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Duke MBA Essays & Analysis

duke mba essays

The following essay topic analysis examines Duke / Fuqua’s MBA admissions essays. The Duke MBA essays are for the 2020-2021 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

Duke MBA Essays & Analysis 2020-2021

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Duke MBA essays.

Required Short Answer Questions

Answer the following question in 500 characters only (the equivalent of about 100 words).

  • What are your post-MBA career goals? Share with us your first choice career plan and your alternate plan.

Duke Fuqua shortened this already short prompt for the 2020-21 admissions season, cutting the first question about why applicants are pursuing an MBA now.  Instead, applicants are only asked in this Duke MBA essay to concisely state their professional short- and long-term goals, and a back-up plan. Identify your goals and even name a company or two that you are targeting immediately post-MBA. Then, cover how the short term is a stepping stone to the long term. Highlight the impact you hope to make because of what you’ll be doing, too, if you have space. Although asking about career alternatives is a bit unusual as far as b-school applications go, applicants simply need to identify a second post-MBA position that would also lead them toward their stated long-term goals.

Duke MBA Essay 1

Instructions: Present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be only a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed two pages.

For context: Fuqua believes different types of people, points of view, and experiences bring out the best in everyone. And above all, we place a premium on succeeding while making a positive impact on businesses, organizations, and the world.  These ways of thinking set the Duke MBA experience apart, and this concept extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of “25 Random Things About Yourself.” As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire’s professional and academic background, so learning these “25 Random Things” helps us get to know someone’s personality, background, special talents, and more.

In this spirit, the admissions committee also wants to get to know you–beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of “25 Random Things” about YOU.
This nontraditional MBA application essay has been a staple of the Duke application for several years running. This suggests that the format is working, i.e. that the adcom has been pleased with the information this exercise provides about candidates’ backgrounds and fit with Team Fuqua. This open-ended prompt allows applicants to showcase interesting and meaningful facts about themselves that they otherwise might not get a chance to share with the adcom. It also amounts to a test of the applicant’s creativity and judgment in arriving at a well-rounded set of admissions-appropriate tidbits.

So, in the spirit of the Duke MBA essay, here’s our list of ten not-so-random things to think about when developing your response to this prompt:

  1. Keep it positive! Share happy memories, silly details, interesting talents, or (very short) stories of resilience and accomplishment. Steer clear of failure or disappointment (unless you can be light-hearted or self-effacing about it).
  2. Aim to cover all domains of your life, including your interests outside of work and even important personal details and relationships. Writing about the reason you admired your grandmother growing up or what you learned during a long-distance phase in your relationship will help the adcom get to know you on a level beyond your resume.
  3. Short list items are okay!
  4. In fact, the most effective responses to this question will intersperse very brief items (of just a few words) with longer ones that might include several sentences, creating an almost poetic effect.
  5. First-date and job-interview rules apply here — think twice before discussing religion or politics. If these areas are important enough to you to warrant mentioning, limit your comments to personal meaning and community aspects (i.e. don’t try to educate or persuade the reader).
  6. Take a lifespan view. Sharing a few details from your childhood can give the admissions reader insight they won’t find anywhere else in your file. Meanwhile, covering present-day favorites (e.g. food, film, travel destination, place to visit in your city or town) can show the reader who you are today.
  7. Brief anecdotes — for example, about learning something the hard way while traveling internationally or working hard to improve at a new hobby — can showcase both your interests as well as your process when faced with a challenge.
  8. We recommend a maximum of 5 work-related list items (and suggest that you aim for even fewer). As the preamble hints, the adcom can read about your professional background elsewhere in your application.
  9. Aim for balance in content throughout your list; rather than listing items chronologically or by domain (i.e. professional, personal, extracurricular), change things up throughout and keep your reader on her toes to make this truly “random.”
  10. Show your draft to a close friend or relative to get feedback on how well you’re capturing your personality (and on whether you’re overlooking anything).

Duke MBA Essay 2

Instructions: Your response should be no more than 300 words.

Fuqua prides itself on cultivating a culture of engagement. Our students enjoy a wide range of student-led organizations that provide opportunities for leadership development and personal fulfillment, as well as an outlet for contributing to society. Our student-led government, clubs, centers, and events are an integral part of the student culture and are vital to providing you with a range of experiential learning and individual development experiences.

Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, what are the three most meaningful ways you expect to engage and contribute to our community outside of the classroom?
Fuqua has presented a prompt about its student culture for many years, and this Duke MBA essay question is no exception. When highlighting the changes to this year’s application, Fuqua Assistant Dean of Admissions Allison Jamison said, “Our second essay will still ask you about how you plan to engage with the Fuqua community, but we would like you to limit it to the three most meaningful ways you expect to engage as a student. While there are so many opportunities available, one of the first skills you must develop as a student is how to prioritize what’s most important to you. There will also be a 300-word limit on this essay. Again, we hope this change helps you to focus on things that spark your interest, while also providing the Admissions Committee with helpful insights into the unique contributions you will bring to the class.”

Applicants may want to begin by thinking about an element or two of the student culture with which they find the greatest resonance, and should also consider which are already evident in their activities and accomplishments to date. In fact, one to two examples that illustrate their skills and potential to make a positive impact should be woven in to selected means of contributing. Consider this in light of the idea that past behavior supports future success.

Of course, the majority of this response should center on the applicant’s three planned activities and contributions as a Daytime MBA student. Given the adcom’s preamble about student-led government, clubs, centers and events, applicants will be expected to be fairly concrete in their comments about how they’ll engage in specific activities, to the point of discussing their behavior outside of the classroom and identifying specific student organizations in which they might take a leadership role.

While there is also a focus on personal development, applicants should also describe the impact they hope to make during their two years on campus—after all, this is also geared towards contributing to a community. Candidates should note that speaking convincingly about their ability to make a positive difference will likely require some informed sense of the areas of opportunity and need on campus. Conversations with students and alumni will be very important in producing the most effective essay possible.

Optional Essay

If you feel there are circumstances of which the admissions committee should be aware (such as unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance), please explain them in an optional essay.

Please do not upload additional essays or additional recommendations in this area of the application, and limit your response to one page.
This Duke MBA essay is a fairly narrow prompt, and applicants should only use this optional essay to address liabilities in their candidacies. While the adcom allows responses of up to one page, applicants should keep their responses as brief and direct as possible.

Clear Admit Resources
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