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

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Diversity and inclusion stand out in the thorough Duke MBA admissions process.  Here to tell us all about it in our ongoing Admissions Director Q&A series is 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.  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. Read on for her admissions insights into the Daytime MBA program at Duke Fuqua, including changes to their application essays, what to expect in the interview, the value of Team Fuqua and more.

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

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

Shari Hubert: One area that we’d like to ensure prospective students are more aware is this notion of Fuqua as a leadership lab. We start with identifying the talent that has the greatest chance of thriving in this lab.  We look for students with IQ, EQ, and DQ – raw intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and decency. These are the people who have the right skills and motivation to draw out the strengths of others to truly harness the power of teams to work toward a common purpose.  The right people need to also be put into the right context and one way we do so is through our Team Fuqua culture.  Team Fuqua connects throughout the school and is particularly enabled through our student driven culture. We provide our students the freedom, flexibility, and support to pursue their passions, and to get applied experience leading and learning, inside and outside the classroom. The significant trust and resources we give to students, coupled with the partnership and guidance throughout their Fuqua experience, creates a genuine leadership lab during the two years to promote learning, growth, and development. This unique and special ecosystem, is further supported every year by the generous and incredibly decent second-year class as they fully commit to recruiting and onboarding the next generation of Fuqua leaders.

CA: How might the applicant experience look different this year due to COVID-19? How would you advise candidates to get to know your MBA program and student community if they aren’t able to visit your campus?

SH: Community means everything to us at Fuqua. During this time though, your safety and the safety of our community is our top priority. With guidance from the University, we have suspended all on-campus activities at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and have put in place work-related travel restrictions for off-campus events, until further notice. We continue to offer virtual opportunities for you to learn more about our programs, and we encourage you to review the list of upcoming virtual events.

Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, we encourage you to stay connected with our community and us in the following ways:

The Admissions Team is currently working remotely and continuing to meet with prospective students virtually. We plan to open our application for the 2020-2021 application cycle in mid-July, and our virtual campus visit program in August. We have posted our new application deadlines; and I encourage prospective students to check out the dates as you start your preparation to apply.

We have made some updates to the application, which we hope will eliminate some stress and help streamline the process. You can read about those changes in our Fuqua blog here.

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 with ~3000 hours spent discussing applicants to ensure we are able to craft a class that is diverse and inclusive.  Starting last year, we instituted formal implicit bias training for all admissions staff, our external readers and our Admissions Fellows who conduct our interviews.  We know how much time, energy and care our applicants take to submit the very best representation of themselves.  We want to make sure that our team is ready and able to evaluate each applicant on his or her own merits, mitigating bias in the process.

After an applicant hits submit, our processing team checks to make sure that we have everything needed to complete an application. Good news this year is that we are only requiring one recommendation (preferably still from a current or former supervisor).  The second one is optional.  Also, some applicants forget that they can still submit their application with unofficial copies of their transcript and test scores.  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 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 the committee makes an interview invitation decision.  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 or if the candidate participated in our open interview period).  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: We want to make the application process as straightforward and meaningful to applicants as we can, while still capturing all the information our team needs to find the best students for Fuqua.  With that in mind, we have changed our short answer questions to include just one response, compared with two from last year.  We are foregoing our “Why is now the right time for an MBA,” instead only asking, “What are your short-term post-MBA goals?”  Over the past year, we learned that your “why” is included in your response to your “what,” and by eliminating the first question, we streamline the short answers for you. Asking for your “alternate plan” also allows us to see your thought process and the research and self-reflection you have done.

We will retain our iconic 25 Random Facts essay as we hear repeatedly from prospects and applicants that the exercise is fun and allows for true self-reflection of what is important to them and what makes them unique.  By the way, it’s our team’s favorite essay to read as well, so selfishly we wanted to keep it.

In our second essay question, we are asking applicants to be more focused in their responses.  We still want to know how you expect to engage with our unique Team Fuqua community, but rather than focusing on the breadth of engagement opportunities that exist at Fuqua for this question, we are asking applicants to limit their response to the three most meaningful ways they expect to engage while a student.  There are so many opportunities available to our students, and one of the first skills you must develop as a student is to prioritize what is most important to you.  We are also limiting the response to this question to 300 words (about one page), down from two pages.  Again, we are asking students to narrow your response and really reflect on what is important for the Admissions Committee to know about your interest in Fuqua and how you will contribute.

As for potential things to avoid, 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: 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?

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.  We also want to understand how you will contribute to our community and develop into a leader who values diversity and decency.

Approximately half of our applicants are interviewed, and interviews are conducted in two formats. During Open Season, you may self-initiate your interview virtually, 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, residential and e-mail address.  Early Action applicants are required to interview during Open Season. After Open Season, interviews will be conducted by invitation only.  Even if you are not selected to interview initially, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are no longer considering your candidacy. We do invite applicants to interview at other points in the process on a case-by-case basis.  This season, given that all interviews will be conducted virtually either via Zoom or Skype, we are planning to continue to offer ways for applicants to get to know us prior to their interviews. We are planning to host daily virtual campus visit programming where applicants can connect with our staff, students and faculty.  We post our open interview and virtual campus visit schedules on the website, so that prospective students can register.

Your interviewer will not have read your application, he or she will have only reviewed your resume. Your Fuqua interviews are conducted by Admissions Fellows (second-year MBA students) or an alumnus; and on occasion, admissions staff. 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: Tell us briefly about two notable professors at your institution (ideally one student favorite, and one up-and-coming).

SH: We are lucky at Fuqua that we have so many amazing professors. Our faculty are also highly accessible to our students.

Professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette regularly wins teaching awards.  Ashleigh is one of the world’s top diversity and inclusion scholars and companies turn to her when they want to understand how to implement true change in their organizations. Ashleigh recently taught a course about women in leadership which fostered dialogue among all genders about unique issues women face at work. Many students, across genders, described the course as among the best they have taken. Ashleigh also recently did a session on LinkedIn Live about how business can help dismantle systemic racism. It’s been exciting to see the impact Ashleigh created from that session alone both within the Fuqua community and in the corporate world. We’ve heard from many companies using the content with their leadership teams.

Professor Hemant Kakkar joined our faculty last year and is already having an impact. His work is highly relevant in looking at trends related to social hierarchies and status, and how to ensure people have a voice. In fact, he also just participated in a LinkedIn Live discussion on employee advocacy, which sparked much conversation in our community and beyond. Hemant is yet another example of a faculty member researching topics with real-time applications and passing those insights directly to our students.

CA: Anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?

SH: Yes, there are a few things that I’d like to mention:

We are aware of the challenges that some applicants continue to face with identifying testing centers or accessing online standardized exams, and will work with applicants throughout the process if they are facing difficulties.  In the 2019 – 2020 application year, we required prior approval before accepting an Executive Assessment (EA) score.  Based on our experience with this exam in the Daytime MBA program this year, combined with the past several years of using this exam in our Executive MBA programs, we are confident that the EA exam is an accurate measure of aptitude for Daytime MBA applicants.  Therefore, students will be able to apply using the EA exam for the 2020-2021 application year without the need for prior approval. We will continue to accept GMAT and GRE scores as well, and we don’t have a preference for one test over another.  We also do not differentiate between online or in-person tests – both will be evaluated the same.

Lastly, Fuqua has long been a school that welcomes and respects the efforts of students reapplying to our program.  We define a re-applicant as someone who reapplies in the year immediately following the year they first applied.   Our re-applicants do quite well in our process. This year, as plans for many students were changed due to COVID-19 and the after-effects, we are offering the ability to replicate or “clone” last year’s application for the 2020 – 2021 application cycle.  What does this mean?  Simply that we will copy over all information entered from last year’s application into this year’s application, saving you a lot of time (and money as we’ll also waive the application fee).  Re-applicants will only need to update information that has changed, and update any essays that they wish to update; otherwise, all information will carry over into the new application form.  We know that re-submitting the information requested in our application can feel tedious, and we want to help make the process as easy as possible.  Re-applicants simply need to contact our office via email at [email protected] once the new application is available, to request the data be transferred over.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.