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Is It Worth Applying to Duke University's SWiM (Summer Workshop in Math)?

Duke University offers a variety of summer programs for high schoolers that aim to expand students' perspectives on the varying fields they can study when entering university life. If you are specifically looking for a math-oriented pre-college program, then you’ll find various options.

In this blog, we will cover Duke University’s SWiM (Summer Workshops in Math) program. Here, we will dive into an overview of the program, important dates, topics and research covered, eligibility and application process, as well as past testimonials from former SWiM scholars.

What is SWiM?

SWiM, short for the Summer Workshop in Math, is a complimentary1-week workshop designed for upcoming high school seniors interested in mathematics, specifically promoting greater participation by women in the field. Created in 2016, the SWiM is especially committed to enhancing diversity in mathematics and broader fields like science and technology, thus strongly encouraging applications from female and gender minority students.

SWiM attendees will partake in two mathematics courses, engage in afternoon group activities, attend lectures delivered by local professors from Duke, UNC, and NCSU, and participate in panel discussions and social events. During the program, participants will explore fascinating mathematical concepts, explore new perspectives, and share their insights with their peers. The program culminates in live presentations. Throughout the workshop, students will have the opportunity to interact with undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members from Duke University's Department of Mathematics. On-campus housing, supervised by chaperones, will be provided

What are the eligibility criteria for Duke’s SWiM?

SWiM actively encourages female and gender minority students to apply and aims to enhance diversity in these domains. Applicants need to meet specific prerequisites, including being a US citizen or permanent resident and being in their junior year of high school.

To apply to the program, you need:

  1. A Transcript

  2. Uploaded responses to the SWiM Application Problems, found on the SWiM webpage. Solutions don't need to be exhaustive; well-explained partial solutions will also be considered.

  3. A Cover Letter that explains your interests in SWiM and any specific accessibility requirements you may have, and include your signed pledge.

  4. A letter of reference from your math teacher. Provide your teacher's name and email address in your application. A requested reference letter on your behalf will be emailed—please do not directly obtain it.

If you prefer to email your application, please send it to by the deadline.

Notification of the application decision will be sent via email.

Application deadline and other important dates & timelines

Applications for a particular cohort are typically due in March of that year.

What topics are offered in SWiM?

A variety of topics are covered each year between the two courses offered in the summer. Topics covered in 2022 include learning about the Sum of Squares and their role in understanding integers.

For example, in 2023, a course titled, "Representation of a Number as a Sum of Powers" taught by Rena Chu explored the fascinating mathematical concept of expressing numbers as combinations of powers, revealing hidden patterns and relationships within mathematics.

In addition to this, a course titled, "Squeezing Shapes” on topology taught by Aygul Galimova is the branch of mathematics that studies the fundamental properties of space and shape. It delves into the intriguing concepts of continuity, connectedness, and transformation, providing unique insights into the structure and geometry of our universe."

We love that both instructors are students at Duke!

How is SWiM structured?

SWiM is an immersive 1-week workshop during which you’ll spend the week covering mathematical concepts, afternoon group work, and lectures from Duke, UNC, and NCSU faculty. In addition to this, you’ll get a good taste of college life at Duke, and free time to socialize with others in the community. You’ll also be living on campus!

Throughout the week, we have a packed schedule. Mornings typically begin with breakfast, followed by courses and various discussions. Guest speakers and group activities are designed to enrich your learning experience. Evenings offer free time or opportunities to work on presentations or explore Duke Gardens. Thursday includes a campus tour and admissions presentation, while Friday culminates in participant presentations, a reception, and farewells. It's a busy and engaging week ahead!

Is the SWiM program prestigious?

While there is no available data regarding the acceptance rate for SWiM applications, it's important to note that the program is highly specialized and employs a rigorous application process to assess eligibility.

SWiM operates as an exclusive program with a specific mission to enhance diversity within the field of mathematics. Participation in SWiM comes at no cost, as it is fully funded, which adds to the competitiveness of the application process.

Our guess is that the admission process is pretty competitive and the program will boost your profile, especially if you are looking at studying math!

Pros and Cons of attending SWiM


  1. It provides a specialized learning experience: SWiM offers a highly specialized and focused learning experience in mathematics. Participants get the chance to delve into mathematical concepts and explore topics that may not be covered in their regular high school curriculum. This can provide a significant advantage in terms of mathematical knowledge.

  2. It’s focused on promoting diversity and inclusion: SWiM is committed to increasing diversity in mathematics. It actively encourages applications from female and gender minority students, addressing the underrepresentation of these groups in STEM fields. This commitment to diversity fosters a more inclusive learning environment.

  3. It’s a fully funded program. One of the most significant advantages of SWiM is its cost-free program. This means that eligible students do not have to worry about the financial burden of tuition or other associated costs. This accessibility makes it an attractive option for students who may not have the means to pay for similar programs.

  4. It gives you a taste of college life, and especially life at Duke: SWiM provides a unique opportunity for high school seniors to taste college life. Participants engage in stimulating mathematical exploration and experience living on Duke University's campus, fostering a genuine collegiate atmosphere. It's a chance to discover what university life is all about while immersing yourself in mathematics.

  5. It provides an opportunity to build an extensive network: Not only will you get familiar with the math faculty at Duke and math majors, but also UNC and NCSU. This is a pretty great outcome for you, especially if you want to study math, and in North Carolina.

  6. It opens more opportunities: Consider reaching out to both graduate students and faculty members to explore the possibility of getting involved in additional research, especially if it aligns with your interests. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the research conducted within the mathematics department and actively seek out opportunities for participation.


  1. It has a competitive admissions process which can be tedious: While the program's commitment to diversity is commendable, it also means that the admission process is highly competitive. The exact acceptance rate is private, which can lead to uncertainty and potential disappointment for applicants who do not secure a spot.

  2. It is short in duration and will not be a true deep-dive into a wider range of topics with limited availability: SWiM is a relatively short-term program with a structured schedule. This limited timeframe may restrict participants from pursuing other summer activities or commitments, potentially impacting their overall plans.

  3. It is not open to international students: SWiM is open only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. While this ensures that eligible applicants have a strong connection to the program's mission, it may exclude international students interested in similar mathematical opportunities, limiting the program's reach in terms of global participation.

Our Review

In summary, Duke University's SWiM (Summer Workshop in Math) program offers a unique opportunity for high school students interested in mathematics, strongly emphasizing diversity and inclusion in the field. Pros of attending SWiM include Its specialized learning experience, a commitment to fostering diversity, fully funded participation, the taste of college life, and the opportunity to build an extensive network.

It also opens doors to additional research opportunities. However, the program has cons, such as a competitive admissions process, limited duration, and exclusivity to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

SWiM may be an excellent choice for high school seniors passionate about mathematics, especially those seeking to explore advanced topics beyond their regular high school curriculum and those interested in experiencing university life. It also appeals to students who value diversity and inclusivity in STEM fields.

However, potential applicants should be prepared for the competitive admission process, the relatively short program duration, and the restriction to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. If these limitations are a concern or if a more in-depth exploration of mathematics is desired, applicants may want to explore alternative math programs with different criteria and structures. Nonetheless, SWiM stands as a commendable opportunity for those looking to expand their mathematical horizons and contribute to the diversification of the mathematical community

Former student testimonials have been positive. Here’s what a student had to say:

“During my too-short week at SWiM 2021, I’ve learned more than I thought possible, diving into the complex and intriguing courses of Coding Theory and Squeezing Shapes, meeting so many inspirational women like my fellow participants, the staff, and the guest speakers, and experiencing for myself how to embrace the delightful struggle that mathematics brings.”

Potential applicants should be aware of the competitive nature of the program's admission process, the limited time commitment required, and the geographical restrictions that apply. Despite these challenges, participation in SWiM can provide valuable mathematical insights and contribute to the promotion of diversity in the field of mathematics.

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 

The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas.

The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.

You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship. In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship.

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 passionate about conducting research in math, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students 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.

Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!

Image Source: Duke University logo


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