Another Top School Joins The 2020 Reversal-Of-Fortune Party: Apps Climb At Duke

Duke Fuqua saw a jump in applications to its Daytime MBA this year. Duke photo

Add another top business school to the growing group that has reversed its MBA application fortunes amid — and despite — the coronavirus pandemic.

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business released its Daytime MBA Class of 2022 profile this week showing a markedly better application total and improvements in a number of key areas. But while it’s tempting to attribute the numbers to the school’s addition of a fourth application round as the pandemic hit in March — particularly its 10.5% jump in apps — Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua’s associate dean for admissions, says the numbers already were trending that way before Covid-19.

“About 50% of our overall application increase came in before the fourth round,” Hubert tells Poets&Quants. “So we actually were already up in applications, by about 5% overall, before we decided to create the fourth round.”


Duke, like UC-Berkeley, Columbia Business School, NYU Stern, and others, turned around a three-year slide in applications that saw the school lose 14.6% of its app volume between 2018 and 2019; going back three cycles, the Fuqua School had lost one-fifth — fully 20% — of its apps. The 3,356 applications in 2020 are 320 more than last year, though the total is still about 200 below Duke’s 2018 mark.

Hubert says Duke’s pre-coronavirus investments paid off.

“We did invest a lot in hosting over 200 events that prior year, and that would have driven those applications,” she says. “We activated a much more high-touch campaign geared toward those applicants who were in the process of completing their applications, but had not submitted yet, to ensure that they were able to get all the information they needed in order to complete the submission. So going through the process, it was much more high-touch tactically.

“There was a wave of many schools seeing a bit of an increase, but I think many schools saw it after their fourth round or their final round. We were seeing it before we decided that fourth round.”


Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua associate dean for admissions. Duke photo

Duke Fuqua’s fourth round lasted 69 days between March 11 and May 19, and though Hubert says it will not be a permanent addition, it did contribute to increased applications, heightened interest from women, and — defying an array of cultural and practical obstacles — internationals.

Already a leader in women’s enrollment, Fuqua this year improved its female representation to 46% from 43%, a total likely to land the school among B-school leaders nationally and globally. “As a community, we really value and recognize the importance of getting to gender parity,” Hubert says. “It’s not just one thing. I think it’s a collective effort that we saw with our staff, our faculty, our students, our alumni engagement: We absolutely invested scholarship dollars and we really had an active outreach effort.”

Likewise with international enrollment. Duke Fuqua maintained its foreign student enrollment at 38% from the last two intakes; as it has for three years in a row now, Fuqua in 2020 enrolled a class with representatives from 44 countries.

“We were very intentional in recruiting internationally, so what we saw with that drop in internationals last year, we saw that reverse itself,” Hubert says, crediting the school’s admissions team for “holding multiple events, going back to cities, going multiple times to key cities around the world, as well as hosting events earlier in the season.

“I am just always in awe of the lengths to which our international students will go to invest in their education and to get here. There is one student who lived in Brazil, but also had a Portuguese dual citizenship, and she traveled to Portugal to fly out to the U.S. to get here. And I think those types of very, very high-touch, very strong communications across the board — but very individualized communications as well — show that our admissions team understands where each international student was.”

As with other top B-schools, however, reversing the application downturn came with a cost: Duke Fuqua’s acceptance rate climbed to 25%, up more than 9% from last year’s 22.9%. It’s actually the second straight year the school’s selectivity rate has climbed. Moreover, with 838 admits and an enrolled class of 408 (the latter larger than last year’s class but smaller than 2018’s 440), Duke Fuqua’s yield dropped for the first time in at least three years going back to the 2016-2017 app season, falling to 48.7% from 56.8%, a 14.3% decline.

The school’s Graduate Management Admission Test average also fell, albeit slightly, to 702 from 705.

“We consciously decided to admit a few more people, given the uncertainty that the pandemic created,” Hubert says. “We’re questioning and asking ourselves things like whether applicants would decide to hedge their bets and not attend this year for job security, or would they feel that this is the right time to invest in an MBA and ride the pandemic out in business school. And there’s also still so much uncertainty around whether embassies globally would be open around the world and the challenges of getting here. And so it was a bit of a wild card. So we wanted to make sure we were prepared either way.

“Fortunately, the students that we admitted, they were all admitted to other top schools, ultimately decided to come to us — so we didn’t see as high a level of attrition as we had anticipated. Interestingly, we also ended up deciding, ‘You know what, the decent thing to do is to grant deferrals.’ And so we did grant deferrals.”

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