The MBA Gatekeeper At Duke’s Fuqua School

Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean of admissions, Duke University Fuqua School

Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean of admissions, Duke University Fuqua School

After more than 20 years in admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Liz Riley Hargrove has seen virtually every way an applicant can succeed or fail. There are the plagiarists, who submit others’ work in spite of a warning on the school’s website that application materials go through anti-plagiarism software. There are the essay cut-and-pasters who forget to swap in Fuqua for Harvard Business School and lend the impression they aren’t all that keen on Duke.

There’s the applicant with the recommendation letter from a CEO who might not even recognize her in an elevator, let alone be able to describe her character and abilities. There’s the computer whiz who just couldn’t wait to find out his admission status, so he hacked into the school’s computer systems.

Since Fuqua is highly selective – only a quarter of the more than 3,000 annual applicants receive admission offers — for every spectacular or even disgraceful fall, there are many ordinary failures, arising from a constellation of shortcomings with regard to Fuqua’s standards, expectations, and culture.


Then, there are the successes, the 25 percenters, those who receive an admission offer. And while the causes of failure are legion, the drivers of success — beyond the elemental metrics of GPA and GMAT — revolve around one primary factor: an applicant’s ability to tell an authentic, convincing story, of their life, their goals, and the impact they would make in the classroom and the world.

Hargrove started at Fuqua in 1993. Since then, the school has more than doubled its student population, and grown far more diverse, with MBA candidates from more than 50 countries. Under Hargrove, Fuqua has emerged as one of the most transparent schools for MBA admissions as well as one which best gets to know its applicants, according to a recent survey of MBA admission consultants by Poets&Quants (Schools With The Most Transparent MBA Admissions).

While Hargrove can dredge up recollections of the applicants whose mistakes reveal what not to do, it’s the applicants who get it right who make Hargrove appreciate her position as associate dean of admissions. “Seeing people who come in every year and change themselves for the better and change their companies and communities for the better is incredibly gratifying,” Hargrove says.

Transformation. Change. Anyone applying to Fuqua would do well to remember those two words. The school wants students who will transform themselves, and change the world. And although Fuqua’s admissions team targets smart students with strong GPAs and GMAT scores, they’re not after brilliant wallflowers. To paraphrase a dead president, ask not what Fuqua can do for you, but what you can do for Fuqua.


“You can’t just come to Fuqua and sit back and be the silent observer,” Hargrove says. “Nobody’s going to let you do that. You came here to develop as a leader, to work together as a team; we want you to be passionate and involved. You have some ownership and responsibility in that.”

In the Q&A that follows, Hargrove shares the fruits of her 22 years of experience as a Fuqua admissions officer. She offers tips for success, and warns of pitfalls leading to potential failure. She explains what matters most in an application essay and in a recommendation letter. She reveals why an application from a person with a stellar GPA and high GMAT might end up lower in the pile than one from a less academically gifted candidate. And she provides the rationale behind a quirky admissions question requiring 25 answers.

Students At The Fuqua School, by the numbers:

School data Class of 2015 Class of 2014
Enrolled students 433 432
Women 32% 33%
U.S. minorities 19% 22%
International students 41% 40%
Average undergrad GPA 3.4 3.4
Average GMAT 694 690

Source: Fuqua School


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