynamic place. It’s a very young school filled with young and energetic people—there is always something going on. For example, on an average day you will see a quiddidch game taking place on the freshman campus quad, students participating in the Occupy Movement in front of the Duke chapel, or even 10 random dance groups coming together for a celebration of South Asian culture.
Duke is very well balanced; unlike MIT, which is very focused on certain fields like engineering, Duke is more heterogeneous in terms of the student body. Duke looks for characteristics other than academic excellence—for example, athleticism and character. It’s diverse in every way imaginable.
Even still, people come together easily despite huge differences in backgrounds—there is a striking sense of community and unity. The basketball program is one example of something that helps provide this unity—it is a source of pride for the entire campus even though not everyone is an avid fan of basketball.
I am an International Comparative Studies major, so I am big on diversity. Duke has gone out of its way to make every community feel welcomed. We have a Center for Multicultural Affairs, a Center for Race Relations, an LGBT Center, a Center for Blacks, a Muslim Students Association, a Center for Jewish life, and next year there will be cultural interest housing.
What kind of students are most likely to succeed at your college?
Students who seek a healthy balance between academics, sports, and social life.
What has been one of the greatest challenges in college, and what do you think high school students can do to best prepare themselves?
Self-discipline and realizing what’s healthy for you. For example, I felt great coming out of first semester because I made healthier choices than I had in high school—so I was happier, healthier, and more successful. For example, I started the semester going to bed at around 2:00 AM every morning, and eventually I changed that habit—I did this for myself. I changed it to midnight, and woke up early, and that helped me be more productive and manage my time better. There is not as much structure in college, so you have to structure yourself—no one is there to do it for you. You have to make your own decisions and figure out what works.
What extracurricular activities were you involved with in high school, both academic and non-academic?
Speech and debate, acting, science research, leadership, club volleyball, track and field, graphic design, journalism.
If you were to start high school all over again, what would you do differently?
I would pursue things that were more personally meaningful to me and not spread myself so thin. I like to consider myself a jack of all trades, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just focused more in-depth on one thing such as learning a musical instrument. I would have made more effort to truly understand what my passions are as opposed to doing just things that I was naturally good at—but perhaps not passionate about and that didn’t give me a sense of deep satisfaction. There is so much room for growth when you are truly passionate about something. I would also take more time to get to know myself so that I would make the right decisions.
What advice would you give prospective college students to help them prepare?
College applications were so much more grueling than they had to be because I didn’t really understand myself as a person—you can be a great writer and thinker, but if you don’t understand who you are, how can you present yourself accurately on a college application?
My best advice: go for a run, write in a journal, go for a long bike, be alone with yourself. Slow down. Get in touch with yourself—be fully conscious.
Also, don’t be afraid to admit mistakes, to be vulnerable, honest, and soulful.
Leland High School