Be sure to read the sample essay before reading the critique.
Before we look at the actual essay, think about the prompt. The admissions officers want to know if there is something "in particular at Duke" that makes the applicant want to go there. A bad essay (such as this example) never discusses features that are unique to Duke. A good essay gets specific and shows particular knowledge of the school.
The sample essay succeeds on this front. Although the essay is just a paragraph long, the author presents three specific features of Duke that make her want to attend:
- The attractive campus with its Gothic and Southern appeal
- The flexible nature of the history curriculum
- The fact that she has a friend at Duke
The first point has moderate importance. Many colleges have impressive Gothic architecture, so the feature isn't unique to Duke. However, the writer connects the campus to her own Southerness. She also demonstrates that she has visited the campus, something that is not true of many applicants who haphazardly apply to a long list of prestigious schools.
The second point about the history curriculum is key to this essay's success. This applicant knows what lies beneath the university's surface. She has clearly researched the curriculum. She is not applying to Duke simply because of its beauty or its reputation, but because she likes how the university approaches learning.
Admissions officers will certainly take note of the fact that this applicant has done some research and has thoughtful reasons for wanting to attend Duke.