The business school that wants to get to know you

What are the secrets behind a top-ranked MBA program? To find out, we spoke to Shari Hubert, the Associate Dean of Admissions at Duke University, Fuqua School of Business. She told us about the things that underpin their MBA, how their interview process works, and why it’s so important that they get to know you.

In short

The three Cs that underpin the Duke MBA

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business is home to some of the leading MBA graduate business degree programs in the world. Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions at Fuqua School of Business, outlined the three Cs that underpin their MBA programs: culture, community, and customization.

“First, let’s take the culture,” she says. “We’re very much known for something called Team Fuqua. It’s a way of working that allows you to bring out the best in others, and by doing so you bring out the best in yourself. It’s based on the idea of ‘your success is my success’ and it’s a value that’s really embraced by our entire community.” (01:03)

“It’s a very close-knit community,” she adds. “Our students actually end up spending more time in Durham with each other as a result of our programming – they don’t have classes on Wednesdays but they do have classes on Fridays, which allows them to really continue [building] that community over the weekend.” (02:35)

On the flexibility of the programs, she adds that “we have 16 different concentrations and certificates that allow our students to really customize their MBA experience based on their individual goals.” (01:24)

How difficult is it to get into the Fuqua School of Business?

Every year, Fuqua School of Business receives up to 3,700 applicants for its daytime MBA program. With a class size of 447 (in 2023), it’s fair to say that it’s a selective program. However, Shari says it’s not wise to focus on the acceptance rate, given that it can vary by program and by year.

“I would say the daytime MBA program is probably the most selective. I won’t get into the actual [acceptance] rates because I think it’s more important for individuals to really focus on putting forward their best version of themselves,” she says. (17:20)

In reality, taking the chance to show why you’re unique is the real key to MBA application success. Shari says you can do that not by focusing [solely] on your work experience, but also on the personal characteristics that make you stand out.

She encourages applicants to “spend more time on the personal side and the things that make you unique from your lived experiences – things about your family, your feelings, your philosophy. Because there are so many other areas of your application where we can get a sense of your professional competitiveness.” (32:18)

How the Fuqua MBA interview works

This personal theme continues into the interview process at Fuqua. They have a system whereby any applicant to their MBA programs can request an interview – as long as it’s done during the school’s open interview period. Shari tells us how the interview process works, and why they do it.

“We really want to make sure that we give as many people [as possible] the opportunity to get to know us, and for us to get to know them,” she explains. “If you don’t apply in that period of time then applications are by invitation only. So every admitted student has to interview, but not every applicant ends up interviewing.” (21:03)

You may have read stories online about the curveball questions asked during MBA interviews at top business schools. But Shari is adamant that at Fuqua School of Business, none of the questions are there to catch you out. Again, it’s simply another opportunity to get to know you as a person and learn what you can contribute to the school.

“All of our [daytime MBA] interviews will be virtual this year, they’re conducted by a second-year student who we call an admissions fellow,” she tells us. “It’s behavioral-based, 30-45 minutes long, pretty standard in terms of the types of questions.” (24:59)

“They’re not tricky questions. We’re just trying to get to know them, get to know the individual, trying to assess that diversity, that inclusion,” she adds. (26:10)

MBA application rounds: Why there’s no “best time” to apply

Business schools tend to have several MBA application rounds throughout the year. Fuqua has a total of four – an opening Early Action Round, then rounds one to three. Shari explained each one to us:

“[The Early Action applicants] are the folks who are really diehard Duke and know that they want [to come to] Fuqua. Round one is probably a slightly smaller round but it’s really competitive with great applicants. Round two is our largest round; most students will apply in round two across the board – not just internationally.” (29:17)

All of this begs the question: when is the best time to apply? The answer, as ever, depends on the individual and the school you’re applying to. In the case of Fuqua, there’s not a best time to send your application. Shari’s advice is simple: apply when you’re ready to apply.

She says, “In general, I would say a good guidance is to apply in the round that you really feel like you’re best prepared for…essentially, you want to feel as though your essays are really strong and you’re comfortable with your resumé. [You should feel like] you’re ready and have put forward your best, most competitive application.” (27:34)

When applying for an MBA you’re likely to come up against applicants with similar work experience to you, so focusing on your personal characteristics can help you stand out. And if you’re able to present the best version of yourself during your application, you’ll be one step closer to becoming the best version of yourself during your MBA.

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