Duke Fuqua School of Business Essay Questions and Strategic Guidance, 2022–2023

While doing your research into Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, you have undoubtedly come across “Team Fuqua.” The phrase helps outsiders understand the spirit of the school’s culture, in which everyone works together and is an integral part of a larger whole. But to those on campus, it means even more: Team Fuqua represents a collaborative and inclusive spirit, with members who are full of ambition not just for themselves but also for their peers. On a practical level, Team Fuqua means lots of involvement and contribution—so much so that Duke Fuqua asks its applicants to explain how they will contribute to the community if they become a student.

Fuqua’s application essay questions cover three main areas. Two are somewhat traditional in nature: a question about your goals and a question about your contribution to campus. One is not at all traditional in nature. In fact, it is unique and, certainly in our eyes, fun. The school’s essay prompts and our strategy for crafting your responses follow:

Essay prompt:  What are your post-MBA career goals? Share with us your first-choice career plan and your alternate plan. (100 words)

As many business schools do, Duke Fuqua wants to know that you have a clear vision in mind of where you are headed. (Although MBA programs often spark new professional discoveries and career pivots, you will find your job search much easier if you start with a clear plan. In selecting candidates for admission, schools are essentially placing bets on who will ultimately find success in their target career, and they would much prefer to bet on someone who has a plan—even one that eventually changes—than on someone who has no plan at all.) But even though many schools ask you about your career goals, Fuqua is the only top program that asks you specifically about a backup plan. When formulating your response to this essay prompt, take time to think about both your short- and long-term goals. Even if you do not write about your long-term goals, reflecting on them can help you articulate what your alternate plan might be.

For example, perhaps you currently work in strategic planning at a large technology firm, and your long-term goal is to start your own software company. In the short term, you hope to join a small, pre-IPO software company in an operational role to get closer to entrepreneurship. Now, when considering what your alternate plan might be, think about what other short-term roles could also put you on a path to reaching your long-term goal—and might even be easier to attain if your original goal does not come to fruition. Perhaps you can leverage your experience at a large technology firm to join a similar company but do so as part of its New Products team. Note that this is not a big deviation from your original plan! You are not saying that you would like to join a small, pre-IPO software company in operations or become a generalist investment banker. That would be a much harder story to craft, given how different the roles are! Tying both of your short-term goals to the same long-term goal will help you frame and present a logical path.

Essay prompt:  25 random things about yourself

The ‘Team Fuqua’ spirit and community is one of the things that sets the MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. Please share with us “25 Random Things” about you. The Admissions Committee wants to get to know YOU – beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. Share with us important life experiences, your hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are.

Your list will be limited to 2 pages (750 words maximum). Please present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may be brief, while others may be longer.

Some people read this prompt and think, “How am I supposed to come up with 25 random things? This is going to be torture.” Well, we beg to differ! We love the creativity of this prompt, and most of all, we love discovering more about our clients when we coach them on responding to it. (In fact, we love this prompt so much that our founder even turned it into a game that she uses as an icebreaker: “Whose random thing is it?”)

To come up with 25 things, the key is brainstorming. Being expansive in your reflection can unearth ideas that you might not have otherwise remembered and will help you paint a very broad and rich picture of who you are. Consider different time periods of your life (childhood, teenage years, college years, professional years). Consider different sides of you (your professional self, who you are outside of work, who you are in your family, who you are with your friends). Consider your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, triumphs, and failures. Your goal is for the admissions committee to get a clear sense of how multidimensional you are.

As you start developing your list, reflect on the second- and third-order takeaways of each item. For example, perhaps you are a vegetarian, and this is one of your 25 things. Great! But… what more could you say on the topic that would reveal more about you? Imagine you have been a vegetarian since age 4 because your parents decided to give it a try, long before vegetarianism was popular or mainstream, and you delight in cooking up delicious vegetarian feasts for your happy carnivore friends. Ah ha! Now we see that you have adopted and internalized a commitment and perfected certain skills related to it that allow you to share with others in a positive, community-minded way. Here’s another example: imagine that you won a regional acting award for your performance in a college play, and that is one of your 25 things. Again, great! But also again, could you tell us more? Perhaps in that play, not only were you not the star, but you also did not have a single line (especially challenging given that you are generally a talkative person). Interesting! The admissions reader might then infer that you are someone who is willing to test themselves in creative ways.  Note that we did not choose workplace topics. You can certainly include ideas from your professional life in your list, but we wanted to show how non-work things can also reveal interesting aspects of your character, interests, and personality. (By the way, these two random things were sourced from two different members of our Gatehouse Admissions team.)

Essay prompt: The Fuqua community and you

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 to the development of leaders. Based on your understanding of the Fuqua culture, what are 3 ways you expect to contribute at Fuqua?

Your response will be limited to 1 page (500 words).

Some business school essay prompts can be vague or ambiguous. Not Fuqua’s! This prompt is amazingly clear, asking you to outline three ways you intend to contribute at the school, and it even spells out the different areas you might consider (“student-led government, clubs, centers, and events”) when developing your response.

As thankful as we are to Fuqua for doing so much hand-holding in its prompt, crafting this essay effectively will still take time and strategy. Your essay needs to convince the admissions committee that you have researched Fuqua, Duke University more broadly, and even the surrounding Durham community enough to really see yourself on campus and identify the areas that you will invest in. Keep in mind that, as with your list of 25 random things, the places and ways you choose to contribute can relate to more than just your career goals and also span your personal development goals and hobbies. In fact, we at Gatehouse would discourage you from talking exclusively about career-oriented activities or more hobby-related activities. Having a varied mix is best so the school understands multiple aspects of your candidacy and character.

Note that Fuqua asks about contribution, not just involvement. Team Fuqua prides itself on its robust student activity, and the admissions team wants applicants who are sure to keep Team Fuqua thriving. So, perhaps you seek to join the Finance Club because your goal is to pursue investment banking. Okay, but… what will you do as a member of the club? How will you make the group work for you and your peers? Perhaps, for example, you plan to leverage your experience organizing events and recruiting speakers as part of an globally focused political awareness club in college and will organize the Finance Club’s annual conference, with a specific focus on technology and software. Or maybe you will take the lead on communications, given your love of research and experience writing newsletters at work. These examples illustrate how you can be specific and thereby give the admissions committee more details about you, your experience, and what you have to offer as a Fuqua MBA.