We’ve focused on the short answer and essay questions asked in Duke’s Daytime MBA program, but the concepts can be applied to their myriad other programs, too. This year, Duke has added a second required essay, although the “25 Random Things” prompt remains, which makes us happy! (And probably makes you happy, too, since it’s fun to write.)
Short Answers. These three prompts are unchanged from last year.
1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA? (500 characters maximum)
This short answer question is very straightforward and should be seen in some sense as a “Why an MBA?” question. However, your response should be specifically targeted to your post-MBA role. The admissions committee is evaluating several things with this essay:
Unambiguous. First, do you understand and can you articulate directly what you want to do? They are looking for you to state with clarity and conviction your ideal choice of function or industry. If you seem vague or wavering, it may be a red flag that you don’t know why you want an MBA.
Realistic. Second, they are evaluating whether your goal is realistic based on your prior experience and background. Career switching is very common among MBAs, but if you are interested in a highly quantitative role, for example, it would be expected that you have demonstrated ability through test scores, coursework, or prior experience. Conversely, if you write that you want to move into social impact investing, you should show a track record of community engagement.
Balanced. Finally, they will be using this essay to shape their class and ensure a diverse set of interests that generally align with their recruiter pipeline. There is no “right answer,” but Fuqua heavily encourages diverse and non-traditional post-MBA goals. They want to see that your interests align with a foreseeable recruiting opportunity, and expect that not every student wants to be a consultant or brand manager. That said, it’s more important to be honest and realistic than to be unique here. There’s plenty of space available for aspiring management consultants and investment bankers.
2. What are your long-term goals? (500 characters maximum)
Tie things together. It is understood that MBA graduates will change jobs during their career—whether they’re pursuing the C-suite, an entrepreneurial opportunity, or other plans. This is where the admissions committee is looking to see if you have thought things through, even though they know you may change your mind down the road. Again, you should be as specific as possible with the roles and industries in your future plans. However, you don’t need to spell out that you’re going to spend four years in marketing at P&G before launching your own startup. What the admissions committee will be looking for is whether you can “tie it all together” into a coherent and plausible story.
Be ambitious. While you want to provide a vision that makes sense, don’t be conservative here. If you have big dreams, be sure to spell them out and convince the admissions committee that you’re capable of achieving them. Help them catch a glimpse of the world through your eyes. Your short-term goals should be extremely realistic and achievable; your long-term goals should be more visionary and ambitious.
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? (500 characters maximum)
Connect to your experience. Many applicants consider this question to be a curve ball, but this sort of adaptability is important to show. No one knows how exactly their career will unfold, and with this question Fuqua wants to see if you “get it” and have at least thought through some alternatives. Your answer should be a viable alternative to your top short-term goal, but one that is still aligned with your general professional interests. For example, students interested in investment banking in the healthcare industry might also consider corporate finance in the healthcare industry. Note, however, that certain career tracks, including consulting, investment banking, and private equity, have distinct and demanding recruiting guidelines and are not recommended as alternative directions to one another.
Headlines to your application. This trio of short questions (and really short answers!) should add up to only about 300 words, if it’s easier for you to think about them that way. With the three short questions, the admissions team really is just looking for the facts. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put any thought into these responses, but rather that they’re looking for less hand-waving and “big picture”–speak and for more headlines to help them quickly get a read on why you’re even applying to Fuqua in the first place. Think of this as your chance to make the admissions team’s job a little easier. Rather than having to sort through your application essays to figure out why you’re applying, you’re spelling it out in three bold, “can’t miss” headlines.
Answer the following question—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.
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.
Be yourself. This question also carries over unchanged from last year. This exercise makes many applicants uncomfortable since it’s so far removed from the “typical” MBA admissions essay, but we like it. While you shouldn’t generate a completely frivolous list, you also shouldn’t simply rehash what else is in your application. Seemingly random facts such as “I once narrowly lost a pizza-eating contest to the eventual state champion” are relevant and reveal something important about you (that you’re fun!), whether you realize it or not.
Not every element must stand out. We have seen some advice out there that tells applicants that all 25 items must be “unique” and “ownable,” but it would be a mistake to apply that rule to all 25 items. If the favorite part of your week is spending a couple of hours on Sunday morning reading the paper, then it would be crazy for that not to make it into this list, whether or not other applicants might possibly say the same thing. For us, a good rule of thumb is that approximately half of this list should reinforce your application themes (which you should have nailed down long before drafting this list) and the other half can be more “fun.” Don’t run the risk of putting the admissions committee to sleep with your list. Finally, take a look at the examples that Fuqua admissions officers and students have posted about themselves; you’ll see that they’re far from 100% serious!
Show how you’ll contribute to the culture. In composing your answer to this question, you would also be well served to carefully read and consider the preamble to the essays that clearly lays out characteristics that the admissions committee considers core to the “leaders of consequence” they hope to cultivate at Fuqua. While your list should certainly contain examples of your leadership, impact, and teamwork, you would also be well served to highlight your individuality, passions, and personality. A big part of Fuqua is its colorful and inclusive student-led culture, something that former dean Blair Shepherd believes is essential to making a Fuqua MBA a “transformative” rather than “transactional” experience. The admissions team is looking for people who will bring unique experiences to class discussions, become founders and leaders of clubs, and be active members of the Fuqua community. Applicants are encouraged to show that they understand Fuqua’s unique culture and consequently express how they might contribute.
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? (2 pages maximum)
Not just a buzzword. Although the concepts of “teamwork” and “community” have become increasingly adopted as catchphrases by the top MBA programs, Duke truly walks the walk on this. The admissions committee is looking for individuals who will contribute to clubs and events because this is where the Fuqua environment really shines. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students there to belong to as many as six or seven clubs at any time.
Get specific. Fuqua is a school that’s rarely ranked as high as Stanford or Harvard, and yet, it’s a school that sits squarely within most rankings’ top ten. As such, Fuqua’s admissions committee is looking for the student who has a true passion for Fuqua, rather than the applicant who views it as the “in case Stanford doesn’t work out” program. The first step in demonstrating that level of passion is by doing your due diligence and learning everything you can regarding Fuqua’s myriad offerings of clubs, organizations, and events. Write specifically about the clubs that interest you, connect those interests to your past experiences or future goals, and share what you would hope to contribute during your time in Durham. Showing a history of involvement, whether through work-related activities or from your years as an undergrad, communicates a certain believability in your answer, so make sure to connect the dots.
Reach out. For the specific clubs and activities you’re interested in, we recommend reaching out to club leaders at Fuqua (provided they offer their contact information on the individual clubs’ websites). By speaking to currently active students, you’ll get a unique perspective on life there. And if making direct contact isn’t possible, then consider attending an information session or local Fuqua event.
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, significant weakness in your application). Note that you should NOT upload additional essays nor additional recommendations in this area. The Optional Essay is intended to provide the admissions committee with insight into your extenuating circumstances only. (1 page maximum)
It’s really optional. We tell applicants to only use the optional essay if you need to explain a potential blemish in your background that isn’t fixable (a low undergraduate GPA, time on academic probation, gaps in school or employment history, no recommendation from your current direct supervisor, etc.). There’s no need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need to. If you do have a red flag in your background, address it here. Otherwise, leave this essay blank.