Brown or Duke: Which Is Better for You in 2022?

Brown and Duke are two of the most respected universities in America. Consequently, it is not uncommon that students oftentimes have to decide between these two prestigious institutions.

So which university should you go to, Brown or Duke?

While Duke is strongly focused on scientific research, Brown is more flexible and allows students to design their own academic program. Overall, both of them will deliver a high-quality education. Although Brown is an Ivy League school, Duke performs better when it comes to international rankings.

However, there are many different factors that come into play when choosing a college. In order to make the right choice, it is important to be well informed and carefully evaluate every single variable.

And that’s what we are going to do in this article. We are going to start by taking a quick overview of both universities. After that, we’ll analyze the key factors that may influence your decision, such as reputation, admissions statistics, cost of attendance, and even the salaries that graduates are likely to earn.

So if that sounds interesting to you, let’s dive right in!

Overview of Brown University.

Brown University

Located in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University is famous for being part of the prestigious Ivy League, an exclusive group of eight universities with connotations of academic excellence and selectivity.

With over 250 years of existence, one of the main characteristics that makes Brown stand out from the crowd is flexibility. Thanks to its Open Curriculum, students are able to design their own programs so they fit their own interests and goals.

The university is formed by the following divisions:

  • The College.
  • Graduate School.
  • School of Engineering.
  • School of Professional Studies.
  • School of Public Health.
  • Warren Alpert Medical School.

The College is where undergraduate education takes place. There are over 80 concentration programs that you can choose from. Besides, every year The College funds hundreds of research projects and internships. So you can apply and explore an issue of your interest under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

Finally, Brown University has also been the alma mater of notable people like John F. Kennedy Jr., Emma Watson, as well as CNN founder Ted Turner.

Overview of Duke University.

Duke University

Founded in 1838 as Trinity College, Duke University is widely known for being one of the wealthiest private universities in the United States. It’s located in Durham, North Carolina, but it also administers two schools in Singapore and China.

Duke is famous for being quite competitive when it comes to sports. However, the main reason behind its reputation is its research quality. To the present day, 11 Nobel laureates and 3 Turing Award winners have been affiliated with Duke. In addition to that, 32 of its professors are included in Clarivate’s list of Highly Cited Researchers.

The university is quite diverse and is formed by the following schools:

  • Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
  • School of Law.
  • Divinity School.
  • Graduate School.
  • School of Medicine.
  • School of Nursing.
  • Pratt School of Engineering.
  • Fuqua School of Business.
  • Nicholas School of the Environment.
  • Sanford School of Public Policy.

Undergraduates are required to live on campus for the first three years, where they can leverage the university’s sports facilities and get fully involved in student life.

Prestige and Rankings.

Rankings are a useful tool if you want to take a glance at a school’s performance. And while your choice shouldn’t be based entirely on these numbers, they are still a good starting point in the decision-making process.

These are the latest rankings from the most reliable sources:

QS World University Rankings6042
Times Higher Education6120

However, looking at these simple numbers is not really that helpful. They only show you the school’s performance at this moment, causing you to miss the forest for the trees. Besides, rankings tend to vary depending on the methodology used by the company.

So in order to tackle this issue, we are going to take the average of the last years and show you the historical trend. This is far better if you want to get the most out of the data.

Below is a historical chart with the average rankings for both Brown and Duke:

University average rankings
Average rankings calculated with data from Times Higher Education and QS Top Universities

Now you have a wider view of what’s going on. Every chart tells you a story. And what we can see here is that both universities have followed a similar trajectory in the last years. However, Duke has consistently ranked higher than Brown University.

The average rank for both colleges is eleven positions lower than it was in 2014. Their most significant dip just occurred in 2021. Nonetheless, they’re still ranking among the top 100 higher education institutions in the world.

Although Brown is an Ivy League school, Duke has kept better positions over time.


Now let’s take a look at the admissions statistics. This is one of the most interesting parts, as it will tell you how selective these schools are. Besides, you’ll be able to gauge your odds of acceptance before applying.

The table below roughly summarizes the admissions information according to the most recent reports:

Acceptance rate7.07%7.60%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

But just like we did previously, we’re not going to focus just on raw numbers. Instead, we are going to analyze trends, so you can better understand what to expect and prepare for your goal.

Would you like to know if these schools have gotten more difficult to get into? Are you wondering if you’ll need a higher SAT score next year? Well, those are exactly the questions that we can answer by analyzing trends.

Acceptance rate.

Selectivity is one of the main characteristics that both Brown and Duke have in common. Every year there are thousands of applicants competing for a place, but only a few of them manage to get accepted. So in this section, we are going to explain this behavior in more detail.

For this purpose, it is useful to analyze the acceptance rate for both schools. Take a look at the graph below. What can you notice?

This chart demonstrates that both schools have gotten more selective over time. Although Brown’s acceptance rate is slightly lower than Duke’s, the latter experienced a more significant and rapid decrease.

It is important to point out that both universities reported their lowest values in the 2019-2020 cycle.

To summarize:

  • For the 2014-2015 cycle, Brown’s acceptance rate was 2.67 points lower than Duke’s. However, as of 2020, this difference decreased to only 0.53 points.
  • Duke University showed an abrupt decline in its acceptance rate, as it fell from 11.41% to 7.6% over a 7-year period.
  • The acceptance rate at Brown University peaked at 9.49% in 2015. However, it finally dropped to 7.07% in the 2019-2020 cycle.

With an increasing number of applicants every year, it is expected that the acceptance rate at both schools will keep declining over the next years. So whether you choose Brown or Duke, you need to be prepared to face a high level of competition.

Test Scores.

The table below illustrates the score ranges for the 2019-2020 period:

(25th – 75th percentiles)
(25th – 75th percentiles)
SAT Math740 – 800760 – 800
SAT Reading700 – 770720 – 770
ACT Composite33 – 3533 – 35
Admitted students who enrolled typically had scores in these ranges. Source: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

The table alone may be a little bit helpful. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you want to know if these schools are getting harder to get into, you’ll need to observe how these scores have changed over time. And that’s what you are about to find out.

So stay here because this information is crucial if you want to increase your odds of acceptance.

In order to track this variation, we are going to plot the 25th percentile scores for both colleges. Depending on their behavior, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect.

Update 2021. Due to the current situation, both Brown and Duke already announced that they won’t be considering SAT or ACT scores for this cycle. If you’re applying in 2021, your application will be evaluated with more emphasis on your high school grades.

However, I still recommend you read this section if you’re going to apply in 2022.

SAT Math.

The graph below illustrates how the SAT Math scores have changed over the last years:

Math scores at Duke have been consistently higher. However, if you look at the graph carefully, you’ll see that both schools have shown almost the same trajectory. In fact, there are sections where the lines are parallel.

While Duke had a dramatic increase of 60 points in its SAT Math score, Brown didn’t fall behind and its score grew by 50 points. Pretty impressive, considering these changes took place in a 4-year period.

In both cases, this rapid increase reflects that the competition is getting tougher. Therefore, you can expect that the SAT Math scores at both universities will keep going up. But because they are already close to 800, they will grow at a slower pace before hitting a plateau.

SAT Reading.

The chart below illustrates how the SAT Reading scores for both schools have varied since 2016:

As of 2016, both Brown and Duke registered the same value. The 25th percentile reading score at that time was 680 points. However, these scores were higher in the 2019-2020 cycle.

Concerning Brown University, its reading score has remained steady at 700 for the last three cycles. Duke, on the other hand, reached a new maximum at 720.

Although these values are not as high as the math scores, it is important to keep in mind that they are likely to keep growing gradually.

Cost of Attendance, Net Price and Financial Aid.

The following table contains the reported Cost of Attendance (COA) for both Brown and Duke. The COA is a quick estimation of the amounts that you would spend annually without receiving any kind of aid. This includes tuition and fees, as well as other student expenses, such as room and board, books, and so on:

Tuition and fees$55,556$55,695
Books and supplies$1,595$1,260
Room and board (on-campus)$16,741$18,150
Cost of attendance$73,892$75,105
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Net Price and Average Amount of Aid.

By subtracting the average financial aid from the total cost of attendance we can calculate the Average Net Price for both colleges:

Cost of Attendance$73,892$75,105
Average Amount of Aid$46,674$50,719
Average Net Price$27,218$24,386

The Average Net Price refers to the amount that students would annually spend, on average, after receiving grant or scholarship aid.

And the chart below will let you visualize how both schools’ net price has varied over time:

From the chart, we can tell that the Average Net Price at Brown University has been historically higher. Although Duke’s net price was slightly above in 2013, it remained lower in the next years.

However, in the 2018-2019 cycle, it reached a peak at $24,386. This is an increase of 23.25% with respect to the previous year.

As for Brown, it’s typically more expensive than Duke but its Average Net Price didn’t change significantly.

For the last period, Duke University reported an Average Net Price of $24,386, which is 11.61% lower than Brown’s $27,218.

Keep in mind that net prices can dramatically change from one student to another, as it is highly dependent on family income. The following table contains this parameter by income level:

Net Price
Net Price
$0 – $30,000$201$-7,808
$30,001 – $48,000$6,684$-1,314
$48,001 – $75,000$11,689$4,150
$75,001 – $100,000$21,634$18,375
$100,001 and more$43,592$48,680
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: The Net-Prices presented in this article are just informational and may vary substantially depending on your personal situation. For a more accurate estimate, you can use the Net Price Calculator of the corresponding school. You’ll find the links at the end of the post.

Percentage of Students Receiving Aid.

So far, we know what the total cost of attendance is and how it can be reduced by receiving financial aid. But now you are about to know which of these universities provides aid to a higher percentage of students.

In the chart below we can see the percentage of first-time students that have received aid over the last years:

Brown vs Duke: Percentage of First-Time Students receiving grant or scholarship aid
Percentages calculated with data from the National Center for Education Statistics

As you can see, the proportion of students with grant or scholarship aid decreased consistently between 2013 and 2016. Although both schools recovered and gave aid to more students in the next cycles, the truth is that they haven’t reached the same level they reported in previous years.

During the 2018-2019 cycle, Duke awarded aid to 48.31% of its first-time students. On the other hand, this number was lower at Brown University, which registered 43.77%.

Based on this information, Duke could be considered a more affordable option, as its Average Net Price is still lower and there is a higher percentage of new undergraduate students receiving financial aid.

But keep in mind that Net Price is highly variable depending on the student’s circumstances. So I strongly recommend you use the official Net Price Calculators provided by Brown and Duke.

Expected Salaries.

So far, we’ve deeply covered the main topics that you need to know to pick the right university. And in this part, we’ll analyze how much you can expect to earn after you graduate. So keep reading because this will be paramount.

The following table contains the average salaries for both Brown and Duke, according to an article by CNBC:

Median salary (0-5 years of experience)$65,400$68,700
Median salary (+10 years of experience)$131,600$133,100
Salary average (early and mid-career)$98,500$100,900
Source: The top US colleges that pay off the most. CNBC.

The data is pretty similar for both colleges, as you can tell from the table. Moreover, graduates can expect a significant increase in their annual income after 10 years of experience.

Duke graduates can expect to earn 5.04% more than Brown alumni during the early stages of their careers. The difference, however, tends to get shorter as years go by. But overall, CNBC reports a slightly higher median salary for Duke graduates.

Expected Salaries by Major (Two Years after Graduation).

As you might expect, annual income is not the same for all fields of study. So we can get in more detail if we analyze this variable by major.

The US Department of Education has published the following median salaries for both Brown and Duke alumni. These numbers, by the way, correspond to the annual income 2 years after graduation.

Computer Science$153,718$106,898
English Language and Literature$46,790$38,289
Natural Resources Conservation and Research$39,369$36,848
Political Science and Government$53,108$54,463
Public Health$32,925$37,208
Median salaries two years after graduation. Source: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

Computer Scientists from Brown University report a considerably higher income than those who graduated from Duke. Their median revenue is $153,718, which is 43.79% higher than Duke’s $106,898.

In contrast, Duke declared a better income for Economics graduates; their median salary of $90,856 is 43.52% higher than Brown’s $63,302.

The information in the table can give you an idea of what to expect during the first 2 years of your career. You’ve probably noticed that the income is actually very similar for many majors. However, you need to take into account that Brown has a higher cost of attendance.

Key Takeaways.

  • Brown is a flexible university and its Open Curriculum gives you the possibility of designing your curriculum according to your needs. Besides, it offers 80 concentration programs to choose from.
  • Duke is an excellent option for a scientific career. In fact, 32 of its professors are in Clarivate’s list of the most cited researchers.
  • In recent years, both schools lost positions in international rankings. However, they are still among the best universities in the world. That said, Duke has consistently held a higher position than Brown.
  • When it comes to selectivity, Brown used to be harder to get into. Nevertheless, the acceptance rate at Duke is declining at a faster rate, and it’s about to catch up with Brown University.
  • Every year, admitted students are getting higher SAT scores. As of today, Duke requires higher scores than Brown, but the difference between them is not that big.
  • The Average Net Price is higher at Brown University. However, Duke saw a sharp increase in its price in the last period.
  • The percentage of first-time students receiving grant or scholarship aid is higher at Duke University.
  • Duke has reported higher salaries than Brown University. However, CS graduates from Brown typically earn more at the early career stage.

Additional Resources.