The crash happened on Academy Road near Duke University Road around 2:40 a.m.
Durham Police said a Chevrolet Equinox driven by 21-year-old Lee Royster of Hickory ran off the road, struck a tree, then went down an embankment and landed on its roof. The Chevy was the only vehicle involved in the accident.
Police said they were alerted to a crash by OnStar - a built in communication system available on newer GM vehicles.
Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Grape of Wellesley, Massachusetts was a passenger in the SUV. The Duke senior was pronounced dead at the scene.
Royster, also a senior at Duke, was taken to Duke University Hospital with minor injuries. No one else was in the vehicle.
Investigators charged Royster with driving while impaired and said further charges are pending.
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said in a news release Thursday morning that counselors and other Student Affairs personnel would be available to help Duke students deal with the tragedy.
"We have few details of the accident right now, but, regardless, the loss is devastating and tragic," Moneta said in an email to students.
The university has scheduled a private gathering for members of the Duke community only at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Devils Den on Oregon Street.