Why It’s a Great Time To Apply To Duke Fuqua

Essential tips for a standout application to Duke Fuqua.


In its relatively short history, The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has established itself as one of the leading MBA programs in the world. It consistently sits among top-ranked U.S. business schools – #10 by US News this year and lauded by Forbes as one of the most internationally focused schools in the US.

In announcing its recent application makeover, Duke slimmed down and modified its short answer essays, while preserving its iconic 25 Random Things essay. (I’ll circle back to this further on with tips for a winning application strategy). Having spent five years as Associate Director of Fuqua’s Career Management Center and liaison to Admissions, I’m happy to see these candidate-friendly adjustments; from extending the early action deadline, to increasing the number of interview slots, and opportunities to waive the application fee.

If Fuqua hasn’t yet made your shortlist of business schools, here’s three reasons why it should:

    1. Culture: Fuqua is incredibly collaborative and close-knit, and the program’s value for diversity is deeply embodied across its culture and values. Team Fuqua isn’t just a saying, but a commitment that the students, faculty, and staff make to one another. Duke seeks individuals who want to do well in business, but also want to make a positive impact on their community and the world. (Prominent alumni include Apple CEO Tim Cook and philanthropist Melinda Gates.)
    1. Location: Based in Durham, North Carolina, Duke is part of the world-renowned Research Triangle Park, one of the oldest and largest science parks in the US with more than 200 companies ranging from startups to multinational organizations. In fact, the Triangle area has recently received national recognition as one of the best places for business and careers. And while Durham may not be on your radar, it’s an incredibly vibrant community with a nationally recognized food scene, world-class entertainment, museums and an incredible array of outdoor activities.
    1. Customization: Over the years the curriculum has evolved to include 14 different concentrations and with electives incorporated year one, there are plenty of opportunities to customize your MBA education. Fuqua may have a reputation for marketing & general management, but consulting has quickly become a major area of focus; six of its top 10 employers were consulting firms last year (McKinsey & Co., Deloitte, Bain & Co., PwC, Accenture, and BCG).

If these qualities resonate for you, you’ll want to understand what Duke Fuqua is looking for in an MBA candidate. Below are my top tips for positioning a successful application, based on my experience as former Duke Fuqua Associate Director and a coach at Fortuna Admissions.


    1. Get Personal.

      Fuqua’s first required essay solicits “your list of 25 Random things about YOU.” As the prompt explicitly states, Admissions wants to get to know you beyond the professional and academic achievements listed on your resume. This is your invitation to have a little fun and to showcase a different side of yourself that may not come through in traditional MBA applications. It’s also the opportunity to connect on a personal level. It is what draws the committee in and, if done right, leads them to advocate for you throughout the process. Think about your values, your hobbies, your interests, and important life experiences. These can and should be a mix of poignant, funny, playful, deep, sad, striking and everything in between. Some may be a paragraph whereas others may be a simple sentence. Also keep in mind that they should resonate with the core values of the Fuqua community – collaboration, diversity, honesty, respect and giving back to a cause greater than yourself.

    2. Know what Team Fuqua means to you.

      On the surface, Team Fuqua can seem like a tagline or gimmicky slogan, but that’s far from the truth. If you devote the necessary time to networking with students and alumni, you’ll start to understand what this means on a deeper level. You’ll hear stories about how students competing for the same internship help each other prepare for interviews, how willing current students are to connect across programs, how alumni continue to engage with the school long after graduation, and how faculty and staff host international students over holiday breaks when they are unable to return to their home country. The sum of the Fuqua community is truly greater than the individual parts and the stories are endless. You need to share your experience and understanding of this deeply relational value throughout your application. (‘Tell me what Team Fuqua means to you’ is also a favored question among interviewers – both current students and alumni.)

    3. Envision yourself on campus. The second essay asks you how you see yourself contributing to the community outside the classroom. Outside the classroom is key. All too often applicants ignore that part of the prompt and wax poetic about how their experience will add value in class discussions. You must go deeper. Fuqua boasts 60+ student clubs, each of which was started and run by students. These clubs and other experiential opportunities allow you to take initiative and flex the leadership muscle you’re building in the program. Think about the groups you will be a part of – professional clubs and those that are more light-hearted like the Outdoors Club and Wine Club. Then, reflect on your past experience and how it will contribute to Fuqua’s mission/goals. If you talk to club members, you’ll be even better equipped to articulate how you can add value in vivid detail.
    4. Be clear about your career goals, yet have a viable plan B.  At Fuqua, Admissions and the Career Management Center (CMC) are well connected. If questions arise about a candidate, their experience, and how realistic their goals are, Admissions will often get feedback from the Associate Dean of the CMC. And while you don’t get a lot of real estate to discuss your plan B, this is an incredibly important part of your application. At orientation, I often heard the Dean of the CMC joke that the majority of First-Year students would change their career goals. They don’t expect everyone to stick with their original plan whether they intend to or not, but they do want to see that you have thought clearly about more than one option and how that will get you to your goals short- and long-term. That way, when the wind changes (and it will – the MBA is a dynamic and transformative experience), you will be prepared to adjust your sails!
    5. Highlight cultural competency.  Fuqua has always put an emphasis on diversity and takes pride in the fact that its student body is consistently around 40% international. “That commitment to valuing difference is at the heart of Team Fuqua,” wrote Dean Bill Boulding in a recent post, What is Team Fuqua? Teams are purposefully made of individuals from different genders, ethnicities, and functional and industry backgrounds. It’s important that your savvy self- and cultural awareness shines throughout your application. Look for ways to stress your experience working with globally diverse teams and why a global perspective is important to you personally and professionally.

Finally, in Team Fuqua spirit, alumni tend to stay engaged long after graduation and their opinions are greatly valued by Admissions. So much so, that Fuqua encourages alumni and students who have met with prospective candidates to share direct feedback through an online submission if they feel a candidate is a good fit for the program. (When this happens, Fuqua will waive your application fee.) Let this be a further impetus to start networking with Fuqua alumni as your application process gets underway. Do so, and not only do you stand to gain a vocal champion about your fit for Fuqua, but greater confidence that Fuqua will be the right fit for you.

Fortuna Admissions logoFortuna Admissions coach Catherine Tuttle is former Associate Director at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where she worked in the Career Management Center and also served as the liaison to Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.