*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season.
Although Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has not yet officially released its MBA application for 2019–2020, Assistant Dean of Admissions Allison Jamison recently announced some modifications it has made to the essay portion. Fortunately (in our opinion), the school has elected to maintain its distinctive “25 random things” prompt, which we love for the freedom it gives applicants to get creative and paint a well-rounded picture of themselves for the admissions committee. And the program’s community engagement essay likewise remains the same. Rather than three short-answer essay questions, however, applicants must respond to just two, though the heart of the information requested really has not changed much at all. In our full essay analysis that follows, we offer our best guidance on how to make the most of all the school’s prompts for this season.
Interested in learning how to tackle this year’s Duke Fuqua application essay? Watch the short video below before you continue reading the full analysis!
Required short-answer essay questions
- Why is pursuing an MBA the right next step for you? (500 characters, or about 100 words)
- What are your post-MBA career goals? Share with us your first-choice career plan and your alternate plan. (500 characters, or about 100 words)
With these two questions, Fuqua is essentially asking for a standard, albeit very brief, personal statement, with the addition of one rather nonstandard component in the second—the suggestion of an alternative path. Candidates often feel they must be totally unequivocal in their career goals to impress the admissions committee, but in this case, Fuqua is directly instructing applicants to speculate on and articulate multiple options. The school knows that sometimes the best-laid plans do not play out as expected or may even yield unintended results, and it wants to know that you are prepared to switch gears and recommit to a different path, if necessary—and that you are fully capable of doing so. The key in answering this question is showing that your backup 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 while 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 goals you present must be plausible and achievable.
As for the first question, the natural assumption is that if you have reached a point in your professional journey where you believe an MBA is necessary to move forward, you must have an understanding of why the degree is a critical part of continuing on that journey. This is simply your chance to outline your reasoning and needs for the admissions committee so it can be confident you have given this important step an appropriate amount of thought and are committed to your decision.
As we have noted, these questions concern several of the core topics covered in a traditional personal statement, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. This complimentary guide offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples. Be sure to claim your copy today.
First required essay: 25 random things about yourself
Instructions: 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 two pages.
For context: Fuqua believes different types of people, points of view, and experiences bring out the best in everyone. And above all, we place a premium on succeeding while making a positive impact on businesses, organizations, and the world. These ways of thinking set the Duke MBA experience apart, and this concept 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.
Be prepared to have fun creating this list for your Fuqua application! Before you start scribbling down random things, though, stop and take some time to thoroughly 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 with each item presented. Make sure that every new story or tidbit of information you share gives the admissions committee a different window into your personality, into what really makes you tick and makes you you. Most important is that you own all the points on your list—that your final list could apply to no one but you. For example, a statement such as “I love the movie Goodfellas and have watched it multiple times” could easily be made by many applicants—therefore, it could not be considered truly yours. However, if you were to instead write, “At least once a year, my friends and I get together to watch our favorite movie, Goodfellas, all wearing dark suits, eating fresh pasta with homemade sauce, and reciting the dialogue line-for-line,” you would present an experience that is unquestionably yours, because few—if any—other candidates would be likely to say this exact same thing.
Although Fuqua does not want you to rehash your professional and academic accomplishments in this list, and you should certainly avoid repeating facts that already appear elsewhere in your application, you can of course still touch on significant moments that occurred in these spheres. Use detail and a narrative style (keeping 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.”
Second required essay: The Fuqua community and you
Instructions: Your response should be no more than two pages in length.
Fuqua prides itself on cultivating a culture of engagement. Our students enjoy a wide range of student-led organizations that provide opportunities for leadership development and personal fulfillment, as well as an outlet for contributing to society. Our student-led government, clubs, centers, and events are an integral part of the student culture and are vital to providing you with a range of experiential learning and individual development experiences.
Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, how do you see yourself engaging in and contributing to our community outside of the classroom?
With this essay prompt, Fuqua clearly wants to see evidence that you have done your research on the school’s culture and community and developed a true and thorough understanding of it. Ideally, your essay will convince the admissions committee that you are eager to take advantage of opportunities to lead and contribute, that you have thoughtfully considered your place within the school’s community at length, and that as a result, you know the value of what you can offer and have a clear vision of how this will manifest when you are a Fuqua student.
For this to be possible, you really (really!) must know the school well, because if you hypothesize incorrectly about the contribution you will make—meaning that what you propose is just not possible at the school or does not align with Fuqua’s values and culture—you will definitely not get in. The question specifically mentions “student-led government, clubs, centers, and events,” so you could start your research there to find niches and opportunities that correspond with your strengths, knowledge, and experience. But if you feel you can contribute in a different area or way altogether (while still adhering to the “outside of the classroom” element of the prompt), you can certainly take that approach instead. Read student blogs, peruse discussion boards, catch up on the past year or more of press releases from the school, spend some time on Fuqua’s YouTube channel—these are all good places to start (or better, continue!) educating yourself about what life at the school is really like, beyond the course work.
And for a thorough exploration of Duke Fuqua’s academic offerings, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, community/environment, and other key facets of the program, consider downloading your free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Optional essay: Tell us more
If you feel there are circumstances of which the admissions committee should be aware (such as unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance), please explain them in an optional essay.
Please do not upload additional essays or additional recommendations in this area of the application, and limit your response to one page.
Fuqua stipulates a maximum length for its option essay of just one page. We see this, along with the other clarifying bullet points, as confirmation that the admissions committee is not interested in additional information from applicants who fear that not submitting an optional essay would somehow count against them and would like to reserve this essay exclusively for those who truly need it. So be judicious in your use of this opportunity, and submit an optional essay only if you truly believe that explaining a key element of your story or profile is necessary for Fuqua to have a complete and accurate understanding of you as a candidate. Consider downloading a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (along with multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Duke Fuqua Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And to help you develop this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Duke Fuqua Interview Primer today.