Duke is split into three different "campuses." All of its campuses are moderately sized and very close in proximity (a free shuttle system runs between them almost constantly). As Duke requires its students to live on campus for their first three years, most spend one year on each of the three campuses.
East Campus is entirely reserved for freshmen. It used to be Trinity College (the women's college that Duke was before it was "Duke") and consists of nice, quiet brick dormitories. Students are randomly assigned here housing after admission. Living with only freshmen makes the transition to college much easier. East Campus provides tons of nightly and weekend activities to help students meet other freshmen and get involved with various groups. Every block of freshmen (usually two or three per floor) is assigned a Resident Assistant, an upperclassman who acts as a guide and resource. Freshmen students have classes both on East Campus, or they take shuttles to West Campus (about a 3-6 minute ride).
West Campus is Duke's main campus and central hub. Most of Duke's academic buildings, student unions, and residence halls can be found there. West Campus, for all intents and purposes, looks like a castle. Most of its buildings, including student dorms, are made up of beautiful grey stones. The size and quality of the dorm rooms on West Campus varies dramatically. Some are vile and some are amazing. Second-year students form the majority on this campus, and choose their housing via a lottery from the year before.
Central Campus is where most third-year students live. It was built in the 1970's for students with spouses or children, and is more accurately labeled "apartments" than dorms. Most of the Central Campus apartments were recently renovated and look nice. Some students there will share one bedroom with a roommate, and others will get a bedroom to themselves. I lived on Central Campus for a semester after coming back from abroad and loved it. Some of my peers, however, have given it generally negative reviews.
Overall, dorm life at Duke is fun. Most of the rooms are considerably more expensive than off-campus housing, but offer close proximity to classes and other students. And, as I said, students don't have a choice. They must live on campus for three years.
Every dorm on Duke's campus, literally EVERY dorm is different. It's impossible to describe the dorms because it is so varied. Some have huge rooms, some have small rooms, some have both. Some are in amazing locations, most are in good locations, and a select few are in terrible locations (like Edens on west campus... really only Edens is in a bad location). Some are old, many are new. The housing process and model is going to change a lot at Duke in the next few years, as the administration is starting up a new house model, but as far as it is right now, there is not a whole lot of say as to where you live, and you can randomly be stuck in a not-so-great location or venue. However, I have never heard someone living on Edens or on Central Campus (generally the two least-desired places) say that they regret it or think that it is nearly as terrible as it is made out to be.
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