Last month, Duke Kunshan University accepted more than 250 students from around the world into its inaugural class of undergraduates.

The new class will arrive on campus in August of this year, and it is expected to include 175 students from mainland China and more than 50 overseas students representing 47 different countries and regions. The students have until May 1 to make their final decisions.

“We are thrilled to see such strong interest in Duke Kunshan University from so many countries and regions,” said Chancellor of DKU Liu Jiangnan in a press release. “Our goal is to build a truly international learning and living environment, and we are confident that these international students and their Chinese peers will make a phenomenal class.”

The international students—10 of whom were admitted under DKU’s binding early decision process—hail predominantly from Africa, Asia and the Asia Pacific and North American regions, said Denis Simon, executive vice chancellor at DKU.

Simon indicated that DKU hopes to expand its class size to 500 students over the next five years and will look to attract more students from Europe and Latin America as it grows in size. The expansion will be incremental, with class sizes growing by 50 to 75 students each year until the 500 mark is met. 

“We have a pretty good marketing base for recruitment in the United States,” Simon said. “What we need to do is expand our social media in particular and also do some on-site visits in some of these other places.”

DKU has not announced its official acceptance rate because students from the Chinese mainland have yet to take the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam. Simon explained that in China, the admissions process follows what is called the “5-4-1 model,” according to which gaokao scores count for 50 percent, extracurricular activities, essays and recommendations count for 40 percent and academic records count for 10 percent when weighing a prospective student’s candidacy.

Reliance on this model means admitted Chinese students will have to pass the gaokao in order to have their acceptance into DKU finalized, Simon said. But for the one-third of international applicants—which for DKU means all students not from the Chinese mainland—who were accepted, their offer of admission is official and final, he added. Those international students will visit DKU’s campus for an admitted students weekend at the end of April. 

Simon described DKU's application process as "extremely rigorous and extremely intense," adding that the review process looked at applications, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities and English-language capabilities. 

“The [students] going to DKU have a reason for wanting to be in a global university in China, whether it’s the nature of their studies or the nature of their adventures of spirit," he said.

Prayog Bhattarai, a gap-year student from Nepal who was admitted into DKU’s inaugural class, said he was thrilled and surprised when he received his acceptance letter. He noted that he was interested not only in the school’s liberal arts focus and Chinese location, but also in the opportunity “to set a legacy and be a part of an institution's inaugural cohort.”

Bhattarai was so excited that he started a Facebook group for the accepted members of DKU’s inaugural class. 

“I felt that the international community should really have an idea of the diversity that DKU is about to bring in its first cohort,” he wrote in an email. “It's amazing to see the group taking shape in the way it has, with people talking about themselves and their background and interests.”

DKU—a partnership between Duke University, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan—offers a non-traditional liberal arts and science curriculum. All classes are taught in English, and students will spend a semester and a summer studying at Duke’s main campus in Durham, North Carolina. At graduation, DKU students will earn two separate degrees: one from DKU and another from Duke. 

“This is a very exciting time,” Simon said. “Not every university gets the chance to launch a brand-new university cast in its image in a setting far, far from home, and yet at the same time, maintain the rigor and the standards of excellence that are associated with the parent.”