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Admissions Director Q&A: Shari Hubert of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business

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Next up in our ongoing Admissions Director Q&A series, we hear admissions insights from Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  Hubert is responsible for overseeing recruitment and admissions for Fuqua’s Daytime MBA, Weekend Executive MBA, Global Executive MBA, and four Specialty Masters’ Degree Programs.

Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business

Prior to Fuqua, Hubert was in charge of admissions for the Full-time and Evening MBA programs at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She has extensive experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and entered higher education after working for the Peace Corps as director of recruitment within the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection. In this capacity, she was responsible for the strategy to attract and recruit over 4,000 volunteers annually and managed the operations of nine regional recruitment offices across the United States.

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Hubert was the senior vice president of campus recruitment for Citi’s Global Bank in North America, overseeing the recruitment of analysts and associates.  She also worked for GE in their corporate headquarters, where she served as manager of campus relations in corporate recruiting and staffing. Hubert also ran an executive leadership and civic development program named in honor of David Rockefeller at the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy association focused on public and private partnerships. Immediately after receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000, Hubert was a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group. Finally, she began her career in sales and marketing at Merck and Co., Inc., after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in French from Dartmouth College in 1992.

Now, she wants to know your story and what makes you a good fit for the Fuqua MBA.  As you’ll see in her account below, Durham is a dynamic place to be, the culture of Fuqua is driven by teamwork and  so much more.  Read on for what stands out in an MBA application to Fuqua, what you should consider when drafting your essays, what to expect from the interview process and why you shouldn’t hesitate to re-apply, along with much more.

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

Shari Hubert: It is difficult to pinpoint a single exciting thing at Fuqua since there really is such a rapid pace of innovation. In particular, I’ve been thrilled to see how our faculty are continuing to evolve courses to meet the needs of business today. Professor Aaron “Ronnie” Chatterji’s course focusing on the intersection of business and politics continues to be very popular.

The same is true of Professor Ashleigh Rosette’s course focusing on women in leadership, which is a class for both men and women to talk about the unique challenges facing both genders. We’ve also heard tremendous feedback about our Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM) track that we recently launched in our full-time MBA program.

Students are thrilled to be able to go deep in big data and managing innovation, while getting the important leadership tools of an MBA. Employers recognize the value of that skill set and have been eager to hire MSTeM graduates. MSTEM is a STEM-designated program and gives international students the potential to work for three years in the US, on their student visa, in a STEM-related job if they choose to do so.

CA: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

SH: One of the aspects that I think applicants may not fully appreciate until they get to know our program and our community is that you can have the best of both worlds as a student at Fuqua. An MBA from a top school in a warm climate, inexpensive cost of living, a hip, eclectic, supportive community, AND unlimited geographic access to their dream job.  Sixty percent of our graduates end up in metro areas on the West Coast and/or the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic.

  • Durham is a great medium-sized American city, with a less expensive cost of living, warm climate year-round, an airport with direct flights to Boston, New York, DC, Atlanta, LA, SF, and Seattle, a lot of great outdoors opportunities, as well as restaurants and cultural events.
  • Durham has a strong entrepreneurial, biotech/technology presence due to the Research Triangle corridor (150+ Fortune 100 multinationals), and the multiple accelerators and start-ups who have opened up in downtown Durham.
  • Durham has been ranked:
    • 1 of the 7 hottest start-up hubs outside of Silicon Valley by Inc. Magazine;
    • #2 among the best places for business and careers by Forbes Magazine;
    • A Top Ten Tech Town by Wired magazine; and
    • A Top City for people under 35 by CNBC.
  •  The restaurant and bar scene is amazing, there is great art, theater, a music scene, and an eclectic/hipster community.  Duke University’s campus is also amazing with the Sarah P Duke Gardens, Cameron Stadium, the Chapel and a world class Lemur Research Center. It’s nestled in wonderful woods and we’re centrally located between beaches in the southern part of NC and Mountains in the northern part.
  • The full-time students really bond on the weekends (there are no classes on Wednesdays) because they stay for Friday classes and of course our iconic Fuqua Fridays event where the entire community comes together at the end of every week. It really creates an opportunity for students to build authentic relationships with each other on and off campus.

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: We take great care in our evaluation process and it truly is a committee-based decision. After an applicant hits submit, our processing team checks to make sure that we have everything needed to complete an application (a submitted application, unofficial transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation). If there are still items missing that are required for the application to be complete, then our processing team will reach out to the applicant to let him or her know.

Once we know it’s complete, the file is read in full by one member of the admissions committee, who makes a recommendation on whether or not to invite the candidate for an interview. The reader presents the applicant’s file to the admissions committee, and an interview decision is made by the committee.

The application is then read in full by a second, different member of the admissions committee, who takes into account the interview evaluation once that has been completed (if the candidate was invited to interview).  The reader makes a recommendation on an admissions decision (admit, waitlist, or deny), and presents the application to the admissions committee again, where a final decision is rendered.  The file is read twice and discussed by the admissions committee multiple times before a final decision is released to the candidate.

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? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

SH: Essays are a very important part of the process for Fuqua and we take equal care in reading them as we would any other component of the application. Essays allow the applicant’s voice to come through and we gain a better understanding of what makes that person unique, and how that uniqueness would add to the class.

An applicant is able to write more informed essays if she or he has engaged and gotten to really know our Fuqua community during the process, and taken the necessary time to reflect on the value that a Fuqua MBA will provide to them. We encourage applicants to start early in reflecting on what they want to say in their essays and write multiple drafts.

Finally, we seek to identify through the essays, and other aspects of the application, how an individual will “show up” and contribute to not only her or his own transformation, but also the transformation of peers. Team Fuqua is all about individuals representing difference and diversity, coming together and focusing on drawing out the strengths in each other to move the entire team towards a common purpose.

We are genuinely interested in going beyond just test scores or any single data point – and as such we take our essays and the interviews very seriously. We are looking for people who share our belief that business can change the world for the better and possess the humility and leadership skills to bring out the best in others. That match all starts with sincerity and authenticity.

I would avoid being trite and superficial in completing your essays, and I would also focus less on your professional accomplishments in the 25 Random Facts essay, as we can read those through your resume or another part of the application form. Some people have a difficult time getting to 25 we know, but we recommend including context around how does that fact drive your ability to be a better, different, or a more unique Fuqua MBA. We want the insights behind the random facts, but also how they shape who you are today.

It is also okay to infuse humor in your facts. Talk to your friends and family to get ideas of what might be appropriate or interesting to share, as these individuals tend to really know you – the good, bad and ugly.

Don’t be afraid to be somewhat vulnerable in your essays as those are always most interesting.

CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure at Fuqua? Thinking about the essays that have been the most memorable, is there something they have in common?

SH: During my time in MBA Admissions, I’ve read thousands of essays.  I think that the essays that are most memorable are the ones that are most authentic, and that comes through in different ways.  In our 25 things essay, when candidates share stories that are genuinely meaningful to them, and not just stories that may sound impressive or unique (although they may be), that’s when it strikes a chord with the reader. I’ve read stories of students escaping political persecution in the dark of night, of the meaningful relationships shared with grandparents or parents, and of surviving homelessness that have literally brought me to tears.

I’ve laughed out loud at coming of age stories that shaped someone’s future behaviors, and I’ve been awed by the power of perseverance and grit.  But no matter what the story or moment shared, when I can hear the applicant’s voice in the written words, that’s when I remember that individual and want to advocate on his/her behalf.  In our second long essay that asks how a student will engage in our community, the most memorable essays are the ones that demonstrate not only research, but also reflection, that show the student understands not just what they will get from the program, but also what they will give to the community.

The giving back piece is incredibly important, as it shows awareness of your strengths, a desire and ability to connect with others, and a propensity to give of yourself to a group, that means you are far more likely to stay engaged over the long term as well.  Overall, that authenticity throughout all essays is what sets them apart.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process? Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (blind, non-blind)?

SH: The admissions interview is an excellent opportunity to share your story, present a different view of your credentials, and demonstrate your readiness for the MBA program and your genuine interest in Fuqua. Approximately half of our applicants are interviewed and interviews are conducted in two formats. During Open Season, you may self-schedule your interview in Durham, NC, no matter what round you ultimately submit your application. You must have “started” an application to schedule your interview. Starting an application is easy and simply requires that you at least create an account with your name and email address.

Early Action applicants are required to interview during Open Season, and must travel to Durham, NC, unless located on the West Coast or outside of the U.S. After Open Season, interviews will be conducted by invitation only. It is encouraged to choose Durham, NC, as your interview location when possible to experience Team Fuqua and our culture, but you may also interview in San Francisco or certain designated international cities if travel to Durham is not possible. Interviews are “blind” (your interviewer will not have read your application) and are conducted by Admissions Fellows (second-year MBA student) or an alumnus off campus.

Interviews are not “matched” by applicants’ and interviewers’ backgrounds. Most importantly, the interview is your opportunity to allow us to learn about you and it’s your opportunity to learn more about Team Fuqua. Since the interview is conversational, I would encourage applicants  to build rapport with the interviewer and to definitely prepare questions even if they feel they know absolutely everything there is to know about us.

CA: Anything else you would like to add?

SH: Yes, absolutely!  The committee looks favorably upon re-applicants, and most years, about 10% of our class are re-applicants.  The admissions committee also evaluates candidates who received a waitlist decision at each subsequent round; and in Rounds 1, 2, and 3, students are admitted from the waitlist at Fuqua.  Receiving a waitlist decision is not a black box at Fuqua, it’s a very dynamic process.

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.