My Story: From Wall Street To A Duke MBA

Jessica Williams is about to join Sears’ Senior Leadership Program.

Jessica Williams will enter Sears’ Senior Leadership Program in August

Sears’ Senior Leadership Program in August

Jessica Williams is an optimist. Though she hasn’t settled on her final destination, she’s navigating her career path with gusto. “You have to go after what it is you want to go after,” she says. “You have to be determined.”

After graduating from Spelman College with an undergraduate degree in economics, Jessica moved to The Big Apple and began working at Standard & Poor’s, a financial services company. She stayed for four years and held several different roles, but the world beyond Wall Street beckoned. “I knew I could leverage my experience into another industry, into another job,” she says.

Business school was the next logical step. To prepare for the application process, she entered an MBA preparation program with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). MLT provides career coaching to African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans with exceptional leadership potential. “It helped me round out exactly what I wanted to do, what my strengths were,” Jessica says. She zeroed in on marketing and began applying.

Her top choice? Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. It came from the heart: “Two years is a very short time if you’re having a great time, but it’s a very long time if you’re miserable,” she says. “Go to the school where you know you’re going to be very, very happy.” Having graduated on May 11, Jessica is now preparing for a new life—and a new career—in Chicago.

My Story

When people say that business school is a transformational experience, they’re being 100% truthful. I’m one of those people who tries to live without regretting things; I think everything molds you. Having a better parking spot would’ve been great, but aside from that, I don’t think there’s anything I would change about my time in business school. The good, the bad, the ugly, the tears, the laughter—I would take it all. I would do it all over again.

Prior to business school, I was working at Standard & Poor’s in New York City. I had a number of roles there. I went from ratings to the fixed-income management services group, and by the time I left the company to go to school, I was primarily in the sales division.

Business school was always on the horizon. I knew that I wanted to focus on marketing, but I had to figure out exactly what that meant for me. A lot of the time, you can get comfortable: “Hey, I know this job, I know what I’m doing, and I’m in New York.” I enjoyed the fact that my job allowed me to leverage my skills. I was an economics major at Spelman College, so while I wasn’t in a finance role, I could use a lot of what I had learned. But the financial services industry wasn’t really for me.

I joined a program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) a year and a half before I went to school. My friend and I were at the gym in our apartment building, and we saw a girl with an MLT shirt on. Another good girlfriend of ours had also done MLT, but hearing my neighbor talk about it got me even more interested. I thought it could give me that extra push I needed to get my act together.

MLT has a very rigorous application process. They get a lot of applicants, so they want to make sure that they can work with you. Once you’re accepted, you have a cohort, a coach and monthly assignments. The assignments aren’t meant to be taken lightly. One day, I put off an assignment—like a crazy person—until the last minute. It took 18 hours in one day to complete it.

MLT wants you to set yourself apart from every other candidate. If I say, “I’m Jessica Williams, I did this before school, I want to do this after school, and you should let me into your school”—that’s pretty generic-sounding. MLT’s goal is to understand your story: “Why do I want to do marketing? Where is that passion coming from? What do I do with my current job that I can relate back to marketing?” You get a better understanding of what it is you want to do and why you want to do it.

There were certain things I was looking for in a business school. I wanted collaboration, a challenging environment and a strong and supportive alumni base. I applied to Duke, Indiana, NYU, Kellogg and Michigan. My friend, who was also applying to business schools, fell in love with Cornell. He told me, “When you go to visit a school, you’re just going to know when it’s the right place for you. You’re absolutely going to know.” I didn’t think it was possible—I was being jaded, like, “Oh, I’m a New Yorker, it’ll probably just be fine”—but I actually fell in love.

The hardest thing was making the commitment. Indiana gave me a full ride, and Duke gave me a portion. I knew I needed an environment where I felt supported, confident and happy, and I could not get rid of the feeling that Duke was where I wanted to be. It was probably hard for my parents to wrap their heads around my decision because I was doing everything on my own. I had to put aside the idea of debt.

Coming from New York and suddenly having green grass, trees and beautiful weather—I loved it. I was walking to my apartment on the first day, and I got so excited because it had carpeting and air conditioning. I thought, “This is amazing! I haven’t had this in years.”

  • PRG

    Fuqua Grad, no it shouldn’t, lol. Let’s be real. Great program but not ahead of booth, kellogg,and Sloan. I agree it is ahead of tuck and haas. But also not ahead of columbia…

  • PRG

    I completely disagree. I think that both Wharton HCM and Fuqua HSM are on par. I would say Wharton/Fuqua and everyone else (for only HSM). Obviously, Wharton has a stronger business school than Fuqua overall (but not my a large margin, IMO). And, no, I don’t attend/will not be attending Wharton or Fuqua (even though I was admitted to both). I will be attending LBS for personal reasons…

    I do see your point about Kellogg students, but honestly, I am not that impressed by them. I have found the Fuqua HSM has extremely high caliber of students – again we are probably splitting hairs. One thing to note, I heard Fuqua’s HSM Director, Kevin something, is stepping down. This could hurt the program in the near term…

  • Mytwocentsfromvisting

    I was at Duke for campout during my visit there
    and saw the internationals hanging out and participating but at Ross on my visit, the “Ross Bus” was mostly white kids. There were a few internationals and they seemed lost trying to find classmates to talk to and then left. I don’t see why people compare the cultures of these two schools when Fuqua is obviously more welcoming and inclusive.

  • Nathan

    These comments are great because it’s hard to know as an applicant what schools are trending up and which ones are in the decline. I’m definitely applying to Duke after my main schools of Kellogg, Booth, Wharton, MIT, and Tuck. I was thinking of Michigan because I like college football, but since my goal is consulting and specifically MBB, I’m glad I know to avoid Ross especially if top firms pull recruiting efforts there. Thanks for all the good unfiltered comments John!

  • Renault

    1) You need to learn how to properly speak English, and

    2) You don’t go to Tuck.

  • SandraWu

    My friend who is an international student at Ross told me going to the bus where all the white domestic international students tailgate before football games is very lonely. Many of her classmates do not acknowledge her presence and the few that do are always looking for a way to exit and talk to more inteesting and fun cauasian classmates, who just want to drink and party like 15 year olds.

  • JayCutler

    I feel Vanderbilt Owen is underrated. Our undergrad is better than Michigan Ross and we have close to 700 GMAT now and our increasing salaries if adjusted for location makes us on par with other top 15 schools. With Deloitte as a too recruiter and Goldman Sachs, I think we can overtake schools like Ross who are losing recruiters. I think when McKinsey decides to add schools it’s going to look to us and Emory if Ross is let go.

  • Cornelius

    Take the credit when it’s due, but don’t spill over into hyperbole.

    Fuqua is a great school on its way up, but saying it’s top 5 or even close to achieving top 5 in the next 15 years makes you sound uninformed and drives people to ignore sensible comments from those of us who think Fuqua is great, but who don’t overstate the case.

  • SpartanLove

    MSU operations and logistics >> Michigan

    McKinsey opps hires here but not at Ross. Go Green!

  • Ducky

    FT ranked SOM higher than Tuck, fyi.

  • Keepingitsimple

    Lets just get the fact straight people. Fuqua was historically a top 15 program that is now top 10 and on the upswing. Ross was historically top 10 now it’s top 15 trending down to top 20 where it will lose its national appeal.

  • FactsaboutRoss

    From current students the racism at Ross is centered around the b-school frat houses of compound, Hill house, and Rock house. They are mostly fratty American Caucasians with a token minority who depises his only race and wants to be white and proves it by bashing minorities and non-white internationals. I’ve been told was a group of white females who only interact with these fratty men who called themselves the plastics, neons, and another group called the terribles. They never interacted with anyone else and was always looking to exit a conversation with someone, especially a minority or international if they had no career connection value. They only interacted with minorities or internationals in forced group work assigned by a professor but otherwise ignored and failed to acknowledge anyone else was not deemed bschool “cool”. This group doesn’t represent all of Ross but they set the precedent that the school is not one united class but of separate cliques who do not interact with each other. Even Bschool professor Linda Lim at Ross has acknowledge this cult occurrence. I heard the people that ran the end of the year graduating videos when putting up pictures and memories only included his/her group of friends and did not included the international community. Categories such as best couple did not include others outside of these cliques. It wasnt that these groups were Intentionally racist but the people who ran the group made no effort to be inclusive of the entire class during there time at Ross and it showed in the video when 35% of not represented at all in the farewell video.

  • TheSadTruth

    Youarebitter must go to Ross and defend his school choice to prevent it from falling in the eyes of applicants and soon to be recruiters including McKinsey/BCG/Bain and all the BB firms that used to recruit from there. Soon only Deloitte, Accenture, and pWc will be the only consulting firms there as well as Middle market banks needing Midwest talent. This is a fact and is already in the works. It will show up in the employment reports for the graduating classes of 2014 and beyond. It’s only a matter of time when this reality hits the school and applications and other top recruiters abandon Ross. If I were applying, I would not waste the 200 application for a soon to be regional school.

  • YouAreBitter

    Fuqua is ranked #4 for marketing by US News not #2. In addition it is ranked #11 overall and is clearly not in the top 5. Where are you getting your numbers?

    Remember, Ross increased their class size a few years ago which coincided with a drop in MBA applications across the board for the last few years. They are bringing it back down to normal levels which they should have done earlier but I wouldn’t put too much weight on acceptance rates. Stern’s acceptance rate was lower than Wharton’s last year but nobody in their right mind would take Stern over Wharton if all else was equal.

    Applicant pools are of different quality and some schools (such as Fuqua) are laser-focused on yield to the point that they try to only accept students that they think will definitely come instead of the best applicants. That’s why their average GMAT was only 690, which was actually lower than UNC Kenan Flagler which had an average GMAT of 692!

  • Healthcare ranking

    I healthcare I believe Wharto HCM is the best in terms of talented students. Second is Kellogg by strength of resume then Duke. Duke has a better program than Kellogg but Kellogg students are stronger on resume. Then. After Duke, I would say Haas.

  • Tucky

    from the beginning nobody consider Yale SOM as top school hence no need to talk about it. We talk about Ross because it used to be top school! The fact that its acceptance rate is over 40% is really clear indication of its fall. Its high ranking on those publications you mentioned is due to its long history, so, the impact of its fall will be obvious in the coming few years. with respect to Fuqua, it is undoubtedly a top 5 school, top 2 for marketing, and the best for healthcare. all parties in the MBA industries believe so.

  • Preston

    Think you forgot Yale

  • YouAreBitter

    By what metric is Michigan no longer a top school? Fuqua isn’t even ranked in the top 10 in US News but Fuqua fanboys are trying to claim it is top 5. If you want to use BusinessWeek rankings then Michigan, Johnson and Darden are also Top 10 along with Fuqua. Want to look at average salary statistics? Ross is $134,360 and ahead of Kellogg, Stern, Haas, Darden, Johnson, etc.

    Sure Michigan slipped one spot in the US News ranking but that doesn’t make it not a top school. Yale SOM dropped 3 spots this year and nobody is saying anything about them.

    This seems like a lot of Fuqua fanboy hype trying to push Ross down.

  • FuquaGrad

    Fuqua should be #4

  • MBAforALL

    we do not know about him, but the fact that Ross is no longer top school is undeniable. Lets face it, Michigan Ross fall is very obvious and it is annoying to hear about the racism in what used to be a great a school.

  • ProspectiveApplicant

    I would not say that Michigan has fallen but it has slipped recently. However it has moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4 not from Tier 4 to Tier 5 (although I disagree with where some schools are placed on that ranking such as Columbia and Fuqua).

    Here are the Top 20 Schools based on an average ranking of Businessweek and US News. Michigan is tied at 10th with Columbia and Darden and way ahead of the schools in tier 5.

    1. Harvard
    2. Stanford
    3. UPenn (Wharton)
    4. Chicago (Booth)
    5. Northwestern (Kellogg)
    6. MIT (Sloan)
    7. Duke (Fuqua)
    8. Berkeley (Haas)
    9. Dartmouth (Tuck)
    10. Columbia
    10. Michigan (Ross)
    10. Virginia (Darden)
    13. Cornell (Johnson)
    14. New York (Stern)
    15. CMU (Tepper)
    16. UCLA (Anderson)
    17. Yale
    18. Texas (McCombs)
    19. Indiana (Kelley)
    20. UNC (Kenan-Flagler)

  • YouAreBitter

    You are the same guy who posts all the “Ross is racist” comments. How convenient that you posted a prestige ranking and elevated Fuqua a tier and knocked Michigan down 2 tiers. You are so predictable and now it’s obvious that you go to Fuqua. Before I just thought you were a bitter reject, but now I see that you are a bitter reject and a member of a peer school who feels the need to bash Michigan to make yourself feel better about being at Fuqua. Just be happy about the fact that you got into a solid business school instead of trying to make up fake prestige rankings with the sole intent of trying to elevate Fuqua and backhandedly insult Ross.

  • CommonKnowlegdeYouRetard

    UCSF is a pure grad school focused on the life sciences. JHU just opened up it’s MBA so give it time.

  • FuquaConsultant

    As a recent Fuqua grad in consulting that I believe Fuqua is on the rise. The ranking and numbers prove it.

    I also work with a lot of Ross grads and they are smart, capable, and fun people that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with during my off hours. However, I am a white, middle class male so I can’t comment on the racism that was perceived by Ross’s international community. I will say that several recent Ross grads have expressed their concern regarding their school’s ranking and perception since they seem bothered as many of you are by the recent drop in ranking and perception.

  • ConsultingApplicantAimingforM7

    I’ve heard the new Dean is part of the reason and the fact that Michigan’s action-based learning or MAP used to be a differentiator but no longer is because many schools including HBS, Duke, etc all employ similar action based learning initiatives.

    I’ve been told from current students that recently, top consulting firms (including mine that recruits at Ross) have seen a trend that Ross grads are not as prepared compared to other top schools when it comes to interviewing. There is also some perception that the school’s lax academic standards have caused it be seen as a party school moreso than other top MBA programs. If you combine this with a less selective applicant pool (32% and 41% recent admit rates), this perception makes sense. I haven’t been told that top firms will completely pull out of Ross but that they may reduce their on-campus recruiting efforts and some many just have only a resume drop if this trend continues. I think reducing the class size will help Ross with part of the issue, but hopefully it isn’t too late for the school to reverse the trend. If the school ends up with top companies only having resume drops, then they aren’t much better than strong regional schools such as UNC/Texas/CM/etc IMHO.

  • HealthcareGrad

    Wharton Healthcare admits >> Duke HSM ones but this because of pedigree of pre-Bschool jobs. As an MBA alum with access to both resume books these are the facts.

  • 2014Applicant

    I would respectfully disagree with your placement of Michigan Ross as a “Strong Regional” school. Based on my research, Michigan has a great national reputation. According to its most recent employment report, 34.3% of 2012 graduates were employed in the Midwest, however, 23.6% and 22% were employed on the West Coast and the Northeast, respectively. This national diversification rivals (if not exceeds) that of a Duke or UVA (as examples).

    As further indication, companies such as Amazon (see WSJ article on Amazon MBA recruitment, dated May 1, 2013) and Microsoft are among Michigan’s top 10 hiring companies (which also include Google, Bain, McKinsey, BCG, and Deloitte).

    As I apply to school’s this coming year, Michigan (along with Kellogg, Duke, and Darden) is one of my top prospective schools. People’s perception of Michigan may have faltered a bit (maybe as a result of the troubles in Detroit), however, perception does not appear to be reality. In fact, if you look at the data from the 2012 Bloomberg survey, Michigan Ross was ranked 6th in the Recruiter section of the rankings.

    As a note. Based on some of the comments on this website re: Ross, I am sure there will be some “bashers” to this post, but I would welcome constructive dialog and responses and hope that the readers of P&Q would have the intellectual honesty and maturity to bring forth constructive comments.

  • Blazer

    Just curious, why is Michigan having such a precipitous fall? They used to be in the Tier 4 and imo, they’re still a Tier 5 at least but there seems to be an overall sentiment that Ross is falling.

  • Renault

    Sorry, I missed Michigan. I agree that YSOM belongs in tier 4, but so does Fuqua.

  • CommonSense

    don’t you know Ross is Michigan. Think YSOM should be tier 4 according to the group above there and Emory should be Tier 5 and Wash U should be Tier 6.

  • TheRanker

    may be you did not meet many people with serious credentials!

  • TheRanker

    No, it is in reality nowadays NOT your reality of decade ago.

  • TheRanker

    well, BusinessWeek do consider it so, some years ago. Plus, ALL the banks and consultancies do recruit from Fuqua the SAME way, The same Numbers, and treat it as they treat Harvard, Wharton, Stanford,… every aspect of the recruiting process. However, what makes me really believe that Fuqua is top 5, is the fact that it is only 40 years old, yet, ALL elite employers treat it with those of 100 and 80 years.

  • MBARepublic

    where is Olin at Washington?! Emory?! USC marshall?!

  • Renault

    By what metric is Duke on the same level as those other schools? Not in terms of selectivity. Not in terms of average salary or placement.

    Is this Fuqua guy the same as the Ross-is-racist guy?

  • Renault

    But it only reached M7 levels in your mind, not in reality.

  • Renault

    Nobody considers Duke a top 5 school. You’re delusional.

  • Renault

    1) Duke does not belong in the same tier as Tuck, CBS, and Haas. Wishing it so won’t make it so.

    2) Where is YSOM? Where is Ross?

  • NewRankingsofBschoolPrestige

    The new rankings of schools

    Tier 1: HSW
    Tier 2: K,Chi, MIT
    Tier 3: CBS, Tuck, Haas, Fuqua
    Tier 4: Darden, Stern, Johnson, UCLA

    End of schools with National Reputation

    Start of Strong Regional US schools

    Tier 5: UNC, Tepper, USC, Texas,
    Tier 6: Indiana, Michigan, Notre Dame
    Tier 7: Ohio State, SMU, Texas A&M, UCI, UCD, UCSD

  • BriggsR

    I haven’t met a single person with serious credentials that considers Fuqua a top 5 overall program. You have Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT and Chicago Booth — the schools most people consider top 5. After this you have Kellogg, Columbia, Hass, Tuck, Fuqua, Stern and a few other schools like Ross and Darden.

    Fuqua has a top marketing program and is likely number 1 in Healthcare considering Duke’s strength in that area. These are the facts. Anything else is just fanboy stuff or being an online troll. It’s not helpful to prospective students to post such hyperbole as “top 5” etc.

  • RetiredBanker

    I believe that Chicago and Wharton are the top for finance followed by the 8 schools that are all same in quality and placement.

  • Go Duke


    As a recent Fuqua grad (class of ’13), I’m joining the heavy majority of Fuquans by entering the world of consulting (4 of the top 5 recruiters by sheer numbers in 2012 were Deloitte, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain). That said, # 8, 9, & 10 on the list were Citi, BofA, and Goldman. Finance (broadly defined as anything from IB and sales & trading to corporate finance and PWM) captured 28% of the graduating class in 2012 (latest report I could find) – the 2nd highest percentage of all industries (behind 38% jumping into consulting).

    So while the school is (rightfully) well known for its Health Sector Management program, the finance professors are strong (see John Graham) and plenty of Fuquans find their way to Wall Street post graduation.

    All this being said, there are TONS of non-finance related reasons to attend Duke. But I suppose that’s for another time…

    Hope this was helpful!

  • TheRanker

    saying that Fuqua is a top 5 is NOT a silly thing. It is a legitimate claim, you have the right to accept it or reject it, but lots of people consider it top 5, and I believe so.

  • Eagles29

    Sensible post. Fuqua is a beast in healthcare..but I think too many people are jumping on here and saying silly things like Fuqua is a top 5 school etc. It’s not! But I agree with you — I work in the healthcare space and Fuqua’s HSM is very highly regarded.

  • Keiron

    I’m adding to a question posted by Naresh —

    Can any recent Fuqua grads talk about hiring in Finance? I’m currently working for citi card services in the analytics division. I have a BS in finance form a top 40 school and considering MBA programs ranked 6 to 12. I like a lot of what Fuqua stands for and would prefer living in smallish college town rather than a big city. My only concern is whether finance companies recruit aggressively at Duke.

    Would really appreciate current students or alumni responding to my post.

    Thanks much.


  • Back2School86

    In regard to Healthcare – Fuqua has become a huge player and probably has the best program among the top schools. But as far as other areas are concerned — Fuqua is a top 10 school. I know quite a few students who were focused in healthcare that picked Duke over Kellogg and Wharton (the two other schools with excellent healthcare programs). But when it comes to finance — Duke is not in the same league as Wharton, Columbia or Stern. Duke’s marketing program is also super solid and rivaled only by Kellogg’s program. Overall Duke is a top 10 school, but if you are focused in healthcare — it’s most likely the best program out there and has huge respect among the recruiters in that space. If you are interested in finance, IB, PE or VC — you are better off at another top 10 program.

    It really is horses for courses.

  • MBAhealthcare

    Duke is on the same level of MIT, Chicago, Kellogg, and columbia, slightly behind HWS. Every Top MBA recruiter think so, in fact, sometimes in healthcare, Duke is actually ahead of HWS. Thanks for the fact that, UCSF has no MBA, and JHU just entered to MBA industry.

  • FormerHaasBBA

    I would say Fuqua is can be at the Columbia, Haas and Tuck level. Overtaking Kellogg, Booth, and MIT will be impossible. But for a new school to reach M7 levels is phenomenal!

  • CurrentApplicantDoingResearch

    It appears Duke is moving ahead of schools that were peers such as Ross (Racism comments aside), Johnson, UCLA, nearby Darden, and NYU. It seems like a threat to overtake Tuck and Haas and b3 close to Kellogg in terms of culture, but with the diversity of jobs such as Wharton and HBS.

  • Renault

    You aren’t serious, are you?

    Who would be displaced from the Top 5? It certainly won’t be either of the Chicago schools, and I doubt Duke is going to beat MIT in the foreseeable future.

  • xiao

    Top 5 more realistically IMHO.

  • Cmoney

    I was able to take a couple courses at Fuqua. The culture and cohesiveness of the student body was great. I also enjoyed how the entire school was sheltered from the noise of a New York or Chicago.

    Great program, Great School

  • Cornelius

    Duke is a great school. I’ll be attending Tuck this coming year, but Fuqua was the only other program where the sense of community was comparable to Tuck. Expect Duke to keep improving relative to its peers and clearly break into the top 10.

  • Naresh

    Thanks for that information. I have seen those stats before. Fuqua has updated it for this year. And, yes, Fuqua is ranked 11 by P&Q, but perhaps by virtue of its other highly ranked programs and national name recognition, it is punching above its weight class.

    You’re definitely right about Apple. I believe the CEO did his MBA at Fuqua and recruits a handful of students every year. From what I have gathered from people, Fuqua is very strong in healthcare and getting stronger in consulting, but some questions remain unanswered in finance and corporate management.

    Good luck to you – FuquaHopeful. Thanks again for responding.

  • Fuqua Hopeful

    When I visited, hiring seemed to be on the upswing. Again, it’s a bit of a case by case basis. Certain industries are more competitive at Duke than others. Duke has a national brand and while it may be a top 10 school, in the eyes of recruiters, it gets almost top 7 billing (chalk that up to great hospitals and great basketball). In my opinion, if you go to Duke with a career goal in mind, work hard for it, and use the resources Duke provides you, you can land your dream job whether it be at MBB or Apple or Google.

  • Fuqua Hopeful

    “When you go to visit a school, you’re just going to know when it’s the right place for you. You’re absolutely going to know.”

    I can attest to this. Visited Duke and UNC recently and I fell in love with Duke as well. UNC was nice don’t get me wrong, but Duke as just on another level. There’s just an energy there and despite the size of the class, everyone seemed to know everyone Hopefully I’ll see you soon there Ms. Williams!

  • Johnny

    As a MBA grad 2013 from a peer school, I concur with your experiences. Especially about the part where you have to make a decision on what type of experience you want and how everyone questions why they’re in business school at some point. While everyone has some doubt from time to time, I knew no one who regretted going to business school, because it’s a period of personal growth. I feel like you really get to know yourself and have a lot of confidence in what you can offer to the world. Although a lot of people come out of bschool still not sure what they want to do, they are content with the introspection and emotional intelligence gained while in bschool.

  • Andrew C

    Great question. I would like to know as well.



  • Naresh

    How have the job placements been at Duke this year? Has it been strong or are students still looking for jobs? It would be great if some current students or recent Fuqua grads can answer my question. I’m considering applying to Fuqua and this information would be extremely useful. Thanks and best wishes to Ms. Williams.

  • Roger

    Great story…good luck!!