Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis, Your 2015 Application

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Are you ready to dig into your essays? Application essays are specifically and cleverly designed to get into your head. We like to turn the tables on the admissions committees and get inside their heads. Why are they asking these questions? What are they looking for? Read on as our experts break down application essay questions to help YOU plan the attack.

Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis: Short Answers

Answer all 3 questions. Respond in 250 characters only (the equivalent of about 50 words).
1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?
2. What are your long-term goals?
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?

1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA?

Don’t “clear your throat” and tee up an elaborate fluff setup. “My short-term goals after I receive my MBA are probably best stated by the following words, chosen carefully, and after much deliberation” … you get the idea. Cut out all that fat and go straight to what you’re gonna do. A good way to mentally FRAME this is to think of the ST goals as a means to an end (the LT goals). “In order to achieve LT goal X, first I will A, then B, then C. {Insert one sentence about why this makes sense.}” That GENERAL approach will get you a good ways toward your ultimate response.

2. What are your long-term goals?

As always, don’t just focus on the job title or position—by itself, it’s meaningless. Give us the context. Give us the intended RESULT of that position, the EFFECT it has on an industry, on a population, on society, on technology, on something even small, but in an impactful way. You don’t want to achieve the title of “CEO” … you wanna achieve XX and YY and ZZ THROUGH the position of CEO of ABC. See the difference?

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?

A great gift. An opportunity to show how NIMBLE you are. ST goals don’t work out? No problem. Here’s another way I’m gonna get to where I need to go. Imagine for a second you’re a male, if you’re not. And that you have a pregnant wife, going into labor. She’s in the passenger seat of your car, and she’s screaming, and you are racing toward the nearest hospital. You have the route planned out way ahead of time, and the trip is going beautifully. Except, when you make a turn, you notice that there’s a three-car accident on the street you NEED. Cops block it off, street is off limits. What next. Do you turn to your wife and say “Oh well, honey, we tried. Good luck with that birth, if you need ideas for names I know a guy”? Not if you want to see the sun rise again.

In that situation, and really put yourself inside this mindset, you wouldn’t hesitate for a SECOND without figuring out an ALTERNATE WAY TO GET TO WHERE YOU NEEDED TO GO. There’s always another way. In fact, you wouldn’t even idle in the car, would you? You’d already KNOW that alternate route. That’s what doers do. That’s what guys who succeed do. They figure it out.

So here you go. Here’s your three-car accident—the ST goals don’t materialize. Keep the car in “Drive,” folks. Where do you go next? What are your alternate routes? The key here isn’t to nail the exact correct alternate route so much as demonstrate that you know “what needs to happen, in order for your goals to materialize.” You can convey that here by showing how alternate paths will also work (maybe they’re less efficient, more costly, etc. but they will get you there).

 

Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis: Essay One

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.

Please 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.

Random, folks. The absolute worst way to play this is to “clearly not have fun with it.” If you take this too seriously, and look at it like an opportunity to impress them with more achievements, you’re going to bore them to tears, and potentially turn them off. To avoid having fun with it will almost GUARANTEE that they conclude that “this is the type of person who is incapable of having fun.” That person is going to be a net negative on campus. We’re looking for “wins.” People who ADD to the community. Those people have personalities. Charm. Wit. Playfulness. Spirit. If this isn’t in you… you’d better get it fast.

Random doesn’t mean “by itself.” It has to tell us something about you. Example:

“A hummingbird flaps its wings about 70 times in a second.”

Great. But… this tells us what about you?

The random thing must give us a key to your coolness, your quirkiness, your… self. Somehow.

“When I was nine years old, in charge of “snacks” for a class camp out, I brought croissants. That was the day I realized I was not only born on the wrong continent, but in the wrong century.”

See the difference? This is revealing. Endearing. Self-deprecating. Tells us something about the author. 25 things like that.

Also, don’t be afraid to get creative. Make up your own conceits to GET you to a place of 25 random things:

“If I had to pick five celebrities to start a brand new civilization, they would be: Person (witty reason), Person 2 (witty reason), etc etc.” Don’t steal that, cuz it’ll look suspicious when several people submit the same thing! But you see the IDEA here, that you can literally invent ANY NUMBER of cool premises to help you reveal something about yourself and your attitudes.

 

Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis: Essay Two

Choose only 1 of the following 2 essay questions to answer. Your response should be no more than 2 pages in length.

1.When asked by your family, friends, and colleagues why you want to go to Duke, what do you tell them? Share the reasons that are most meaningful to you.

If your answer here seems like something you wouldn’t say “in passing” to a family member, chances are you’ll seem disingenuous. The guy who “gets this one correct” … actually WANTS to go to Duke. That guy simply has the answer in his head and heart already. There’s a connection that he feels, a bunch of factors that sum to create a genuine WANT. If you don’t ACTUALLY want to go to Duke… it’s gonna be much harder. And good for Duke for asking it this way, because it’ll EXPOSE those of you who tee up an overly formal and “rehearsed” answer.

This one should be a little sloppy, folks. This one has to come from some place other than “if I don’t get into HBS and Stanford and MIT and Wharton and so and so on… and I do get into Duke, sure, why not.” It’s gotta be the opposite, in fact. “I don’t care if HBS and Stanford and MIT and Wharton come begging. I want Duke. Yes, those other programs are ranked higher. And yes, most would opt for those programs ahead of Duke, but not me. And here’s why.” Is there a satisfying answer that could go there? Hell yes. Duke is a dream program. So many reasons to fall in love with this place. What are yours?

It’s okay for some of these to seem… unimportant, frivolous, hard-to-quantify. Sometimes THESE are the most compelling. “I have visited several MBA programs, all within the same striking distance rank and reputation-wise. But something struck me about Duke that I can’t get out of my head. My experience in “Cafeteria X” or “on the main quad” {or whatever it is}. Here’s what happened: XX YY ZZ.” Whatever fills that in will likely be simply incontrovertible. Something emotional. “I can’t explain it but I felt the strongest magnetic pull here. Maybe it was because of THIS. Maybe that. Maybe this. Maybe that.” It could be one professor. It could be students you bumped into who left an incredibly favorable impression. Impressions form. And can be powerful. You can sell this. But it’s gotta be genuine. You gotta believe it somewhere deep down.

The best way to ensure that you nail this is to embrace the conceit and pretend that you’re talking to a friend or family member, in a comfortable environment. “When no one official is listening.” When your guard is down, what is it you say THEN? One thing you can do to really FORCE it is to generate the “formal” version first. Write up the version you want the ADCOM to read. Then, write the one entitled “But here’s why I really want to go.” You may not be able to use 100% of that stuff, but you MAY be able to lift a good chunk of it. And that stuff is gonna be pure gold, guaranteed.

2.The Team Fuqua community is as unique as the individuals who comprise it. Underlying our individuality are a number of shared ideas and principles that we live out in our own ways. Our students have identified and defined 6 “Team Fuqua Principles” that we feel are the guiding philosophies that make our community special. At the end of your 2 years at Fuqua, if you were to receive an award for exemplifying one of the 6 Principles listed below, which one would it be and why? Your response should reflect the research you have done, your knowledge of Fuqua and the Daytime MBA program and experience, and the types of activities and leadership you would engage in as a Fuqua student.

This may seem like a fancy, ultra-specific question. It is not. They just wanna know, like MOST other schools—why there may be a stronger magnetic pull for you toward Duke, over one of the similarly-ranked programs. You need to make it very clear that no matter what happens with acceptance letters, if you get a “yes” from Duke, this is where you’re gonna go no matter what. Because this is the place that is going to bring out the very BEST in you. Done. Start there—then adapt that premise to one of these six things, which frankly, is just a formality. First, study what it is about Duke that turns you on MORE THAN ANY OTHER PROGRAM—something so specific to Duke that you would consider turning down Stanford and Harvard to go here. Figure out that argument ahead of time. Now, building off of that premise, walk through what you expect to DO with this opportunity that excites you more than any other program. The DUKE MBA versus ANY elite MBA.

Let’s go through each and talk a little about the wording and how you’ll wanna adjust the argument you should have BEFORE you even LOOK at these. The key here (with each) is to provide historical context for how each of these things has specifically been a big part of your successes. Demonstrate it very clearly. Then convince us that of all the programs that make similar claims, Duke’s claims have somehow struck a chord with you. Then take us through your two years, pitching all the stuff you’re gonna do, indicating how this version that occurs at Duke is likely to bring out the BEST in you.

(1) Authentic Engagement: We care and we take action. We each make a difference to Team Fuqua by being ourselves and engaging in and supporting activities about which we are passionate.

The problem here is… wouldn’t every other school make the exact same claim? (Answer: yes.) Duke hardly has a monopoly on “caring.” But, that isn’t to say that YOU haven’t gotten that feeling more convincingly FROM Duke than any other program. While others claim this to be true, you felt it to be most REAL at Duke, or while talking to Duke alumns or current students. You can make that argument, for sure. But okay, once you’e done that, now you have to deliver the “so what, what do we do with that info” piece.

Well, given that this is the place that values authenticity the most, maybe it’s going to inspire you to… (something—what?) take more risks? Try stuff you might be less inspired to try elsewhere? What will you DO with this information, that Duke value “Authentic Engagement” more genuinely or “more than” another MBA program? Walk us through it. Let the passion FLY here—if there is one thing we can say about Duke grads, it’s that they are insanely passionate people, and of Duke specifically. Show us that that passion (for Duke) already lives in your DNA.

(2) Supportive Ambition: We support each other to achieve great things, because your success is my success. The success of each individual member of Team Fuqua makes the whole of Team Fuqua better.

Don’t write about support in the abstract here. They don’t want an essay on the topic of teamwork. They wanna see your vision for how this may promote a very specific engagement with the Duke community, the program.

One thing to ask yourself—is why would knowledge of this “pillar” affect your engagement here, compared to say, Haas or Yale SOM or NYU Stern? There’s gotta be something NEW and DIFFERENT that Duke would EXTRACT from you, BASED ON THIS PREMISE. This is gonna require some thought. But if you can suggest that your engagement at Duke will be slightly different on account of this reality—that they genuinely support each other—it will make for a convincing argument.

If we are not convinced that you would “behave differently” at Duke compared to any other school, it won’t work.

(3) Collective Diversity: We embrace all of our classmates because our individuality is better and stronger together.

A good argument here may suggest that the thing that gives you individuality may be suppressed at another program. That is, the fact that this is CELEBRATED here, may UNLEASH instincts and risk-taking etc. in a way that is unique to your experience at Duke.

(4) Impactful Stewardship: We are leaders who focus on solutions to improve our communities both now and in the future. We aren’t satisfied with just maintaining the status quo.

Tricky one, cuz every school makes this claim too. Stanford doesn’t boast about its passion for maintaining the status quo, right? Which school would? So, what’s so special about Duke then? Well, one thing you can do here is demonstrate your INSPIRATION from Duke specifically by making the case that you, too, hate maintaining the status quo, and are driven to do X and Y and Z, and have been inspired by ABC examples from Duke’s rich tradition of exactly that.

(5) Loyal Community: We are a family who looks out for each other. Team Fuqua supports you when you need it the most.

Great argument to make based on personal experience, or from a feeling you received while visiting the campus, knowing Duke alums, etc. Again, every MBA program is characterized by their close knit community—this is a fact, there isn’t a SINGLE elite program that doesn’t have classes year after year that look out for each other. Not one. Again, what makes Duke special here? Well, you just have to demonstrate that while other schools claim this and while it may be true, you simply believe it more with Duke based on A B C D experiences.

But, so… now what. How does that promote some type of different engagement with this program? Tough argument to make. But maybe you dip into some specific experiences in your past where you can demonstrate the connection between this type of environment (i.e., one that’s supportive) and your THRIVING in that environment. Show us that this is where you shine. Then prove to us that you are convinced Duke provides the BEST opportunity for this. And conclude that this is, therefore, where you will optimize your ability to—thrive.

(6) Uncompromising Integrity: We internalize and live the honor code in the classroom and beyond. We conduct ourselves with integrity within Fuqua, within Duke, and within all communities of which we are a part.

Here, you have to make a similar connection (as with #5) between this idea of integrity, and how it is some kind of enabler for you—as proven historically. You’ll have to show us how your ability to succeed is predicated on this code somehow, showing us evidence of how this informs your leadership style, how it had affected your vision for things, etc. And then, you have to convince us that while other schools claim to be all about this, there’s something about Duke that has convinced you that their claim is the real deal. Ergo, it is in THIS environment, that you are most likely not just to succeed—but succeed in the WAY you want to succeed.

 

Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis: Optional

If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware, please explain them in an optional essay (e.g. unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, or any significant weakness in your application).

If you’ve got something to say, do it this way.

 

Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Analysis: Re-Applicant

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?

Responses should be no more than 2 pages, using 1.5 line spacing and a font size no smaller than 10-point. Make sure you address any gaps in your application and that you show progress.

They may be phrasing it differently, but Duke’s looking for the same thing in a reapplicant as eeeeverybody else: progress. And here’s how you give it to ‘em.

 

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