Duke (Fuqua) Essay Analysis

Two short essay answer questions and two long essays must be completed before submitting your application. Prepare your essays carefully. The Admissions Committee considers your responses to the following questions important in the selection process. Please respond fully and concisely using 1.5 line spacing.

For the short answer questions, please restrict your response to a single page each. For the long essay questions you must answer the first question and for the second essay you may select from one of three essay options. There is no restriction on the length of your response for the two long essay questions. Applicants typically use between 500 and 750 words for essays one and two.

Short Essays – Answer both short essay questions.

Please discuss your career path, your short and long-term goals.

Why are you interested in The Duke MBA program and how will it help you achieve your goals? If you are interested in the Health Sector Management concentration or a joint degree program, please address in this essay.

Once again, because of significant overlap from school to school, we offer a document that we have produced on personal statements. Please email for an electronic copy which will help you approach this essay. The only slight twist in this essay is “why are you interested in the Duke MBA” which allow you to incorporate aspects of your research into the program (i.e. conversations with alumni and students) as well as the manner in which the Duke MBA will fulfill your specific educational needs. Nonetheless, this type of personalization is something that we suggest for clients regardless of school as it shows a greater level of intent.

Long Essays – Answer essay question 1, and for essay question 2 please answer only one of the three essay options provided.

How has your personal history and family background influenced your intellectual and personal development? What unique personal qualities or life experiences might distinguish you from other applicants? How will your background, values and non-work related activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add to the diverse culture we strive for at Fuqua? Note: The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally.

While this question has many parts to it, candidates should not be overwhelmed. In this essay, you need to explain the factors that have influenced your intellectual development and then discuss how this development has subsequently led you to a unique path in life or a unique world view. These factors may be found in close family relationships, geographic/national/religious influences, economic realities or brief but influential life experiences and encounters. We cannot stress enough that you clearly connect these influences and show a cause and effect relationship between them and who you are today; otherwise your message will be muddled. Thereafter, another connection should be made – you will need to explain how the current manifestation of these influences will enable you to contribute to your peers at Fuqua, which is in itself an important means to explaining that you truly understand the Duke experience.

Please respond fully and concisely to one of the following essay questions, identifying clearly which question you have selected.

To be a good team player, one needs to be an effective individual leader and vice-versa.

Describe an example of where you were challenged to become a leader in a team-oriented context. What was the challenge you faced, how did you address it, and what did you take away from the experience for your future development as a leader?

By offering details of the situation and enabling the reader to vicariously experience the tensions (not necessarily emotional tension, but almost literally the influences that were “stretching” you), you will effectively draw the reader in. You need to offer a situation in which the reader understands that there were clear challenges facing you as well as very specific obstacles and then show that through decisive and purposeful action, you prevailed. We need to understand a clear cause and effect, where your choices lead to solutions that have a human element, while facilitate a broader goal. Fuqua explicitly asks you to discuss “take-aways”, key learnings from the experience that continue to have an enduring impact. As always, the reflective element of the question should not be taken lightly and summed up with brief clichés. Your thoughts are entirely your own and true introspection will enable you differentiate yourself philosophically and show that you have the potential to be a more thoughtful manager than others.

Describe a situation in which your ability to perform ethically was challenged. What was the issue, how did you handle it, and what did you learn from it?

Wharton and Columbia both have similar questions about challenges to values, but Fuqua’s question is slightly different from these in that the wording leaves open a broader range of experiences. In posts about Wharton and Columbia’s essay questions, we have mentioned that it is not a good idea to offer a black and white example such as “my boss asked me to trade on insider information, but I said ‘no’.” Essentially, this is not a true challenge to your values as you could not justify illegal activity; there is only one side to this argument.

However, Fuqua puts a spin on this essay and thus allows you to embrace times in which others have asked you to perform unethically. They are not asking about a time when you have faced an ethical dilemma, but one if which factors affected your ability to behave ethically. Whether intended or not, Fuqua’s question leaves open times in which others have tried to influence or challenge you to do the wrong thing.

Still, all of this written (about a mere nuance) you can still follow the same path as recommended in Columbia and Wharton’s essays and start by offering an example in which there are two reasonable options which stand in stark opposition to each other — both with positive and negative aspects — and then explore how you made your choice. In such circumstances, the outcome is less important than your reasoning. The committee is seeking to understand your thought process and trying to recognize the reasonable, logical and ethical applicant within.

Describe a significant leadership failure in your life. What did you learn from this failure? How has it impacted who you are today and the kind of leader you would like to be?

The best failure essays are often those that show reasoned optimism and tremendous momentum toward a goal – a goal that is ultimately derailed. In most cases, you will need to show that you were emotionally invested in your project/experience which will enable the reader to connect with your story and vicariously experience your disappointment. If you were not invested at all, it is hardly credible to discuss the experience as a failure or learning experience.

Of course, the reflective element is vitally important. It is very easy to offer trite and clichéd statements about your response and what you learned about yourself (Note: everyone learns resiliency – consider another key learning). It will take time to truly create a unique statement about your road forward and lessons learned, but the payoff will come in an essay that is much more personal and self-aware than thousands of others. For this essay to be effective, the experience will need to be so powerful that the reader has a clear understanding of the enduring impact that it must have had and indeed does have on your life and behavior.

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