Duke Fuqua School of Business Essay Tips and Examples

Duke University Fuqua School of Business

In a 2020 blog post, Allison Jamison, the assistant dean of admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had complicated the admissions process, stating that as a result, “We learned the importance of keeping things simple.” Reflecting this mind-set, the admissions committee’s demands are on the minimal side, which most candidates likely appreciate. Applicants must respond to only one short-answer “essay” question in a mere 100 words, and the maximum length for the program’s one required traditional essay is just 500 words. Lastly, the school’s distinctive “25 random things” prompt might give some candidates pause at first, but we love it for the freedom it gives applicants to get creative and paint a well-rounded picture of themselves, and it should therefore be approached with more enthusiasm than fear. (Plus, Jamison noted in the aforementioned blog post that the admissions committee enjoys reading these essays the most.) Our detailed analysis of all Fuqua’s prompts for 2023–2024 follows. 

Duke Fuqua 2023–2024 Essay Tips

Required short-answer question: Answer the following question in 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. 

First required essay: 25 Random Things About Yourself

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.

Your list will be limited to 2 pages (750 words maximum). Please 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.”

Second required essay: The Fuqua Community and You

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 contribute at Fuqua? 

Your response will be limited to 1 page (500 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.

By orienting the query “at Fuqua” rather than specifying either inside or outside the classroom, the admissions committee keeps the scope of the query broad, offering you equal opportunity to discuss ideas that relate to course work and those that are strictly extracurricular. 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.  

Based on counsel Jamison has offered in the past, we suggest focusing on what you believe would be the three most meaningful ways you could contribute as you consider your options. Ideally, you want to present choices that truly provide insight into your individual strengths, values, and/or interests rather than trying to offer what you think are “right” answers or what the admissions committee “wants” to hear. The 500-word maximum makes squeezing much more than three well-crafted ideas into the essay difficult anyway, but Jamison has also noted, “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 how you hope to participate and contribute—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 focus your research in these areas first to find niches and opportunities that correspond with your strengths, knowledge, and experience. That said, 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 essay: Tell us more

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. 

Your response will be limited to 1 page (500 words maximum).

Fuqua stipulates a maximum length for its optional information submission of 500 words. This limit, plus the rather unequivocal clarification of what “NOT” to include, essentially confirm 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 wants 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-applicant essay question: 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 (500 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 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 InterviewMany 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.

To learn more about the essays for other top business schools, visit our MBA Essay Tips and Examples Resources Page.

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