Duke University (Fuqua) Essay Analysis

Note: The following essay questions pertain to the previous academic year. This section will be updated when the new question are released in early to mid-July of 2008. 

 Short Essays – Answer both short essay questions.

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, please select only one question to answer from the three choices given for the first question, and then you must answer the second question. 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 long essays one and two.

Why are you interested in The Duke MBA and how will it help you achieve your goals?  Please also discuss your career path, including your short- and long-term professional goals. If you are interested in the Health Sector Management concentration or a joint degree program, please address in this essay.

Because of significant overlap from one MBA application to the next, we have produced the “MBA Mission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer our guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

How will your background, values, and non-work activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add value to Fuqua’s diverse culture?

This essay is broad and sweeping in nature, so it allows you to strategically showcase a mix of your greatest community and personal strengths. You should attempt to select a diversity of experiences and present them in such a way that you will be able to relate them back to your ability to contribute in a variety of areas – for example, the classroom, study teams and the community at large. A successful essay will be one that not only details your personality/experiences, but also clearly illustrates how you will “enhance” Fuqua — meaning that you show your intimate understanding of and connection to the Fuqua culture/experience.

Please respond fully and concisely to one of the following three essay topics.  Clearly identify which question you have selected.

1) Describe an example of where you were challenged to lead in a team-oriented context. What was the challenge you faced, how did you address it, and what takeaways or lessons learned have you successfully applied in other leadership situations?

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 and very specific obstacles facing you and then show that through decisive and purposeful action, you prevailed. We need to understand a clear cause and effect – a situation in which your choices lead to solutions that have human elements, while still facilitating a broader goal.

Fuqua explicitly asks you to discuss “takeaways,” key learnings from the experience that have an enduring impact. As always, the reflective element of the question should not be taken lightly and should definitely not be 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.

2) 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?

Essays about ethics are inherently challenging, because ethics vary so dramatically from individual to individual. Thus, it is tempting to choose to write about an issue that is “black or white,” yet that generally does not make for an interesting essay, because there is no tension – you don’t need to take the time to explain your rationale when choices are clear. Generally, when writing about an ethical challenge, there needs to be some “grey area” for you to explore and for you to reason through, in order to prove that you have the capacity to make and abide by difficult decisions. However, discussing the situation itself is not enough – you need to prove that your learning endures and that the dilemma had an impact on you and your thinking going forward.

3) 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, 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.

How has your personal history and family background influenced your intellectual and personal development? What unique personal qualities or life experiences distinguish you from other applicants?  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, candidates should not be overwhelmed by it. 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. (Note: You should not just write a biography!) We cannot stress enough that you need to clearly connect these influences and show a cause and effect relationship between them and who you are today. While you do not need to engage in thorough psychoanalysis, you should show self-awareness and an understanding of your own defining factors and motivations. 

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