Duke University Fuqua School of Business Essay Analysis, 2020–2021

Duke University Fuqua School of BusinessAlthough Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business initially announced the modifications it had made to its application essays in a June 17 blog post, the school has continued to tweak its prompts, so we are updating our analysis to reflect the latest iterations. At the time of this posting, some slight discrepancies still exist in the presentation of the essay questions on Fuqua’s website and in its actual application, so for our analysis, we have elected to use the questions as they appear in the application. In the aforementioned blog post, Assistant Dean of Admissions Allison Jamison comments on how the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the admissions process, then states, “During this time, we learned the importance of keeping things simple.” As a result, we believe, the admissions committee has truncated its essays and short-answer demands for this season, likely to the relief of the school’s 2020–2021 candidates. Rather than two short-answer essay questions, applicants must respond to only one, and the maximum length for the program’s community engagement essay has been cut from two pages to just 300 words. 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. Plus, Jamison notes that the admissions committee enjoys reading these essays the most. Our full essay analysis follows. 

Short Answer Question: Short answer questions will allow for 500 characters only – the equivalent of about 100 words.

What are your post-MBA career goals? Share with us your first-choice career plan and your alternate plan. 

With this question, Fuqua is essentially asking for a standard element of a traditional personal statement—one’s short-term career aspirations—with the addition of one rather nonstandard component—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 we have noted, this question concerns one of the core topics covered in a typical 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 download your complimentary copy today.

Essay 1: The ‘Team Fuqua’ spirit and community is one of the things that sets the MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. Please share with us “25 Random Things” about you. The Admissions Committee wants to get to know YOU – beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. Share with us important life experiences, your hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are.

Please do not copy the essay question in the document you upload with your application, and limit your response to 2 pages (750 words maximum). Present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be brief, while others may be longer.

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.”

Essay 2: 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 to the development of leaders. Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, what are 3 ways you expect to make an impact at Fuqua? 

Please do not copy the essay question in the document you upload with your application, and limit your response to 1 page (300 words maximum).

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.

Last season, the prompt asked candidates to outline they ways they anticipated “engaging in and contributing to our community outside of the classroom,” whereas this year, the admissions committee wants to know the primary “ways you expect to make an impact at Fuqua.” These are subtle changes but ones that definitely affect how the question can be interpreted. “Having an impact” connotes a slightly more intense result than merely “contributing,” and “at Fuqua” in place of “our community outside of the classroom” broadens the scope of the query by offering the opportunity to discuss ideas that relate to course work. Perhaps, for example, you could assist in writing a case on a topic that relates to your professional background and that will be used in future classes for several years.  

In the blog post we mentioned in our intro, Jamison counsels, “We would like you to limit it to the three most meaningful ways you expect to engage as a student” (italics ours). The newly rephrased essay prompt maintains the request for three ideas but does not specify “most meaningful,” yet we suggest keeping Jamison’s recommendation in mind as you consider your options. By advising applicants to focus on the three options they feel most strongly about, she is, we suspect, subtly directing them to present choices that truly provide insight into their individual strengths, values, and/or interests rather than trying to offer what they think are “right” answers or what the admissions committee “wants” to hear. The 300-word maximum makes squeezing much more than three well-crafted ideas into the essay difficult anyway, but Jamison also notes, “One of the first skills you must develop as a student is how to prioritize what’s most important to you,” so this is a chance for you to demonstrate that you can do just that.

For you to offer your strongest possible ideas in this essay, you really (really!) need to know the school well, because if you hypothesize incorrectly about the impact you hope to make—meaning that what you propose is just not possible at the school or does not align with Fuqua’s values and culture—this will definitely not help you get in. The question specifically mentions “student-led government, clubs, centers, and events,” so you should probably 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, 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.  

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 Information: If you feel there are circumstances of which the admissions committee should be aware , please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance). Note that you should NOT upload additional essays nor additional recommendations in this area. The Optional Information section is intended to provide the admissions committee with insight into your circumstances only. 

Please do not copy the essay question in the document you upload with your application, and limit your response to 1 page (300 words maximum).

Fuqua stipulates a maximum length for its optional information submission of just one page, or 300 words. We see this 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 additional information here 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.

Re-applicants: Candidates who applied to the Daytime MBA program during the 2019–2020 application cycle are considered re-applicants. All re-applicants are required to complete the Short Answer Question, Essay 2, and Re-applicant Essay. Re-applicants are not required to generate a new list of “25 Random Things About Yourself,” but may submit the same list from last year OR create a new list of “25 Random Things.”

Re-applicant essay question (as posted on the Fuqua website)

It is not uncommon for it to take more than one try to achieve a goal. Please share with us the self-reflection process that you underwent after last year’s application and how you have grown as a result. How did it shape your commitment to Fuqua and inspire your decision to reapply?

Your response will be limited to 1 page (300 words maximum).

If you are a reapplicant, we imagine that not being accepted to Fuqua when you had hoped (and maybe even expected) to be gave you pause and triggered some level of self-reflection, as the school’s prompt itself notes. With this question, Fuqua wants to know that you subsequently considered and evaluated the areas of your profile you believe were lacking in your previous attempt at gaining admission and have actively been taking steps to improve your candidacy accordingly. In short, the admissions committee is seeking evidence that you are convinced an MBA from Fuqua is vital to you and is expecting you to reassert your unwavering (if not redoubled) interest in the program. For this essay, you simply need to share what you realized about yourself when processing the school’s denial and describe the very deliberate path you have taken in the past year to position yourself for a better outcome this season. 

The responses to this essay question will of course vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

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 Interview Guides to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Duke Fuqua Interview Guide today.

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2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

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