Tuesday Tips – Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips

The concise set of Duke MBA essays for the 2011-2012 application season will require solid focus and a presentation of your best application material. With two questions on the Duke Fuqua MBA program, it will be very important to demonstrate that you know the school and are a strong fit. Starting your research and personal networking now will put you in a solid position to prepare the most specific and effective essays. Duke’s word limit is a flexible 2-pages per question, which gives you enough space to offer solid evidence to support your admission.

A clear application strategy is crucial to approaching these essays. Duke’s mission is to “identify, engage, and foster the development of future leaders of consequence,” and you will want to demonstrate you are the kind of leader the admissions committee is looking for. Don’t forget the personal, as Duke says on the website, “the Admissions Committee would like to get to know our applicants in a more holistic manner.”

Essay 1: Describe your vision for your career and your inspiration for pursuing this career path.
This career goals essay asks for your vision and inspiration, not just a recap of your resume. As a starting point, you may want to think about the choices that have led you to your current career path. Focus on the inflection points that have inspired you ”“ whether coursework in college, early exposure to running your own business, or watching a family member pursue their dreams ”“ and clearly outline why you have made the choices in your life thus far. You are not required to follow a sequential path in this essay, and you can choose the important moments in your career to highlight.

Career visions can be either long-term or a combination of long-term and short-term goals. Think big picture and focus on the overall story, not just the job you hope to land immediately after school. When you look back at your career later in life, what do you want to have accomplished? What will make you proud, engaged and satisfied after twenty years in your career?

Essay 2: How will your background, values, and non-work activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add value to Fuqua’s diverse culture?
Being an active part of the Fuqua community is paramount to your application, and you will need to strongly make the case for your place in the class through this set of essays. While you should be personal in this essay, make sure you are strategic about what aspects of your application strategy cannot be covered in the other essays. In some ways this essay is very open ended ”“ topics can be background, values or extracurricular. If you have a particularly interesting story in any of those three areas, this is the place to tell that story.

While you should not forget that you are applying to an MBA program and that leadership, teamwork and management potential are always important to adcomm, this essay may be an opportunity to follow the admissions committee’s advice to share “what makes you a dynamic, multi-dimensional person.”

Tie everything together into a case for your contribution to the Duke MBA program. While many candidates will have the grades, GMAT and work experience required for admission, great numbers are not enough. You want to show how you are unique and will contribute to Duke to present the best case for admission.

Essay 3: Why Duke? (If you are interested in a specific concentration, joint degree, clubs or activities, please discuss how you would contribute to these in this essay.)
This essay is entirely focused on why the Duke MBA program is the right place for you specifically. This may be another opportunity to demonstrate your multi-dimensional personality as you explain which classes, clubs and community activities most resonate with you.

The best essays will be both specific and personal. While everyone benefits from a diverse alumni network, what specifically do you want to give and receive from your classmates? If you describe clubs and classes you are attracted to, also offer specific examples from your past experiences to show your consistent personal or professional passions.

When researching schools it is ideal to seek personal touchpoints. Speak with current students, alumni, and other members of the community to see a wide range of perspectives on the program. When you speak to those affiliated with the Duke MBA program ask them to tell you what most surprised them about the program, or what they like the best and dislike the most. Asking probing questions with surprising angles can help you unearth what is truly special about the program.

While the focus of the essay is the Duke MBA program, you are also being asked to talk about yourself. Your fit with the program is crucial, and therefore you must exhibit the qualities Duke is seeking as well. The Duke MBA program is especially interested in your role within the community, and will place significant weight on this factor. If you research thoroughly and are specific, you should be able to clearly demonstrate why you are going to be strong contributor and teammate.

Especially because the career essay does not ask specifically how the Duke MBA fits into your career goals, it’s important to clearly outline the role of your Duke MBA in your plans. What do you know now that will be enhanced through your MBA education? And what crucial aspects of the skill set required for your future career will be augmented by attending Duke?

Optional Essay: If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Admissions Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, significant weakness in your application)
As with most optional essays, the Duke MBA asks that you only use this space to explain extenuating circumstances. If you have a low GPA, a non-typical recommender or gaps in work history this is the correct place to address those issues.

When approaching any concerns about your background in the optional essay it’s important to focus on recent performance, whether academic or professional, and what such performance demonstrates about your ability. Your goal is to remove questions from your application and to address in a factual manner any information the admissions committee needs to know to fairly evaluate your application.

Re-applicant Essay: All re-applicants are required to complete the Re-applicant Essay. Please limit your response to two pages. Write an essay describing how you are now a stronger candidate for admission compared to the application you submitted the previous year.
If you have a better GMAT score or a promotion since last year, you will want to highlight that tangible evidence of your improved candidacy. If nothing measurable has changed in your life since you last applied, it’s still crucial to demonstrate that you are now a stronger candidate.

Rethinking your career goals, refining your vision, or researching Duke more completely this year can all be aspects to improve your candidacy. Perhaps you visited the school and have a stronger attachment to Duke this year, or you took on a new project at work that improved your skills. Think about everything you have done to work towards your MBA plans this year, and highlight any actions that you believe will enhance your ability to contribute to Duke as an MBA student.

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