The Duke adcom has sure bucked the trend. They’ve got not one, but two exceedingly permissively long essays, PLUS three short-answer questions that add up to another decently-sized essay. Plus an optional essay! And a supplemental answer if you need it! Man oh man, they’re just feeding you out all this rope for you to hang yourself with!
Hopefully you’re already hip to the advice that “you don’t write the optional essay unless you need to.” We cover this pretty extensively here on the blahg (though we haven’t called it out directly in awhile so that’s one purpose of today’s post). The optional essay is NEVER simply an open invitation to submit whatever-you-want that you didn’t manage to fit in elsewhere in the app. It always must be deployed strategically, with a purpose, or not at all.
That’s true at EVERY school.
It’s REALLY true at Duke where they’re already giving you all this other space to tell your story.
Got a real reason behind a glitch with your grades? Why not come up with a way to mention it in the 25 Things list? No, you don’t want to force it, but there’s a chance you could make it work.
This post actually isn’t about those other elements so much as it is about Duke’s main essay. It’s the “why Duke?” question – or the alternate question asking you what you’ll be known for when you graduate there. We go into some details on which is the “better” question for most people to tackle in our Duke essay guide. What we’ll say to you today is simply about formatting.
Just because Duke allows you all this space to construct your Essay 2 answer does NOT mean you should abuse it.
We had a BSer a few weeks ago send in a 1300+ word Essay 2.
More than 1300 words.
That’s one thousand words, plus three hundred more, plus some random change on top.
That’s like the size of five essays that other schools allow.
It was a nightmare.
The worst part? Hardly any of it was on target.
There was fluff and fluff and fluff.
We saw something similar from a BSer applying to Booth. They didn’t do the PowerPoint. They did a written essay. And that written essay was like 1200 words long.
That’s really really long. Like, too long, if you ask us.
Or if it’s a 500-word essay, and you’re running a little overlimit — you can go a little over but not too much over — and you see that it’s spilling to a second page… That’s too long. A 500-word essay should fit on a single page.
If you find yourself tweaking your margins and switching to a tiny font size in order to make your essay fit the school’s requirements, well, that’s a guaranteed sign that you’re making a mistake.
You don’t want to outstay your welcome.
(BTW, this goes for resumes, too. Your resume should be one page only. No exceptions. Okay, maybe there are a few – but you’re almost definitely not in that category.)
Reading essays is HARD. It’s like a lot of no-fun for the adcom person. You may not realize that when you’re waxing poetic with your lofty prose. But being on the other side of your writing is often just not very interesting. Reading essays is what they call WORK. Someone is getting PAID to do it. It’s not like they went out to Barnes & Noble and bought the latest bestseller and can’t wait to get home and snuggle up on the couch with your writing. No. No matter how fascinating you believe your life to be, believe us when we tell you, it’s almost definitely going to be somewhere on the spectrum of yawn-inducing when you write about it in your essay.
If you couple that with poor grammar or other sloppiness – or a combination of micefont plus toothpick margins and blocks of inscrutable justified text – well, your adcom reader is only going to GROAN when they open up your draft.
So. Here’s our Public Service Message for today:
Even though Duke technically allows you to submit a 10-point font, it’s actually in your best interest to bump up to 11-point. Or, heck! Why not party hard and go for 12-point!
Don’t be the guest who wouldn’t leave.
Honestly it will help you. Your reader will breathe a sigh of relief when opening that puppy up – instead of gritting her teeth to deal with the monster that you are presenting.