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Finding your HOME: A visit to Duke University

This will be the first entry in what we plan to be a series that highlights our visits to college campuses, and for me, it made sense to start on a campus that is in my backyard – Duke University.

When visiting college campuses, we keep the mnemonic HOME in mind:


Open & Welcoming



In this post, I’ll touch on each of these areas, but for a refresher on their meaning and how they might apply when you are visiting colleges, please visit this post.


When we created the visit post, helpful was intended to apply to on campus visits. But what if the school you want to visit does not have on campus visit programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

That is the case with Duke, and while they are beginning to open campus up a bit, offering a limited number of campus tours for prospective students, I decided it would be wrong of me to take one of the limited spots that could be used by a student. So, how do you tell if a campus is helpful if you can’t actually be on campus? For me, there is a lot you can tell in virtual visits, and Duke offers a wide variety.

I decided to sit in on a live information session and view a prerecorded tour. Samuel Carpenter, a Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission, hosted the information session. He began the session by asking anyone needing accommodations to request them through the chat, an inherently helpful request. The session was focused primarily on academics, residential life, and student programs, but had no admissions information (they have another session that focuses on admissions). The chat was busy the entire session, and there were admissions officers off-screen responding to all questions asked by participants.

While Duke does offer live virtual tours, I opted for a prerecorded one. The tour guide, Devan (Class of 2023), was a sophomore at the time and had just declared a double major in Biology and Public Policy. He was engaging and clearly knowledgeable about all things Duke. He seemed like he would have been an awesome tour guide to have for an in-person tour – the type that would have a great answer for any questions asked.

My biggest take away from these “virtual visit” programs is that I chose two options of MANY. They offer live virtual information sessions in English and Spanish, live general campus tours and tours of the Pratt School of Engineering, live information sessions on affordability, and live information sessions on the admission process. They’re also working on a “Mobile Tour” (other colleges have had mobile tours for months, so they’re a bit late on this) which will be up and running soon. Overall, they’ve put together a thoughtful and informative group of programs, which in my opinion checks the helpful box well, especially for those who are unable to visit campus for any number of reasons or have worries about the health of their family during the pandemic.

Open and Welcoming

As you approach campus from Interstates 40 or 85, signage for campus is plentiful – it’s hard to miss! Once you are on campus, landmarks are well marked and individual academic, athletic, research and residential buildings and facilities are clearly labeled.

More importantly, Duke has a bustling campus with a very active and engaged student body. I took my 10-year-old twin daughters, Anna and Audrey, to campus to take pictures of landmarks (Duke Gardens, Duke Chapel). We started in the gardens and made our way to the chapel, where it was clearly a passing period. Students were getting on and off buses between East and West campus, students and faculty were going to or coming from classes, it was a typically busy day on a college campus. It was also the afternoon before a Duke Men’s basketball game, so school spirit was on full display!

In the prerecorded tour, Devan delved into some of the 600+ clubs and organizations on Duke’s campus. He spent a good amount of time speaking about the various “Identity Centers” on campus. These centers help students find community on campus, but also allow students who are interested in a community that they have had little or no interaction with learn about that community in an authentic way. Learning from those with other backgrounds and interests was a theme, both in the information session and tour. With students representing all 50 states and over 100 countries, students will undoubtedly interact with others from different backgrounds.

Devan also talked about the Wellness Center, which houses student health, a dental office, and a center for counseling and psychological services, among other student-centered services. He made a point to speak about how the Wellness Center is Duke’s way of “breaking through mental health stigma”, which is a refreshing thing to hear from a tour guide, especially with GEC’s focus on wellness in the college search.

My personal experiences as a former Duke employee as well as a resident of Durham give me more insight into the open, welcoming nature of Duke’s community than the typical visitor would see. I’ve trusted Duke students to babysit my twin daughters and teach them to swim. With that said, I know visitors would find an open, welcoming community at Duke.


Duke’s campus is immaculately maintained down to the smallest detail. Devan, my tour guide, marveled in the beauty of West Campus.

Duke is split between two campuses, East and West campus. All first-year students live on East campus, along with a few academic departments. West campus houses upperclassmen and the majority of the academic departments, including all of the Pratt School of Engineering. Buses run regularly between East and West campus, but it’s a beautiful 15-to-20-minute walk between them if you have time. A big difference between the two is the architecture. While West campus is the Gothic architecture that many associate with Duke, East campus buildings are brick, so the campuses do have a different aesthetic and feel. West campus also has most of the iconic and noteworthy Duke facilities: Duke Chapel, Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the recently renovated Brodhead Center, which was a highlight of the tour.

If you are interested in nature, the Duke Gardens are a beautiful place to visit on West campus. On sunny days, you’ll find students studying throughout the garden. If you’re up for a hike, take a drive to visit Duke Forest, a 700+ acre teaching forest that has miles of well-maintained hiking trails (my family uses these trails regularly!).


Duke students have many avenues for engagement.

Duke’s research enterprise is massive, and undergraduate students are actively encouraged to participate in research and supported in their research goals through the Undergraduate Research Support Office.

In addition to research, Duke encourages students to study abroad, participate in various living and learning communities, and even pays for students to participate in service-learning opportunities.

These avenues for engagement were highlighted by both Mr. Carpenter and Devan, and are well utilized by Duke students.

Overall, Duke is a beautiful, welcoming university that has many excellent academic programs and encourages students to explore in ways that suit them. If there was one takeaway that resonated with me from this visit, it came from Mr. Carpenter’s presentation and his emphasis on the importance of liberal arts education at Duke, going so far as to call the Pratt School of Engineering a liberal arts engineering school! The core of his presentation was to encourage students to study and explore what they are interested in, both in their high school and college experiences. That’s the core of a liberal arts education as well - exploring multiple areas of interest just because they interest you. The idea of following your interests instead of what you perceive a college might like them to be is how we coach all of our students, and I was happy that Mr. Carpenter, and Duke, emphasize the importance of this way of thought.

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