• Target Test Prep 20% Off Flash Sale is on! Code: FLASH20


Create a Winning Duke Fuqua MBA Application

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Apr 3, 2024

Is the highly-ranked Fuqua School of Business on your MBA shortlist? Then don't sleep on today's post with advice for Duke Fuqua MBA applicants. As regular readers know, Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former AdCom officers from all the top programs—including Duke Fuqua. So, today, we're tapping SBC consultant Sherry for insights gleaned during her four-year stint as Fuqua's Assistant Director of Admissions.

In this role, she evaluated applications, sat on the admissions and merit scholarship committees, and coached unsuccessful applicants on how best to improve their applications so that they could reapply the following year.

Sherry also supervised Fuqua's international admission procedures and traveled extensively throughout the US, Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and India, recruiting and interviewing prospective students. Her teaching, evaluating, and storytelling strengths result in highly effective and successful applications.

Future Duke Fuqua MBA applicants, read on for the insider perspective Sherry originally shared on SBC's B-Schooled podcast!

Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

What makes the Duke Fuqua MBA program unique?

Sherry: First and foremost is what everybody hears about—the "Team Fuqua" culture. And it honestly isn't just a marketing term! You feel it when you see students interacting with their peers, professors, and even the staff.

The way I explain it to prospective students and clients is that Fuqua students work together to make sure everyone improves rather than stepping on each other to get to the top. Students are intelligent, capable, strategic, and highly motivated. But they also demonstrate a sincere interest in helping and understanding others.

In addition to the Team Fuqua culture, the professors are top-notch and super collaborative with the students. I often heard of professors inviting students over to their homes for dinner. They hang out at Fuqua Fridays, our social events for the Fuqua community.

Finally, I'd also like to give a shout-out to some of my former colleagues at Fuqua who were members of the admissions team, the student services group, and the Career Management Center. They are a genuinely devoted group of professionals whom I greatly respect.

What are some cool new things happening at the school?

Sherry: Fuqua students can create their own clubs. One of the newer ones is the Fuqua LIFE Club, which stands for Low-Income First-Generation Experience individuals. This club empowers low-income and first-generation students in the Fuqua, Duke, Durham, and higher education communities. It helps current LIFE students mitigate structural barriers through an inclusive MBA experience, which includes application assistance and mentorship to Duke undergraduate students who are LIFE members.

Another thing to mention is CASE i3, which stands for the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. Many candidates are interested in the growing field of impact investing. CASE i3 offers opportunities to work with impact investors on real-world challenges, or even students can make investments themselves.

In the CASE i3 consulting program, students work as a part of a consulting team with an outside client on a current challenge that they're facing. There's also another opportunity for them as CASE i3 apprentice students to embed with and be mentored by a local or remote investment team.

Finally, I wanted to mention Edge, which stands for the Center for Energy Development and the Global Environment. Edge is a partner in university-wide interdisciplinary collaboration focused on advancing education and research on energy.

For those who aren't aware, Duke University is part of the research triangle in North Carolina. In short, it's an area anchored by three strong research-centric universities and home to several major employers. So, clubs like CASE i3 and Edge make a lot of sense at Fuqua.

Are there any misconceptions about Duke Fuqua that prospective MBA applicants might have?

Sherry: There is one misconception that people have about Fuqua students. Namely, they might not be as competitive as students who get accepted to elite programs. Many applicants choose Fuqua over more highly ranked programs because they know it's the right fit for them. FIT is essential at the Fuqua School of Business.

It's probably because they strive to live by Fuqua's six core principles that translate into a series of values that they translate into. The first is authentic engagement, supportive ambition, collective diversity, loyal community, impactful stewardship, and uncompromising integrity.

What do Duke Fuqua MBA students do outside of class?

Sherry: Fuqua students have a lot of options. They can choose from over 70 clubs, ranging from professional clubs and activities to leisure and affinity clubs, and can start a new one if they want. Fuqua Vision is a popular show that students produce, similar to Saturday Night Live sketches. An important one is the Fuqua Partners Association, which helps the partners and families who come along with students.

The Duke Forest Trail is very close to Fuqua—there are many hiking trails in North Carolina. The Outer Banks are only about four hours away by car, so that's nice to go to the beach. Asheville is about three and a half hours away in the Blue Ridge mountains. People may know about it as the location of George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate, which is really beautiful, especially during the holidays.

On campus, there's the Duke Chapel and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Also, someplace I love is the Duke Lemur Center (lemurs are the most endangered mammals on earth). Golf is another favorite for many people. Last but not least is Duke basketball!

What is the Duke Fuqua AdCom looking for in applicants?

Sherry: I would narrow it down to authenticity. You want to be yourself in the applications. If you can convey what you are genuinely passionate about, no matter what it is, it really doesn't matter. That will be most compelling and engaging for your readers—not trying to create something you think they want to hear.

Being a good team player is essential at Fuqua. They want to know that you're going to contribute to the community in and out of the classroom in a meaningful way. Also, it doesn't hurt to have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to your community through volunteerism or community service that shows the AdCom that you will be involved when you're a student.

They look at past performance to indicate what you may do in the future. Because Fuqua is a student-run program, they need individuals who will come in and take the initiative. They rely on students to take the lead in managing clubs, getting involved in student government, and doing many activities independently.

Photo Courtesy of Fuqua School of Business

What is the AdCom looking for in the short-answer essay question about post-MBA career goals?

Sherry: Applicants can start by asking themselves a few questions. First, do you need to earn your MBA to make a career transition or pivot? Or two, do you need the general management foundation that the MBA will provide to prepare you to attain your goals? Have you plateaued with your current company with no further room for advancement? And any of these could be your answer.

The AdCom wants to know that you've thought this through and can clearly explain why you want or need to pursue your MBA. Your short-term goals must be clear, concise, and attainable. You can demonstrate this by naming specific companies that recruit at Fuqua and a specific title that you seek.

Talk to current students or recent alums to verify that your goals are attainable based on what you've done in the past and what's currently going on with the career management center at Fuqua. The AdCom wants to understand your post-MBA goals to ensure you can transition into your desired career post-MBA.

They don't want to admit you if they can't help you get where you want to go. When mentioning your long-term goals, talk about your vision for your future. It's okay to dream big if it's aligned with or consistent with your stated short-term goals and application.

Read SBC's expert MBA Essay Tips for Duke Fuqua

Also, I always recommend incorporating any altruistic goals you may have in the long term, such as ways that you want to positively affect your community or the world. Schools always seek alums who can enhance their reputations with their success. So, if they can see that you're going to make a significant impact, that will make them say, "Hey, this person will be a great addition not just as a student but also as an alumna or an alumnus."

But…have a backup plan, too.

This is a crucial component of this question. The AdCom wants to see that you've considered other options and are flexible. If something happens in the industry or functional area that you're considering entering post-MBA or, for whatever reason, you're unable to land the job of your dreams that you have going in, what are you going to do? Do you have a backup plan? Is it realistic? That's the biggest thing.

Duke Fuqua has a unique prompt that asks applicants to share 25 random things about themselves. What are they looking for?

Sherry: This is an excellent opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out. If you feel stumped about how to begin, I first encourage clients to ask themselves these questions:

  • Do you have any interesting personal stories to share unique family traditions?
  • What do you do outside of work?
  • What kind of volunteer work are you passionate about?
  • What are your most important or exciting life experiences to date?

That might be trips you've taken, the birth of a child, or maybe even the death of a loved one. It doesn't have to all be upbeat. It can be poignant. And I encourage folks to dig deep and think about what is meaningful to them. It also can be quirky and fun. It could be funny, serious, or outrageous. Anything goes.

You may mention favorite TV shows, movies, actors, musicals, or athletic events. You could list special foods you love or types of people you like or dislike, such as mean-spirited or judgmental people. It truly is random. The idea is to allow yourself to be open to presenting things that you're interested in outside of work.

I suggest clients talk to close friends, family, and even trusted colleagues to get their input on this because this can be a big roadblock for many people. Send this prompt to your friends and family and ask them to help you come up with ideas. Sometimes, they come up with incredible random facts that the applicant would never have thought to share on their own.

What advice can you share about the required essay on how applicants expect to contribute at Fuqua?

Sherry: You must demonstrate that you've done your due diligence here. You must be able to convey that you understand Team Fuqua culture. The program is a student-run and led organization. How will you get involved in clubs and conferences? Will you take on a leadership role in a club or become the president of the Student Government Association?

You may want to become an admissions fellow or another type of fellow at Fuqua. They want to know, for example, if you would help plan and execute Blue Devil Weekend or lead a GATE trip. Talk about how you will contribute—not just what you'll take away from the Fuqua experience.

How does the Duke Fuqua MBA program conduct interviews?

Sherry: Fuqua is unique in that it has an Open Interview Period in late summer/early fall, where candidates can have an interview before submitting their application in any round. These may happen in person on the Durham campus or virtually via Zoom. Space is limited, so applicants should always take advantage and sign up for these as soon as possible. Why leave it to chance that you might not be invited to interview? Get yourself before them and show why you want to attend Fuqua.

Interviews by invitation are conducted in each application round by staff, alums, and Admissions Fellows (select second-year MBA students). Most interviews are conversational; the interviewer will only see your resume beforehand. Primarily, they're trying to get a sense of whether you will be a good teammate contributor and that you genuinely want to attend Fuqua. But I also tell clients to remember that these folks might be looking at them to assess whether they're going to be able to land that internship or post-MBA offer.

Be professional, friendly, and authentic. Don't get too casual just because you are interacting with a student or a peer. Come prepared with a clear sense of your short and long-term goals and how the Duke MBA will help you attain them. And always be ready to answer, "Why Fuqua?" This should be your most robust answer. They are very proud of Fuqua, want to see that you've done your homework, and are sincerely excited to become a contributing member of Team Fuqua.

Any final advice for those applying to the Duke Fuqua MBA program this year?

Sherry: Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about Duke and the Fuqua experience. It truly is a unique program that develops high-impact collaborative leaders. So, do your homework and talk to current students and recent alums to better understand the program, how it'll fit you, and how you can contribute. Make sure you have realistic short-term goals based on what's happening in the economy and with the career management center and recruiters.

And again, be authentic when writing your essays. They want to know what you're passionate about, no matter what it is. Trust me, they read a lot of essays. Therefore, the more compelling, engaging, and interesting you can make them, the better.

Thank you, Sherry, for sharing your insights into what applicants should know about the Duke Fuqua MBA experience! For more information on applying, please visit the Fuqua School of Business.


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.