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Duke Pre-College Programs: Everything You Need To Know

Pre-College summer programs can give you an early experience of college life (potentially at your dream school!), expose you to advanced academic opportunities, and allow you to continue learning while you’re on break from school. In this article, we’ll explore one choice to pursue — Duke University’s Pre-College Programs.

What are Duke’s Pre-College programs?

Searching for a way to pursue high-level academic study over the summer? Hoping to get a true sense of the college experience — both coursework and campus life? Duke’s Pre-College Programs might be a great fit for you!

Though high school summer programs abound, you should think through what you are looking for in a program. For instance, if you are looking for a deep-dive, immersive experience, you’ll find that many summer programs share a disadvantage — their course offerings are often broad introductions to an academic field. The greatest strength of Duke’s summer course offerings is their college seminar-like focus on a truly specialized topic.

Think about it this way: if you’re interested in biology, you could enroll in Neural Integration and Sensory Pathways and save your general biology study for the school year. Or, if you’re an advanced student in math hoping to move beyond Calculus or Differential Equations, a course in Exploring Cryptography Through Gamified Programming can transfer your skills in mathematical methods to advanced technical applications. You can integrate studies in law, sociology, and politics in Criminal Law at the Intersection of Race, Class, and Power, or study rare books and learn archival methods in Exploring Art, Museums, and Archives.

If you’ve been waiting for the chance to see the depth of college-level study and are interested in learning more before you apply, this guide will help you evaluate your options for study and determine your fit for Duke’s Pre-College Programs offerings.

We’ll walk through detailed information about course offerings, program structure, and the pros and cons of participating.

Are Duke Pre-College Programs Selective?

Though Duke does not release acceptance rates for their summer programs, we can assume that the program is not that selective owing to its paid nature. You should note that as opposed to fully-funded research fellowships, research programs, or paid internships, pre-college programs that require students to pay a few thousand dollars are not that prestigious.

What can I study at Duke’s Pre-College Programs?

The Pre-College Programs fall into 6 disciplines: Engineering, Humanities, Math, Technology, Science, and Social Sciences. Each discipline hosts at least one offering; selections are more limited in Engineering, Math, and Technology with 1-2 programs in each, while Science, Humanities, and Social Sciences each have at least 5 options to choose from.

Though course offerings are subject to change, here are the offerings from the 2023 Program.

Engineering: Engineering Solutions for Global Health: The Human-Centered Design Process; From Gel to Sell: Research, Ethics, and Business of Biomaterials

Humanities: Academic Writing: The Daily Grind (also offered online); Exploring Art, Museums, and Archives; Powerful Narration in Creative Writing; The Woman Ruler: Powerful Female Leaders in Greece and Rome

Math: Applied Econometrics; Exploring Cryptography Through Gamified Programming (also offered online)

Science: Chemical Toxicology; Healthcare Professions and Modern Medicine; Medical Research Panels; Neural Integration and Sensory Pathways; Ocean Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Social Sciences: Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Criminal Law at the Intersection of Race, Class, and Power; Politics of Empire; Social Psychology and the Law; The Sustainable CEO – Transformative Business Leadership; Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Post-Conflict Societies

Technology: Digital Music Production

What Would I Be Doing as a Participant?

Unfortunately, the specialized course offerings at Duke’s Pre-College Programs have a downside — as programs vary from year to year, you won’t be able to find specific curriculum information before you’re actually enrolled. Duke’s program descriptions don’t provide in-depth information about the curriculum and activities beyond a course overview. However, the overall structure and course content is fairly consistent across courses within each sub-field.

Here’s a general picture of what your experience would look like in each department:

Engineering: Trips to workshops and companies, ethical and social implications, group projects, and product development.

Humanities: Methods in archival study, exploring rare books and documents, comparative textual analysis, academic and creative writing.

Math: Advanced topical methods, experimental and practical applications, data analysis, and group projects.

Science: Lab work & experiments, discussion, advising, and coursework with researchers and professors.

Social Sciences: Seminar study, group discussion and analysis, interactive group projects.

Technology: Theoretical study, working with professional software, independent projects, group collaboration

On the day-to-day, you’ll typically spend 6 hours in course-related study and activities, which are taught by Duke affiliates, professors, and grad students. Later you’ll attend an hour-long college prep workshop and optional evening activities to relax and have fun with students from all programs.

If you’re not able to make it to campus, some programs provide an online option for students looking for virtual study. The online offerings are more limited than those open to on-campus students, but you’ll still have a broad selection of courses to choose from.

Key Facts about Duke’s Pre-College Programs

Location: Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)

Program Dates: The exact dates of Duke Pre-College attendance vary by your choice of program. Duke’s summer programs are offered in three 10-day sessions, typically in late June, early July, and late July.

Eligibility: Students from grades 6 to rising 12th graders are eligible to apply, including International students.

Application Dates: Duke Pre-College Program applications become available on December 15th for the upcoming summer’s program. Early applications are due on February 1st, for which you’ll hear back by February 15th. Regular applications must be submitted by April 1st, with decisions released on April 14th.

Application Requirements: Duke’s Pre-College programs have a fairly substantial application. You’ll need to submit an official high school transcript, a formal resume detailing all extracurricular activities, awards, and honors, as well as a one-page personal statement that details your interest, qualifications, and goals for your intended course. International students must also have a B-2 Tourist Visa and demonstrate proof of English proficiency by either completing an interview, showing evidence of attending an English-language school, or taking the TOEFL (9+) or IELTS (7.0+).

Cost: To apply, you must pay a non-refundable $150 application fee. The program cost for residential students is $4,900, and $3,200 for students who commute to campus. Financial aid is very limited, but may be a possibility — you can discuss options with program staff if you indicate interest in seeking aid on your application.

Pros & Cons

To offer a final analysis of whether Duke’s Pre-College Programs might suit your interests, here are some essential pros and cons to know before you apply:


  1. You’ll get a chance to experience life at Duke: From living on campus to studying with Duke professors to learning firsthand about undergraduate seminar courses, you’ll get a clear sense of what your college experience might look like as a Duke student. So, when it comes time to begin college applications, you’ll know in advance if Duke is a good fit for you.

  2. You’ll study unique & specialized topics: If you’re looking to dive into a subject you’d never encounter in your high school course offerings, the chance Duke offers to study professors’ niche areas of focus is worth exploring. It’s hard to find another summer program that gives better preparation for college coursework than here!

  3. You can find an array of opportunities outside of STEM: Many competitive pre-college programs offer limited options in the study of literature, arts, history, and social sciences; those that do exist are typically weaker in terms of course activities and advanced or specialized content. Duke is one of the best options for students passionate about Humanities and Social Sciences to pursue advanced summer study, allowing for exploration of the intersections between history, literature, and society.

  4. If you’re local, you can commute: Though staying on-campus is always an exciting prospect, students living in or near Durham may find it frustrating to pay for housing when they can easily get to and from Duke. Unlike the majority of programs requiring all students to stay on-campus, Duke’s Pre-College Programs allow local students to commute at a decreased tuition cost.


  1. Limited admissions advantage: Some students seek out summer opportunities at their top-choice schools, hoping it gives them an edge as an applicant. However, keep in mind that there is little advantage that Duke’s programs offer in your odds of acceptance. As Duke’s admissions process becomes increasingly competitive, they do not consider demonstrated interest when deciding who to accept. However, there’s still a chance to get ahead — if you really impress and connect with a professor leading your program, receiving a letter of recommendation can have a big impact.

  2. Financial Inaccessibility: Though receiving financial support from Duke is not impossible, it is very limited and often restricted to those with extreme financial need. With costs approaching $5,000 and a $150 application fee, it will unfortunately be unaffordable for most families.

Should You Consider Applying?

Before you apply, check out our recommendations on whether this program might be the right fit for you:

  1. You’re ready to dive into specialized material: With the focused subject matter of Duke’s course offerings, this is a great chance to begin an in-depth study of your academic passions. If you’re seeking a broader introduction to an academic field, you may not find what you’re looking for.

  2. You want to prep for college applications: As Duke offers workshops throughout the program to learn how to prepare for successful college applications, you’ll be able to pursue an additional goal beyond your coursework. If you’re still early in your high school career, you might be looking for different co-curricular programming.

  3. You’re aware that you’re not guaranteed an admissions advantage: Some students choose summer programs at their top-choice schools hoping that it will put them on the Admissions Office’s radar early. However, at highly selective schools like Duke, there’s little impact the program can have on your application. Nonetheless, you’ll still get a chance to experience Duke’s academic offerings and campus life.

Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!

Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests. The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. 

The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: Duke University logo


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