(Updated for 2020-2021)
Not surprisingly, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business is asking for the same 25 random things again this year. Having read this essay for more than a handful of years, I have seen a broad range of responses, some terrible, some brilliant.
Through this ‘essay’ Fuqua wants to get to know who YOU are as a person so they can determine whether you are a fit with the Team Fuqua culture and have what it takes to develop into a Leader of Consequence.
A few DON’Ts. Trust me here. I’ve seen it and the outcome was NOT positive.
• One word answers. Seriously, I read an ‘essay’ that was all of 25 lines long with one word on each line. The first few were son, brother, father. I stopped reading at that point and gave the file a fast pass to the ding pile.
• Cookie cutter responses. For a few years, I was convinced that there was a template that candidates were using to create their lists. In the end, ALL of them pretty much looked the same. Likely none were admitted. The lists went something like this:
1. My name, when translated to English, means strength (or whatever it means).
2. My favorite character on Friends is Monica (pick your favorite character).
3. I have watched XXX of the IMBD top 250 movies.
4. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player. (It was ALWAYS Roger!)
5. I have traveled to YY countries; my goal is to get to 30 countries before I turn 30.
I had learned nothing about an applicant from reading these ‘random’ things.
• Rehash your resume. It seems obvious that something on your resume (like where you went to college) is NOT random. That said, there were some applicants who spent at least half of their 25 random things on something I already knew from reading their resume.
• Share TMI. There are some topics and personal experiences that are inappropriate to share in your MBA application. If you aren’t self-aware enough to realize this, you likely won’t be offered a seat at Fuqua.
Use your random things to present yourself as someone that the admissions committee can see contributing to the Fuqua community during the MBA program and beyond. Are you someone they would want to engage with at Fuqua Fridays? Can they picture you working on a group project during your first year? What leadership role might they envision you in? If your classmates were to honor you with an award for demonstrating Team Fuqua principles, which would it be? Supportive Ambition? Collective Diversity? Uncompromising Integrity?
DO’s to catch the eye (and the heart) of admissions committee
• Make them laugh. Real, live human beings are reading your application. If you can touch a funny bone, they will be more likely to remember you. For example,
1. I’m not a morning person. To make sure I get up, I put my phone on the other side of my bedroom and set my alarm with the most annoying song. Right now it’s Gangnam Style. (from 2012-13 admissions season)
• Share the why, so what or lessons learned. While it is great to share that your favorite book is The Catcher in the Rye, go deeper and explain why. Perhaps you had a similar experience during your teen years or early twenties.
• Connect with Fuqua/Duke/Durham. Tie something random about yourself with something specific about Fuqua. If you played bass in a garage band in high school perhaps you look forward to connecting with musically inclined classmates to put a band together for Fuqua Idol.
• Show you are a team player. While the focus of the random things is YOU, look for opportunities to demonstrate that you support and work well with others. Use specific examples to SHOW rather than TELL that you will be a contributing member of the Fuqua community.
Use the 25 random things to share your genuine and authentic self. I remember making note on at least one application, ‘I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats.’ I would stand up and fight to admit the applicants who really ‘got’ Fuqua and demonstrated as much through their random things.