Duke (Fuqua) Admissions Essays for 2010-2011

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has released its admissions essays for the 2010-2011 season. They’ve made some pretty interesting changes this year, so let’s dig in. Our comments are in italics.

By the way, note that Fuqua doesn’t provide specific word limits, but rather asks that applicant limit each essay to no more than two pages, with a font size no less than 10-point and 1.5 line spacing. They ask applicants to “respond fully and concisely” to each essay.

Duke (Fuqua) Application Essays
  1. Describe your vision for your career and your inspiration for pursuing this career path.

    This question starts off the same as last year’s first Fuqua essay prompt, but it strictly asks about you, whereas last year’s question also asked about “the role of The Duke MBA in achieving your goals.” (That latter part is addressed in Question #3, below.) Overall, your approach to this question will be very similar to your approach to other “Why an MBA?” / career goals questions. While you should save the “Why Duke?” material for Question #3, be as specific as possible about how you see your career progressing over the next ten to twenty years. Do you want to dive right into industry and get your hands dirty? Learn as part of a larger operation and “grow up” as a leader, eventually taking the reins of a division within a large company? This is where you need to show that you’ve at least thought these things through, even if you know that you may change your mind one day. And by “specific” we don’t mean that you must spell out that you will spend exactly four years as a management consultant, then three years as a business development manager, etc. Rather, you must show that you can “tie it all together” and envision a realistic career path for yourself after graduating from Fuqua.

    Also, this is the time to discuss the career choices you’ve made up until now. Even though the essay asks for your “career vision,” don’t miss the “inspiration” part of the question — this is Fuqua’s way of trying to understand the you’ve made up until now. Your biggest potential mistake here is to give the impression of an applicant who’s applying to Fuqua simply because he’s bored or has stagnated in his current job. You always want to look like an applicant who is moving toward something great, not moving away from something bad.

  2. 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 question is new this year, although it’s interesting that it’s almost identical to one of Tuck’s admissions essays from last year. This essay gives you a good chance to specifically highlight any strengths or themes that you want to emphasize more in your application. Everything in your background applies: your work experience, your personal life, and your hobbies all make you unique. Some applicants see this and think, “Oh, it’s a ‘diversity’ question. I’m afraid I don’t bring much ‘diversity’ to the table,” but that’s simply not true. All applicants have some things in their backgrounds that make them interesting… Discuss them here! And, do it in a way that demonstrates that you “get” the values that Fuqua prizes — including teamwork, innovation, and a global perspective.

  3. Why Duke? (If you are interested in a specific concentration, joint degree, clubs or activities, please discuss how you would contribute to these in this essay.)

    As mentioned above, in some respects Duke took last years’ Question #1 and chopped it into two questions: this year’s Question #1 and Question #3. This new essay prompt wins the award for shortest essay question ever, beating out NYU’s “Why Stern?” question by one letter. (Just kidding. There’s no such Stern essay!) In all seriousness, Duke, like some other top schools that tend to sit just outside the top ten in the MBA rankings, gets a lot of applications from candidates who also have applied to Harvard, Wharton, etc., and the school is quite savvy at recognizing when an applicant is truly excited about Duke. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have really researched the program, understand its core values (mentioned above), and really want to spend the rest of your life as a member of the Fuqua community.

    Some applicants will surely rattle of names of classes, professors, and on-campus clubs, to show that they’ve done their homework. For the most part, while this research is critical for you, “showing off” this kind of knowledge usually elicits a “big deal” from admissions officers. Go deeper, and force yourself to answer the question… Why Duke? Some pragmatic components to your response are totally fine — it has strong ties to the health care industry, which is what first drew you to the program, for instance. That’s a completely real, honest response. Then, starting there, move into how you can see yourself thriving in the Duke community. You prefer the school’s teamwork-oriented teaching style since it’s consistent with your undergraduate experience… Every student or alum you have met has raved about the program… That’s just an example, but it’s a more heartfelt, interesting, and effective response than simply rattling off names of clubs, because it’s about you.

For more advice on getting into Fuqua, download our Fuqua Annual Report, one of 15 completely free guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own candidacy for Harvard or another top MBA program, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today!