Duke University (Fuqua) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

Last year, the admissions committee at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business radically revamped its essay questions—showing some creativity and flair by asking candidates for a list of 25 random things about themselves. Fuqua seems to have gained the insight it wanted through this approach, because its essay questions remain unchanged this year.

The school’s essay requirements—which consist of three short answers of 50 words each, the aforementioned list of 25 random things and a two-page essay—are not only unconventional, they are also demanding. You will need to share a lot of information about yourself, especially through your 25-item list! As always, we suggest that you brainstorm thoroughly and create a plan of action before putting your hands on your keyboard. Although this is standard advice from us, doing so for your Duke Fuqua essays is particularly important.

Duke FuquaRequired Short Answer Questions: Answer all 3 questions

For each short answer question, respond in 250 characters only (the equivalent of about 50 words).

1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?

2. What are your long-term goals?

3. Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize what alternative directions have you considered?

With this trio of questions, Fuqua is essentially asking for a standard personal statement, but with one nonstandard component, presented in the third query. Most candidates feel that they have to be unequivocal in their goals, but here Fuqua is asking applicants to equivocate somewhat. Fuqua’s admissions committee knows that sometimes the best-laid plans do not always play out or yield the best results, and the school wants to know that you are prepared to switch gears and recommit to a different path, if necessary, and are fully capable of doing so. The key in answering this question is showing that your alternate goal is just as connected to your skills, interests and ambitions as your original plan and does not come “out of left field,” so to speak. For example, you would probably have a difficult time convincing the admissions committee that your short-term goal is to work in technology consulting, but your alternate goal would be to work in human resources, because these industries, for the most part, require entirely different skills and personalities. Just be mindful that both of the goals you present need to be plausible and achievable.

Because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of Fuqua’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Fuqua School of Business.

Required Essays: Answer both essay questions

1. The “Team Fuqua” spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of “25 Random Things About Yourself.” As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire’s professional and academic background, so learning these “25 Random Things” helps us get to know someone’s personality, background, special talents, and more.

In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you—beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU. Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be only a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed 2 pages.

Be prepared to have fun creating this list for your Fuqua application, but before you start scribbling down your 25 random things, take some time to brainstorm. You cannot simply draft a list of “typical” accomplishments—remember, the school is asking for a random list, and keep in mind that your reader should learn more about you as an individual through this list. Make sure that each piece of information you provide will give the admissions committee a new window into your personality, into what really makes you tick and makes you you. Most important, make sure that you own all the points on your list—that your list is truly yours. For example, a statement such as “I love Goodfellas and have watched it eight times” could easily apply to many applicants—therefore, it would not be truly yours. However, if you were to instead write, “At least once a year, my friends and I put on dark suits and don’t so much watch Goodfellas as recite it together line-for-line,” you would present an experience that is undoubtedly yours, because few other candidates would be likely to say this same thing about themselves.

Although the admissions committee does not want you to rehash your professional and academic accomplishments in this list, and you should certainly avoid listing anything that already appears elsewhere in your application, you can of course still include moments that occurred in these spheres. Use detail and a narrative style (but keep things brief!) to give these elements life and ensure that they are personal. For example, rather than saying that you “Won a creative thinking award for implementing an innovative training solution,” you might write that you “Once won an award for instructing trainees to flip their desks upside down and face what was previously the back of the room—thereby creating an exercise to introduce new hires to the concept and value of new perspectives.”

2. When asked by your family, friends, and colleagues why you want to go to Duke, what do you tell them? Share the reasons that are most meaningful to you. Your response to this essay question should be no more than 2 pages in length. Please respond fully and concisely using 1.5 line spacing.

In this essay, you will have an opportunity to prove your “fit” with Fuqua. To do so successfully, you must show that you have done your homework on the school and have profound academic reasons for targeting its MBA program, but also that you fully understand Fuqua’s cultural dynamic and your place within it. To gain the necessary information and experiences to be able to persuade the admissions committee on your points, you will need to conduct some firsthand research on the school. Avoid the temptation to simply offer a list of classes and clubs you find interesting—this will not be sufficient to convince the admissions committee that you have a real grasp of why Fuqua’s MBA program is right for you. Use this essay to show that you are an informed “consumer” making a reasoned decision about your degree and career. An excellent essay will show that you have a strong sense of self and can connect that sense directly to Fuqua’s resources, approach and community.

Note: Beware of offering a “fill in the blank” essay. If, once you have drafted your essay, you can remove the name “Fuqua” and insert another school’s name in its place and your essay still makes sense, you have a problem on your hands and will need to go back and offer more Fuqua-specific detail and depth.

Optional Essay: If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware, please explain them in an optional essay (e.g. unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, or any significant weakness in your application).

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

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