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Admissions Director Q&A: Liz Riley Hargrove of the Fuqua School of Business

This week in our continuing series of discussions with admissions directors at top business schools around the world, we caught up with Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean of admissions at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Hargrove is a veteran admissions officer with strong ties to North Carolina. She began her career in undergraduate admissions at North Carolina State University and joined the staff at Duke in 1993, where she has been ever since.

Read on to learn more about Fuqua’s new education and research strategy, based around six key industry verticals. By establishing research centers in each consulting, finance, energy/environment, IT/media, health care and consumer goods, the school hopes to connect its students with the fields’ most important leaders and set itself apart from other MBA programs.

We thank Hargrove for making time to share her thoughts with us in the midst of the busy application season.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at Fuqua this coming year?

Liz Riley Hargrove: Fuqua has developed an education and research strategy based around industry verticals in consulting, finance, energy/environment, IT/media, health care and consumer goods. With the new research centers we launch this year, we will have a dedicated research presence in each of our industry verticals, allowing for a greater depth of access to the most important leaders and firms in these industries.

This innovative approach allows us to identify cross-disciplinary opportunities to broaden students’ exposure to the industries and firms that are driving the global economy of the 21st century. This concept of centers focusing on industry verticals differentiates Fuqua from other business schools.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
LH: Students accept partnership status when they choose Duke, which gives them tremendous ownership over their MBA experience. Faculty, staff and students partner to build a culture that emphasizes diversity, innovation and legacy, and together they drive Fuqua to constantly reach for a higher level. The people who make up the Fuqua community are incredibly motivated to get involved and to give back to the school. They are leaders who show strong initiative and have a positive impact – at Fuqua and across the world. Fuqua’s leadership culture invites students to contribute to the school through student government, the Leadership Development Initiative or as Academic, Admissions, Career, Executive or Leadership Fellows. These roles support the effort to run the school, to organize conferences and guest speaker visits on campus and to provide career mentoring and admissions interviews to students and prospective students respectively.
CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.)?
LH: Fuqua’s application process is 100 percent online. Once an applicant hits the submit button, our operations team ensures that all of the required materials have been received. Each file is then organized via our online system and distributed to an admissions committee member for an in-depth evaluation. Each application is read independently (from cover to cover) by at least two members of the admissions committee and then presented to the admissions committee for discussion and decision. There is equal weight assigned to all factors in the evaluation process, which means that our decisions are never based on any one factor or criterion. The admissions committee seeks to admit students who represent a microcosm of the world. Each student’s story is unique and allows us to create the diversity that is so important to the student experience at Duke.
CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?
LH: Essays are a way for applicants to let us know who they are, what motivates them and how they will contribute to the program. It is the chance for applicants to differentiate themselves from other candidates and fill in any gaps in their application. At Fuqua, we look at the whole applicant – not just quantitative skills, language abilities or career success. We are interested in learning about their interests and passions and how their background will contribute to the class. Because of Fuqua’s student-driven culture, we have high expectations for students to be active members of their academic community, so we look for what an applicant can contribute to the class dynamic and learning environment. We also look for why Fuqua is the right school – how do the individual’s goals align with and support Fuqua’s goals and vice versa? Finally, we want to get to really know our students, so essays should reflect that authenticity.

A common mistake of applicants is not fully addressing the question in their essay responses. My one piece of advice to applicants is to have someone read your essay without giving them the essay topics. If the reader can tell you what the questions were, you will know you have fully answered the questions. The essays are only one component in the application process, but they are critical to the admissions committee’s understanding of who you are as an applicant and your potential contribution to your classmates.

It’s an exciting time to be at Duke and the Fuqua School of Business. In 2008, we announced plans to become the world’s first globally distributed school. If you are a student considering an MBA program, you will need to be able to operate on a global level, whether you ever work overseas or not. Fuqua has an embedded presence in five of the world’s most significant cultural and business regions: China, Russia, India, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. Through this significant engagement, we are developing relationships and programs designed to create leaders who are not only globally aware, but globally competent.

Posted in: Admissions Director Q&A

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