Is Duke Ivy League? Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

Future college students looking at the best school in the country would do well to consider Duke University. From its beginnings as a Quaker and Methodist seminary in 1836, Duke University has grown to be one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States. Housed in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University boasts a marine lab, a chapel designed by African-American architect Julian Abele and Horace Trumbauer, and a world-renowned medical center. 

Duke’s alumni include notable people across numerous disciplines. Former President Richard M. Nixon, former senator Elizabeth Dole, and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos all graduated from Duke. The University has produced five Nobel Laurates in the fields of Physics and Chemistry as well as 50 Rhodes Scholars.

Literary luminaries from Duke University include Pulitzer Prize winners William Styron, Anne Tyler, and Elizabeth A. Fenn. 

Several Fortune 500 CEOs hold degrees from Duke University, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bear Sterns Executive Chairman Alan Schwartz, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner.

Additionally, Duke University is a sports powerhouse, which has won multiple NCAA championships. Athletes from Duke University have gone on to play professional basketball, football, and baseball, including NBA Champion Kyrie Irving, hall-of-fame quarterback Sonny Jurgenson, and Olympian Abigail Johnston. 

With such an impressive pedigree, you can see why so many people would think that Duke University belongs in the Ivy League. But as this article explains, there’s much more to Duke than its athletics department, with funding and academics to match those of any school in the Ivy League. 


Is Duke University an Ivy League School?

Duke University
photo via Wikimedia Commons

The short answer is, “no” – Duke is not an Ivy League school.

Founded in 1958, the Ivy League is a Division I NCAA athletic conference consisting of eight private research schools: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University. 

Because seven of the eight schools trace their establishment to before the founding of the United States (Cornell University was formed in 1865), the Ivies have the honor of being some of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country. 

Since that time, the Ivy League schools have only enhanced their reputation, through high academic standards, their devotion to cutting-edge research, the contributions of their student bodies, and their highly selective admission standards. 

But impressive American schools can easily be found outside of the Ivy League. Neither Stanford University, New York University, nor Massachusetts Institute of Technology belong to the Ivy League, and yet no one would question the reputations or academic rigor of those schools. 

As a member of the Athletic Coast Conference (ACC), Duke University is not an official Ivy League school. Its primary athletic rivals include the nearby University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, not Harvard or Yale.

However, Duke’s admission standards and academic rankings match and even top those of many official members of the Ivy League. The school boasts an impressive history of producing Nobel Prize laurates, heads of Fortune 500 companies, and winners of awards in numerous fields. Furthermore, the Duke Blue Devils have won more athletic championships than any of the schools in the Ivy League, as the ACC is generally considered to be a far more competitive conference. 


Why Duke Is Often Confused As an Ivy League School

Simply put, many people think that Duke University is in the Ivy League because it is one of the best schools in the country. Because most Americans think of the Ivy League as a collection of academically prestigious schools and not an athletic division, many assume that any impressive college or university is an Ivy. 

More importantly, Ivy League schools tend to be highly selective, with Harvard only accepting 4.9% of applicants and Brown taking just 6.9%. With an average acceptance rate of 7.7%, Duke is harder to enter than Ivies Cornell, Dartmouth, and Penn. 

Those percentages are even more impressive when one considers the number of applications Duke University receives. Where only 32,836 students applied to Princeton University in 2020 and 35,220 applied to Yale University, 39,783 students applied to join the Class of 2024 at Duke University.

As a private institution, Duke University relies on endowments from donors. In 2019, more than 100,000 private donors supported the school, raising over 507 million dollars. This money contributed to Duke’s 8.6 billion dollar endowment, making the University one of the richest in the country. Duke’s endowment even eclipses that of Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth. 

Duke collects this money not to improve its reputation, but to further its research goals. In 2019, the University spent more than 1.2 billion dollars on research, placing it tenth in the nation in research expenditures. 

These statistics demonstrate that Duke University competes with, and often bests, Ivy League schools according to nearly every metric. So while the University may not belong to the same official athletic division as Harvard and Penn, Duke is just as selective and research-focused as any school in the country. 


Duke University: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

Given these impressive numbers, it’s no surprise that Duke University ranks among the best schools in the country. U.S. News & World Report puts Duke at 12th in the nation in National Universities, above Ivy League schools Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell. U.S News also ranks Duke tied for 9th in Undergraduate Teaching, #14 in Most Innovative Schools, and #13 in Best Value Schools. 

The Princeton Review places Duke #19 on its list of Best Value Colleges and #12 in Best Career Placement. Duke not only ranked #9 in the Forbes list of Top Colleges but #9 in Research Universities and #1 in the South. 

Duke fared even better with the Washington Monthly, which placed the University at #6 on its list of 2020 National University Rankings. Unlike other publications, Washington Monthly ranks universities according to “their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and promoting public service.”

Niche gives Duke University an A+ grade, citing its commitment to strong academics, a diverse student body, and athletic success. This score puts Duke #1 on several Niche lists, including Best Colleges for Student Athletes in America, Best Colleges for Public Policy in America, and Best Christian Colleges in America. It sits at an impressive #3 in Colleges with the Best Professors in America and #5 in Best Colleges in America. 

In 2020, Duke accepted 8.2% of its 39,744 applicants for a Class of 2024 consisting of 1593 students enrolled. These low numbers make for very small class sizes, with many classes consisting of 19 students or fewer. With a student to faculty ratio of 6:1, Duke University promises full attention and support to those who come there to learn. 


How to Get Into Duke

With such a low acceptance rate, Duke University can afford to restrict itself to the best of the best. In 2020, incoming students had SAT scores of 1480-1570 and ACT scores of 34-35. The average GPA of a student accepted into Duke was 3.90 on a 4.0 scale

Yes, those are high expectations. But even if you’re not quite reaching those numbers, you can still put together an impressive application package. If you don’t have the grades and scores admissions officers at Duke expect, you try to supplement your grade with strong extra-curricular activities. According to the University’s admissions board website, Duke “appreciate[s] well-rounded and well-lopsided students that will make an impact on our campus and in our community.”

You can start developing that “well-rounded and well-lopsided” identity now. If you’re hoping to study politics at Duke, you should be working in your community even in high school. That means that you should not only be active in student government and the model U.N., but you should also be getting real-world experience. Help hand out flyers at a political rally or gather signatures. Promote a candidate that you’re passionate about, even if it’s for something as mundane as drain commissioner. 

Finally, Duke does require an application essay. This can be your chance to explain yourself, to tell the admission board what you’ve done to become the kind of person that Duke wants in their student body and how the University will help you continue your personal development. Think not only about what Duke can do for you, but what you can do for the learning community there. How will you contribute? How will you better the lives of your fellow students? How will you enrich their academic lives? 

These practices not only build your resume but also put you in contact with people who can write a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation can go a long way to making you into an attractive candidate for admission, especially if the recommender is someone with prestige. 


Recap: Duke Is Not an Ivy League School, However, It Is a Highly-Ranked Private University

Duke University is not an Ivy League school. 

But unless you’re concerned about football rivalries between the Columbia University Lions and the Dartmouth College Big Green, that shouldn’t matter. The Ivy League is, after all, only a sports division. Not only is Duke harder to get into than many of the Ivies, but its academics and athletics top its more famous sisters. 

The bad news, of course, is that it’s really hard to get into Duke University. Only 8.2% of applicants receive offers of acceptance, which means that most people who want to go to Duke get turned down. 

But some people do get in, and you could be one of them. If you want to be a Blue Devil someday, you should start improving your GPA now. Take difficult classes and work hard to get good grades, especially if they relate to your major. But don’t pin all your hopes on your grades. Work to earn good SAT and ACT scores, and also start developing connections through extra-curricular activities. Show the admission boards at Duke that you’re just the kind of thoughtful, curious, well-rounded student that they want in their programs. 

Yes, that is a lot of hard work, the type of work you’d do only for an Ivy League school. But as this article has shown, Duke is better than most Ivy League schools in many ways. Although it may not belong to the most famous athletic conference, Duke has proven itself to be the school of choice for leaders in many important fields around the globe. If you work hard and develop your skills, you can join them one day. 

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