Duke Fuqua’s inspired ‘25 Random Things’ essay question is one of my favorites among the top business schools. While many applicants are intimidated by the prompt, it poses a fantastic way to connect with Fuqua Admissions on a personal level by showcasing different sides of yourself that may not come through in traditional MBA applications. If done right, this essay creates advocates among those reading your list.
As a former Associate Director of Fuqua’s Career Management Center and liaison to Admissions, and now as a Fortuna Admissions coach, I’m seasoned at helping candidates position their stories in a compelling, succinct and memorable way. Beyond my advice below on how to tackle this essay, I’ve included a terrific ‘25 Random Things’ example from a recent admit.
The beauty of this essay prompt is that you’re invited to convey your uniqueness in a way that’s uncoupled by the prosaic nature of the typical essay, allowing you to be serious and playful, witty and vulnerable, introspective and quirky at intervals. The full prompt clearly states that Admissions wants to get to know you beyond the professional and academic achievements listed on your resume. It acknowledges that we have many sides of ourselves, offering an opportunity to illuminate the different identities you inhabit and subtle qualities of your character that make you unique.
To get started, think about your values, your hobbies, your interests, and important life experiences. As alluded above, take full advantage of the unusual format to supply a mix of poignant, humorous, playful, deep, and everything in between. Some may be a paragraph whereas others may be a well-tuned sentence.
It’s also important to highlight your 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. (In fact, the main hallway is lined with flags representing the many countries students come from.) 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.
So what does success look like? Take a peek at the first 10 responses from a successful Duke Fuqua admit.
EXCERPT FROM A SUCCESSFUL ‘25 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT YOU’ ESSAY
- Having gained seven siblings all at once, at the age of nine, I’ve come to have a loose definition of the word family. My definition is based more on time I’ve spent with someone than our legal or biological bonds.
- It took time (and a new addition to the house), but eventually my newly-extend family fell into a rhythm. Our home was louder, but filled with more laughter. Together we learned to discuss topics such as subliminal racism and police violence against people of color with sensitivity, directness, and when appropriate, a sense of humor.
- I have a pet Quaker parrot named Blue. I was told it was a male bird so I was shocked when “he” laid an egg!
- I’m deathly scared of spiders. My first month living in Chongqing, a spider about 3 ½ inches across found itself in front of my doorway; after frantically facetiming my dad, I dropped a textbook weighing about 5 pounds on it. I didn’t move the book for two weeks.
- When I am stressed out I like to watch documentaries about space… or the children’s show “Arthur”—totally different but equally effective.
- Ever since I watched the show Madeline at age 5, my interest in studying another language was peaked. While it only included snippets of French (“Bonjour”, “merci”) I was enchanted by the idea of learning French and connecting with a group of people otherwise unreachable.
- On Thanksgiving when I was 5 years old, I finally put it together that the turkey we were eating was “turkey”, the bird. I surprised my parents by announcing I was now going to be a vegetarian. I surprised them further by remaining vegetarian until the end of high school.
- In college, I volunteered in China with an NGO building libraries in rural schools. When the children first saw me, they ran and hid. It was their first time laying eyes on a foreigner. While they were initially frightened, we eventually bonded over Chinese paper cutting (which I never did quite get the hang of).
- One of my first nights in Hunan Province, I tried “huajiao”, a pepper known for its numbing effects on the mouth; I had no idea what I’d eaten and was convinced I was having an allergic reaction. Since we were hours from a hospital I was also half-convinced this could be the end. Now huajiao is one of my favorite spices.
- My college roommates and I met on our hall freshman year and the five of us lived together the rest of our time at Penn—we still have yearly reunions despite all living in different cities.
(You can view all ‘25 Random Things’ from this successful admit in my related post, along with how to respond to all Fuqua essays and the short answer question.)
Finally, keep in mind that your responses should resonate with the core values of the Fuqua community – collaboration, diversity, honesty, respect and giving back to a cause greater than yourself. Team Fuqua isn’t merely a slogan, but a commitment that the staff, faculty and students make to one other. Typically, applicants who devote the necessary time to networking with students and alumni will start to understand what this means on a deeper level – and that will shine through in your essays.
For more advice on how to position your Fuqua application, read: 5 Essential Tips on Applying for the Duke Fuqua MBA.
Fortuna 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.