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The Focus Program

phone: 919-684-9370 | email: |

FOCUS creates a vibrant, living-learning, intellectual community for faculty and students. Each FOCUS cluster consists of no more than 36 students, with seminar classes of up to 18 students. Students study with some of Duke’s most distinguished professors in Arts & Sciences, Medicine and Engineering. Topics include neuroscience, energy, engineering, genomics, global health, ethics, international politics, contemporary and medieval cultures, science and the public and religion. Students live with their clusters in the same residence halls on East Campus to facilitate discussion and scholarly exploration. Field trips, travel, community service, and research—and weekly meals with professors—are incorporated into the learning experience. 

Students are postured for success from the very beginning in courses that focus on the scientific method, problem solving and primary research. FOCUS enrolls first-year students in 2 of their 4 courses in the spring semester prior to starting at Duke. This makes entry into Duke much less stressful as they already have access to faculty, their own cohort and former FOCUS students from their cluster. FOCUS is an example of transformational education, where the boundaries of the classroom are fundamentally redefined. Many seniors note that FOCUS is one of the most influential experiences of their college career. All first-year undergraduates, including those in Trinity College and Pratt School of Engineering, can apply. For course information, see

The Focus Program selects students through a rolling admissions on-line application. Early decision students may apply to the Focus Program as early as February 1st. Regular admission incoming first-year students can apply to the Focus Program as soon as they have a Duke Student ID. We encourage students to apply as early as possible in order to have more options. Instructions on how to apply to the Focus Program can be found on the website under the For Students -> For Prospective students tab ( The application is also on the website. The  online application for Fall 2023 clusters opens on February 1, 2023. 

The final application deadline is May 25, 2023. Applicants who apply between February 1st and May 15th will be notified of their placement status within two weeks of submission. All remaining applicants will be notified of their placement status no later than June 15, 2023. The application process is simple. In the online application, you will select four (4) clusters (including course preferences) and answer a one-to-two question essay about your interest in the clusters. The Focus Program makes every effort to accommodate applicant preferences. You must select 4 clusters for your application to be processed. Students may decline their placement without any penalty. 

2023 Clusters

  • Cognitive Neuroscience and Law
  • Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship
  • Geopolitics & Culture
  • Global Energy: Past, Present, and Future
  • Global Health: Problems and Paradigms
  • Exploration of Genetics and Genomics
  • Humanitarian Challenges
  • It’s Not Too Late to Build a Better World 
  • Knowledge in the Service of Society
  • Medicine, Ethics, and Health Policy
  • Modeling in the Economic and Social Sciences
  • Science and Religion in Public Life 
  • Scientists, Artists, and Polymaths in the Renaissance
  • Science and the Public
  • The American Experiences
  • Thinking through Music and the Arts
  • Virtual Realities, Fictional Worlds, and Games
  • Visions of Freedom

FOCUS at a Glance

  • 600+ students each fall
  • 30% of first-year students
  • 18 FOCUS clusters each fall
  • 60+ Duke faculty regularly teach in the program
  • 35% of FOCUS students complete an honors thesis & graduate with distinction each year (compared to 23% of non-FOCUS students). 

Why consider FOCUS?

  • FOCUS classes are small – 18 or fewer students.
  • FOCUS students often connect deeply and quickly with faculty and those connections can help students discover Duke resources.
  • Higher percentages of FOCUS students win post-graduate awards.
  • More FOCUS students graduate with distinction.

Don’t miss out

FOCUS has rolling admissions, so apply as early as possible after matriculation until the May 25th deadline. Decisions are non-binding. If accepted, you can change your mind in the summer and pursue a non-FOCUS program.

Focus Mentoring Program

The Focus Mentoring Program has a wonderful group of former FOCUS students who are eager to share their experiences and impressions with new students interested in the program and who serve as mentors for future FOCUS students. If you would like to be connected to a FOCUS mentor, please let us know at:

What happens next?

If you are accepted, the Focus Program and the Office of the University Registrar will enroll you in two FOCUS seminars and the interdisciplinary discussion course. These courses will be visible in your class schedule. You cannot drop or add the FOCUS courses in DukeHub. You must first discuss changes to your schedule with your cluster director and the Focus Program staff. All questions about your FOCUS courses should be directed to the program coordinator at 919-684-9370 or via email at

You will choose additional courses, taken outside the Focus Program, to complete your schedule. Enrollment for these courses will happen within the usual registration windows designated by the Office of the University Registrar. Please follow the instructions in this book to register for your additional courses. 

All FOCUS courses count toward the credits needed for graduation; they may also count toward curriculum requirements, including majors, minors and certificate programs. 


Engineering students do participate in the Focus Program and find it is an incredible enhancement to their engineering studies. Engineering students may apply to participate in any of the FOCUS clusters, but students with fewer than 2 AP credits should select clusters where they can take two social science or humanities (ss/h); OR one ss/h and one engineering elective. Pratt participants without AP credits may be precluded from other activities such as study abroad. Questions about engineering coursework can be directed to a Pratt School of Engineering summer advisor by calling 919-660-5996 or sending an email to


FOCUS students belong to a family of up to 36. They share the excitement of the first year with everyone while taking part in a close-knit intellectual and social community. 

Students in first-year FOCUS clusters live in the same residence hall, but also share it with other first-year students. All FOCUS students can request to have a single or double room. Visit Housing and Residence Life for more information about Duke’s first-year campus at