While many undergraduates struggle in their introductory courses, a few ambitious students seek knowledge beyond what the usual 90- and 100-level courses of study offer them.
Every year a handful of undergraduates explore higher-level learning by taking courses in one of Duke's eight graduate schools.
According to the Duke University Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction for 2005-2006, courses at the 200 level are deemed appropriate for juniors and seniors as well as graduate students. But 300-level courses are reserved specifically for graduates.
"When we move to 300-level courses, the Grad School sets certain guidelines," said Mary Nijhout, associate dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. "It is rare for undergraduates to take 300-level classes."
Undergraduates who want to make the leap to 300-level classes have to get proper permission from their instructors and academic deans.
Due to the stringent guidelines that students must follow to obtain admission for graduate-level classes, few students seek to take advantage of this opportunity.
Juniors and seniors may gain entry to 300-level courses only with signed permission from four separate parties-the instructor of the course, the director of graduate studies, their academic dean and the dean of the Graduate School.
Associate Dean of the Graduate School David Bell often signs the permission forms for undergraduates hoping to take graduate-level classes.
"I've seen something like a half-dozen a semester," he said, adding that the majority of these students are interested in science or math.
Junior Nikifor Bliznashki is currently enrolled in Math 358, Algebraic Number Theory, in the Graduate School's Department of Mathematics.
"I know the professor... and I love the field. I had all the prerequisites, and the course is related to the research I'm currently doing," Bliznashki said. "All of these factors combined, as well as my lack of respect for, or fear of, high course numbers made me decide to try to take it."
Although the permission procedure is tedious, qualified upperclassmen like Bliznashki said they generally have few other difficulties enrolling.
"I didn't have any trouble getting permission, although the procedure was rather long," Bliznashki said. "I was encouraged by my advisor to do it and had no problem getting the letter signed."
Bell said it is generally the prerogative of the instructor that is the most important factor in determining whether or not the student is qualified to enroll in a high-level course.
"If the professor agrees that the student's background is proper, I'm going to sign off on it," Bell explained.
The overlap between Duke's undergraduate and graduate schools is not unidirectional. Graduate students often take undergraduate classes.
"It's much more common," Bell said. "In some instances, they need more foundational courses-for instance, students in the humanities who need a better language background."
But while graduate students can generally expect lower levels of difficulty in undergraduate courses, undergraduates in 300-level classes face a more challenging curriculum.
"This class is certainly more advanced than any undergraduate course you can possibly take in the math department." Bliznashki said of his graduate-level course.
He insisted, however, that he is happy that he went through the process.
"It was absolutely worth it, and I am really enjoying the course now," he said.