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CA: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at Fuqua in the year ahead?
SH: First of all, our dean, Bill Boulding, is a major champion in making sure that we remain relevant in today’s world. Last year we announced a new certificate in analytics management that even current students could take advantage of because faculty approved it quickly.
Given our expertise in the health sector where we are located, we also welcomed the first class of our 19-month online MQM health analytics master’s program this past fall. We are being very intentional to ensure that online delivery of our programs will still produce the same leaders that our in-person programs do. Students are assigned to teams of five or so, with some of the program completed in real time. So, it’s a mix of synchronous and asynchronous with lots of flexibility built in. The intention is that will be for working professions.
Also, our weekend executive program will now meet only once a month instead of every other week. We are hoping with this change to draw working parents and a greater range of geographies. There have also been changes to global executive MBA program. We want to make that cohort mirror more closely the inter-generational makeup of the work situations these people find themselves in day in and day out.
CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
SH: I wish people knew more about how amazing our location is in Durham. The food is amazing, there is great art, theater, a music scene, and an eclectic community. The full-time students really bond on the weekends because they stay and don’t scatter like they do at business schools in larger cities. It really creates an opportunity for students to stay in Durham and build authentic relationships with each other.
Sometimes I think people assume that most of our grad stay in the Southeast in terms of their careers. In fact, the Northeast was the number one destination for 2018 grads, and the Northwest was the number one destination for 2018 summer interns. The South actually came in third.
Our students get to engage with great local companies through experiential learning but are able to organize themselves and travel to key areas outside the Southeast to create additional exposure. And we have employers who travel from all over the country to recruit our students. There is no shortage of career opportunities regardless of the destination you might be interested in post-MBA. By the way, it took me 55 minutes to fly to La Guardia.
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.).
SH: Our responsibility is to create a class that is engaged. We want to be transparent to ensure each candidate knows what we are looking for because we are trying to identify applicants who are going to align with our institutional values.
We look at the application as a mosaic. Your professional work experience, letters of support, leadership and community involvement—we are looking at all off these together and none is greater than the other. It is truly holistic.
Once an applicant hits submit, their application will be checked for completion. We have four application coordinators who look to make sure you have everything in. One member of the admissions committee will then evaluate the complete file.
The admissions committee gets together and discusses each application to decide whether to invite for an interview. The files of candidates who interview then go to committee a second time, with interview information included as part of that review.
Following this second review, a preliminary committee can decide to offer a spot, at which point the file passes to a final committee, which makes its recommendation. Finally, the leadership team reviews the recommendations of the final committee.
You’ll notice there is an interim committee before the final committee. The individuals who are part of that committee have read the applications and may advocate for specific candidates, but the committee as a whole looks at the individual as part of the entire pool to get a sense for their competitiveness. I am involved throughout the process.
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?
SH: Our essay questions are designed to really get to know you, particularly the “25 Random Things.” When people are trying to fake their way through by telling us what they think we want to hear, we can really see it.
Of course, we want the insights behind the random facts as well. How did they shape who you are today? We really take these essays seriously. We are looking for people who can communicate that they share our belief that business can change the world for the better.
My advice is to really to be authentic and sincere. Take advantage of the essays—they are valuable real estate. We really use the essays to get to know candidates in a more three-dimensional way.
Again, be genuine and authentic, making sure you answer the question asked. Be thoughtful. We are looking for folks who don’t just regurgitate what is on our website.
Proofread and edit—but not too much—because we can tell that as well. Let it be authentic.
Leverage the optional essay strategically. If there is some bit of information you want to explain—a gap in your employment, the reason you chose a specific recommender—it can be one sentence. It doesn’t have to be a full paragraph. Don’t use the optional essay just to use it.
Weave in details on the school so that we can tell that you have done your research. Really be clear and articulate when it comes to connecting the dots on your career aspirations. Always encourage people to try and help us understand how to interpret your story. Don’t leave us to interpret it on our own.
CA: You put together your own “25 Random Things” list, is that right?
SH: It was fun for me. To be honest, I created those things when I was going through the interview process for this job. I had to do a presentation for the team, and I did it on the design thinking project we did at McDonough.
“What would be fun would be to create my 25 things as a way to kick off that presentation,” I thought.
It is challenging to think of things that are interesting. It doesn’t have to just be career oriented. What are the little quirks about myself that would create a connection with other people in the audience?
When I’m in a moving car it is hard for me to stay awake—that’s me. Or some of the aspects of my family I was proud of. Think about that. What are you proud of? What are some quirky aspects of your personality.
CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure as an admissions director? What percentage of those essays do you remember now? What about those most memorable essays made them so?
SH: This is a hard question. Too many for me to remember at this point.
I can tell you that those that were most memorable were ones that were heartfelt stories of vulnerability, humility, selflessness, diversity, or perseverance. The ones in which candidates are vulnerable enough to share why something is important to them in a way that allows others to see that they uniquely connected with the culture of the school in some way. When people are vulnerable enough to open up in that way, it is cool and humbling and awe-inspiring.
CA: Three pieces of advice you would offer a candidate preparing to interview at Fuqua?
SH: I say we wear three hats. There is the hat of the faculty member, trying to get a sense of someone’s ability to handle the academic rigor. There is the hat of the employer, trying to understand your story. Where you want to get to, to make sure we can set you up for success. Lastly, there is the hat of the student or the alum. Is this someone who they can see representing their alma mater in a way that we are proud of?
I would advise applicants to understand a school’s interview policy before they get into the process. Here in the United States, at Fuqua we have an open interview process. That is somewhat rare among top business schools. Basically, we invite candidates to self-identify that they would like to come to campus and tell their story. That’s in the fall. If you want to come to campus, we will listen to your story.
But let’s take the traditional candidate invited to interview. For those interviewing in the U.S., we ask that you come to campus. Because one, we want to really share with you the experience of Fuqua, Duke, Durham. You will be expected to have a day of interviews and activities. The admissions staff does also travel to the West Coast to conduct interviews in hub cities during certain times. But anyone who comes to campus can expect to be interviewed by a second-year student.
Candidates outside the U.S. can expect to be interviewed by an alumnus. Like our student interviewers, these alumni interviewers have also been trained. If you live in a really remote area, we can set up a Skype interview with a second-year student.
In terms of how they are formatted, they usually last between 30 and 45 minutes. They are behavioral based but nothing tricky. We hope for them to be very conversational.
The are all in English. And the interview is also an opportunity for candidates to ask us questions. We want to make sure we are on our toes. You should ask a question.
If candidates come to campus, their experience should also include a class visit, student panels, lunch or coffee with a student, a student-run event. It is really wonderful to see our students take such a prominent role.
There are also some weekend dates—some Super Saturdays—and there are lots of activities that occur on those days as well.
Treat it like a job interview. It should be a very comfortable, one-on-one conversation, but still professional. Research and reflect before and after the interview. We are looking for fit and a sincere desire to take part in the program.
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