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

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

We continue our Admissions Director Q&A series with Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  Hubert oversees 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 insights into academic offerings at Fuqua, common mistakes she sees in the admissions essays, the admissions process and more.

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

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

Shari Hubert (SH): I am lucky to have a window into how hard our faculty and administration work to continually innovate to make sure our graduates are prepared for the complexities of business today. We updated our curriculum last academic year to include courses in creating common purpose in a divided world, leading technology transformation and thinking like an entrepreneur. In addition, we have a strategy course that is focused on the intersection of business and politics—students study almost real-time examples as they learn frameworks for how to analyze often-complex decisions weighing a variety of stakeholder views. Plus, we were one of the first schools to offer robust training in directing and performing data analytics with our second major in Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM), which received designation as a STEM program. I’m so proud of how quickly innovation happens at Fuqua to make sure we are preparing our graduates not just for their next job, but a lifetime of success in being able to analyze issues and find solutions throughout their career. 

Beyond that, I wish everyone knew how cool Durham, North Carolina is as a place to live. It’s got all sorts of big city amenities without the traffic!

CA: Will the applicant experience look different this year due to COVID-19? Will prospective students have the opportunity to visit campus? 

SH: Despite the disruptions caused by COVD-19, we believe the applicant experience will continue to be one that allows applicants to get to know us well and to appreciate the tremendous culture and experience available at Fuqua. We encourage you to stay connected with our community and us in the following ways:

We will note that there are some differences in campus engagement now compared to pre-Covid, but we are rapidly working toward fully welcoming prospective students back on campus. We have been thoughtful about how to safely do this and are focused on being open to the public for on-campus events, class visits and tours in early 2022.  For now, our preference is that you continue to take advantage of the many virtual events available.  For those who do find themselves on campus and want to stop by our office, we would ask that you make an appointment with our team in advance.  We do require that all visitors are vaccinated, wear masks when in the building; and we will reserve the right to verify vaccination when you arrive. Community means everything to us at Fuqua. During this time though, your safety and the safety of our community is our top priority.  

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 many hours (almost 2000 (wo)man hours) spent discussing applicants to ensure we are able to craft a class that is diverse and inclusive.  We know how much time, energy and care is taken by applicants to submit the very best representation of themselves.    

After an applicant hits submit, our processing team checks to make sure that we have everything needed to complete an application.  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 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 (if the applicant did not participate in our Open Interview period).  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.  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 have two essays, the first is our iconic 25 Random Facts essay is our favorite to read by applicants. We hear repeatedly from prospects and applicants that the exercise is fun and allows for true self-reflection of what’s important to them and what makes them truly unique.  By the way, it’s our team’s favorite essay to read as well.

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 really want applicants to reflect on what is important for the Admissions Committee to know about their interest in Fuqua and how they will contribute.

Common mistakes that I’ve seen applicants do unintentionally is not explaining aspects of their application that may be viewed as outside of the middle 80% range (especially on the lower end).  I like to advise applicants not to take for granted that we in Admissions will be able to read between the lines and piece together what happened or the context behind something that they may not feel is a strong an indicator of their abilities.  Don’t let us guess or make up a story – use your voice, through the written word, to explain what happened so you don’t leave anything to chance or to our own interpretation. If there’s something in your profile that you feel is not a strength, tell us what you’ve done to shore up that area. By being proactive you demonstrate self-awareness, humility but also a drive to improve.  

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, your exposure to diverse teams  and your ability to develop into a leader who values decency.   

Approximately half of our applicants are interviewed, and interviews are conducted in two formats. During Open Season, you may self-schedule 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 and email address.  Early Action applicants are encouraged to interview during Open Season.  After Open Season, interviews will be conducted by invitation only.  Even if you are not selected to interview initially, 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.  

Interviews are conducted by Admissions Fellows (second-year MBA students) or an alumni. 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: This is a really hard question—it’s almost impossible to pick just two! Our faculty pride themselves on having an open door to students and in building relationships that extend far beyond graduation. As a result, it’s not unusual that we hear not only about how our faculty have helped students grow intellectually, but how they have inspired or influenced students to grow as people and future business leaders. 

Finance professor John Graham is a great example. John not only helps students understand the weeds of finance, but he is deeply connected to the real-time pulse of what’s going on in industry through a quarterly survey of chief financial officers called the CFO Survey. The survey was started at Duke in 1996 and under John’s leadership recently partnered with the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta. However, you would never know in meeting John that his work carries such prestige—he is extremely down to earth and humble. John has also led service efforts in the school in partnership with students like packing meals through programs like Rise Against Hunger. 

Daisy Lovelace joined our faculty last year and is already having a tremendous impact on our students in teaching leadership and communications courses that meaningfully equip our students to foster inclusivity and create a sense of common purpose among people who may hold very different opinions and worldviews. It’s been exciting to hear from our students the impact Daisy is already having in how they think about the implications of nuance in the way they communicate which they might not have previously considered.

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

SH: I would love applicants to have a better appreciation for the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist at Fuqua.  The entrepreneurial mindset applies to more than new venture creation and startups. It applies to being a corporate innovator in a large company; to buying and scaling an existing small/midsized business; to being an investor.

Fuqua believes this so strongly, we have developed a mandatory course to help all First Year MBAs cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, Entrepreneurial Mindset and Action. Students will get hands-on practice in the “Discover-Develop-Deliver” framework of entrepreneurial action through our New Ventures Courses.

We also have a broad range of case-based and experiential entrepreneurship courses that draw from subject matter experts across Duke, not just Fuqua. NEW for 2021 is our Entrepreneurship through Acquisition course. 

Another question we often get is can I start my company while in business school?  Fuqua students are actually starting and launching ventures during their MBA experience. Just to give a few examples:

  • BIOMILQ (class of 2020) makes lab-grown human breastmilk and raised $3.5M. 
  • Arctic Analytics (class of 2021) had a Y Combinator interview. 
  • Renmo (class of 2021) is closing a seed round. 

In terms of financial resources we offer students who are looking to start their own companies while in school, Fuqua offers competitive financial tools to help students make progress on their ventures:

  • Prototyping grants 
  • Summer “E-ternship Grants” to allow founders to focus on their ventures instead of paid internships; 
  • Loan assistance grants for graduating MBA founders to cover interest payments for up to two years

We also sponsor a Fuqua Fast Pitch competition which is an annual showcase of Fuqua entrepreneurs. There is prize money and exposure to investors interested in Fuqua founders.  Finally, Fuqua just established a partnership with HBCU – North Carolina Central University to help support Black Founders and encourage more social equity in entrepreneurship.  It’s called pitch: A competition for Black student-founders 

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.