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

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In this Admissions Director Q&A, get the inside scoop on MBA admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions, is responsible for overseeing recruitment and admissions for the school’s portfolio of ten business degree programs. Prior to Fuqua, she was in charge of admissions for the Full-time and Evening MBA programs at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Hubert 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.

Read on for her insights into the admissions essays, interviews and more about the Fuqua program below.

Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions, Duke Fuqua

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

Shari Hubert: I don’t want to take for granted what an applicant knows or appreciates about Duke so I will quickly share some thoughts on what I think they know and jump into what I think is underappreciated about Duke. I think most people know Duke’s Fuqua School of Business is consistently a top-ranked business school, in part because our faculty literally rank among some of the best in the world. The program is academically rigorous, but that intellectual development is combined with an approach to leadership that truly teaches students how to lead teams in a way that creates common purpose while harnessing the power of diverse perspectives. Given that ability, it’s not surprising that some of the most transformational leaders in the world, like Apple’s Tim Cook and philanthropist, Melinda French Gates, earned their MBAs from Fuqua.

However, I think what most people don’t realize is that this type of learning and approach to leadership also creates a unique kind of alumni network. I think the unexpected and extraordinary benefits from our alumni network are because our graduates don’t just share a degree, they share a philosophy that business can and should change the world for the better. Our alumni are leaders with IQ (smarts) + EQ (emotional intelligence) + DQ (the decency quotient). Because of those qualities they are tremendous brand stewards who genuinely want to bring like-minded and talented people into the network and connect with other alumni and help them if they can. The willingness to help prospective students is where you can get an early exposure to the strength and commitment of our alumni network. I regularly hear from applicants how amazed they are at the responsiveness of our alumni to answering their questions. I’m continually proud to work in a community where helping others become successful is a core value – even after graduation.

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 Duke admissions committee offers a final decision?

SH: We take great care in our evaluation process and it truly is a committee-based decision with many 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 the Duke admissions team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? 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, which has been reported as one of MBA applicants’ favorite essays. 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.  One bit of advice is to use the real estate well on this essay – focus more on your personal accomplishments, family, hopes, fears, desires than your professional accomplishments, since we can gather most of that from your resume.

In our second essay question, we ask 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 make 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 and humility along with 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, Duke admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (resume-based, behavioral)?

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 in-person or 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 and again candidates will have the option of choosing in-person or virtual.  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.

Interviews are conducted by Admissions Fellows (second-year MBA students) or an alum and are weighted the same no matter who conducts your interview. 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: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?

SH: For our Daytime MBA program, Fuqua does not waive test score requirements for applicants, but we do accept the GMAT, GRE, and Executive Assessment, so there are 3 test options for students to consider, and we hope that they choose the test they feel most comfortable taking.  We have seen an increase in testing with the GRE (an ETS product) as well as the Executive Assessment, which is also administered by GMAC, but is only 1.5 hours versus 4 hours, and developed originally for candidates applying to Executive MBA programs.  All of the test options have been shown to be relevant and helpful in our assessment of readiness for studying at Fuqua.  For our Weekend and Global Executive MBA programs and Online Specialized Master’s in Quantitative Management (Health AnalyticsBusiness Analytics and Accelerated Business Analytics) Programs, we do offer a process where candidates can apply for a test waiver.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.

SH: While it is hard to pick two, I have a couple courses in mind that I am happy to share. The first, “Leadership Imperatives of our Time,” is taught by General Martin Dempsey who served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and thus was the highest-ranking officer in the United States military.  A regular comment we hear from students is that it is the best class they have taken at any point in their education. General Dempsey brings such amazing perspective on leadership, drawing on his experience advising President Barack Obama, among others, on critical issues of national security. In addition, General Dempsey serves as Chairman of USA Basketball, so students also get to learn from his leadership experience in the sports arena as well. To me, this is another example of the unique network at Duke – where you learn from people like Martin Dempsey, or recently retired basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski “Coach K”, who is also on our faculty.

Another popular course is called “Entrepreneurial Mindset and Action” which is taught by a marketing professor, Christine Moorman, and a finance professor, Manuel Adelino. Both Christine and Manuel are well-known faculty leaders and researchers in their respective fields. What makes this so unique is that they combine their functional knowledge into an approach that teaches students, no matter what their role after graduation, to think and behave like the owner of a company. This approach certainly prepares students who aspire to start their own ventures. However, our perspective is that this preparation is valuable to everyone – the entrepreneurial mindset helps all students prepare for a lifetime of career success in being able to understand problems and innovate in a way that immediately adds value in any organization. This is a new core course at Duke and students rave about the discussions in class and the opportunity to apply their learnings through the course project.  I think it’s a great example of our approach to leadership in general, pairing professors from different disciplines to teach entrepreneurial mindset –therein demonstrating to our students the power that lies in being deliberately inclusive of differing perspectives.

CA: As we learn to live with COVID-19, campuses have opened up and students are back. What about prospective students? Will they have the opportunity to visit campus? Will admissions interviews be conducted virtually?

SH: We’re very excited to share that our campus is back to being fully open and we welcome visitors to register for our Campus Visit Program where they will be able to come to campus to meet with current students, sit in on a class, have lunch and a tour and connect with members of our Clubs and Centers.  We offer a virtual campus visit option as well.  Our interviews are being provided in both formats this year, in-person or virtually, to make it as convenient as possible for our applicants.  We strive for the applicant experience 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:

I will note that there are some differences in campus engagement now compared to pre-Covid.  We do require that all visitors are vaccinated, and we will reserve the right to verify vaccination when you arrive. Wearing masks when in the building is optional.

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

SH: We can appreciate the investment we ask our students to make in themselves and their future.  There are financial and opportunity costs and we do not want the ability to finance your MBA to be a barrier to investing in yourself given how transformational the experience will be.  We strongly believe in the power of business to transform the world for the better and developing leaders with this potential is a central part of our mission. To that end, I’d like to bring attention to the many resources Fuqua offers to help students afford this investment and to ensure they feel confident as a student regardless of their socio-economic background.

First, a little-known fact is that over half of the class is awarded merit-based scholarships each year, which range from partial to full tuition.  All you have to do to be considered for a scholarship is to apply – no additional paperwork is necessary.  Fuqua has doubled its scholarship budget over the past few years, and we offer a number of named scholarships from alumni endowments, as well as through partnerships with organizations like Yellow Ribbon, Forte Foundation, Posse, Reach Out MBA, and the Peace Corps, just to name a few.

In addition to our most distinguished full-tuition Keller scholarship, which is awarded to applicants who distinguish themselves through their leadership and impacts, we also award the Manning Scholarship for those interested in Healthcare Policy and the University Scholarship for those interested in Interdisciplinary study (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).  We also created a new scholarship last year called Fuqua Impact Scholars for students with interests in one of our five center-focused areas (Healthcare, Social Impact, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Energy and the Environment).  We provide loan forgiveness awards through the Rex and Ellen Adams Loan Forgiveness Program for those who graduate with their MBA and work for eligible non-profit, government agencies or certified B-corporations. We believe that creating more access to business education enables our graduates to use what they learn as an engine for societal good.   Speaking of access, about 16% of our most recent incoming class identified as first generation to study in college.  Last year our students created a Low-Income, First Generation Experience (LIFE) Club at Fuqua to provide support beyond financial assistance so that students from similar socio-economic backgrounds know they belong and have a community to lean on throughout their business school journey and to create access for others who might be contemplating their MBA but have similar concerns or questions.

Finally, we also get many questions from international applicants regarding what resources are available to help them finance their MBA.  Not only are our international students navigating a new culture, location and language in many instances, but having to do that while also trying to afford the cost of an MBA can at times be daunting, depending on what country they are coming from and their familial resources.  We not only have the same robust merit-based scholarships that I mentioned above, that our international applicants are also eligible for, but we also have established partnerships with lending agencies who don’t require a co-signor because Fuqua has agreed to help underwrite part of the debt on those loans.  Students who qualify are able to borrow up to 100% of the cost of attendance, which is very generous and unique.  There are also co-signer options and private alternative loans.  I would encourage applicants to visit our Financing Your MBA page as there are a wealth of resources.

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.