Skip to content

Duke Essays, and some chicken soup

October 14, 2008

2 days out of 7 are days when apprehensions set in. Thanks to the great journey into self exploration called MBA applications. Forget Yoga, forget Zen. The way to understand the workings of your inner minds is to land yourself into this application process. You can afford to feel that you are the best and the worst within the same moment. One second you are a winner, and in another you’re a pathetic loser. The way our minds oscillate between strong determination to low bouts of confidence, from an excited belief in our dreams to thinking that its just a dream after all, is extraordinary. And don’t we think we are all extraordinary in some ways? And that the adcoms would notice that slight shine of our high potential through our applications? And that our dreams are bigger than the financial crisis hitting our globe?

Last Sunday was one of those 2 days, when the impending crisis got the better of me to make my previous post. Though you haven’t seen yet what I can muster on a Wednesday, the middle of the week(my week begins on Sunday) when I’m at the nadir of my thoughts. Adcoms, please don’t interview me on a wednesday, I don’t want both of us to end it all with a lump in our throats. 

So if you’re wondering where’s the chicken soup, here it comes –

  • Its nice to assume that the schools would take stock of the situation, and every deserving candidate would get to realize his dream without a financial stumbling block.
  • As Pramod points out in his comment, our decision to do an MBA is driven by internal factors. Lets get on the train first, we’ll then manage to build the railroads to take it to our destination!
  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets admitted. Do you agree?
  • You cant stop now if you need this MBA that badly. Be ready that we are in for a challenge that can surpass the one you’ve been mentioning in all your essays.
  • Possibly time for more scholarships, and new aid policies from the schools?

For those of you who’ve landed on this page via a search for Duke’s Essays, I’m glad I could make you read the musings above. On a day when this blog would be long lost in the zillions of http links on the world’s widest web, you’d be in a unique position to understand first hand how the ‘Not-yet-that-great’ Depression of 2008 affected the mind of a B School applicant. So with that profound thought, I begin to reflect on what I feel about the Duke essays this year.

Essay 1: What do you hope to gain from The Duke MBA? How does it fit into your short- and long- term goals? If you are interested in a joint degree or the Health Sector Management program, please address in this response. (required, single page limit, 1.5 line spacing)

Ok so you must address this response EVEN if you are not interested in that joint degree! The question really holds great importance after the changed state of our economy today. Read that as, What do you hope to gain from a Duke MBA after you know how badly things crashed and the way it changes things for you? The slight difference in the above prompt from the other schools is that you take a top down approach. Instead of beginning with your career goals and elucidating how a school is best poised to meet them, be clear about what you intend to gain out of the whole process. Not just your career goals, but other important factors that are driving you to do an MBA. Lest you go overboard with that thought, the prompt now wants you to be realistic and answer how you’d gain the same from Duke, and how does your reasoning fit with your career goals.
To cut a long story short, answer how the school fits into your goals, than vice-versa. You can say that its one and the same, and I may not agree with you. The career goal essay can of course be reused, but just get the angle right.

Essay 2: How will you contribute to the overall experience of your peers at The Duke MBA? (required, single page limit, 1.5 line spacing)

Here comes the most direct question that you can expect from a team based school. Most of the schools want you to answer this question by reflecting on your background, values, experiences etc., but Duke leaves the room wide open. You’d of course touch upon all of the above to show how you are best poised to make a contribution, but Duke doesn’t just want to know what will help you in making your contribution. It wants to know, come with what you may, how exactly will you contribute? A slight change in attitude from the other schools which ask you the same question politely. Duke really needs that you contribute, so show them how.

Essay 3: Discuss a person, event or experience that has significantly shaped your life and explain why. Note: The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (required, single page limit, 1.5 line spacing)

A wide prompt once again. I have used it to answer a setback/challenging time in my life. You can take the cue and discuss about your boss as I’m sure he/she has a great impact on your continued determination for an MBA. The Note is important, and I feel its added so that we don’t mistake this essay for a professional leadership one.
As a sidenote for married applicants, the best way to combine talking about a person, event and experience together would be to talk about your spouse as the person, marriage as the event, and life afterwards as the experience!! I know its not what Duke wants to hear because then all such essays would turn out to be surprisingly similar, whereas Duke wants to get a sense of who you are!

Long Essay: Today, companies must navigate through complex and interdependent issues. They must deal with health and security matters, environmental impact questions, and diversity and cultural concerns. Leaders need adaptability, imagination, and emotional intelligence as well as business acumen.
Upon graduation, a Duke MBA will be a leader of consequence – able to deal simultaneously with complex matters and engage skillfully with colleagues, clients, and community. What impact do you hope to have as a leader of consequence? (required, two page limit, 1.5 line spacing)

Wow. I love Duke for this question. And they must love you for your answer to this essay, which would be the key I feel. There’s obviously a purpose for the first 3 sentences to be there, hence don’t ignore it. After somewhat a long thought, I decided to approach this essay by defining a leader of consequence from my understanding, narrating 2-3 leadership experiences where I’ve demonstrated my ability to be such a leader, and then mentioning the impact I hope to create.
Much as I feel like getting over this essay quickly, I think getting it right would be very important. Its a great question and gives you enough space to answer the question if you feel strongly about it.


Duke’s EA round ends tommorrow, Oct 15th. I am almost ready with my application but would apply in R1, as I can’t bank on just one school now and need to compare the costs and finances before making a decision. Provided, of course, that I get an admit. And I’m sad to have felt the necessity to enter that last sentence since this was meant to be a 100% positive post.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2008 12:29 pm

    Are you planning to interview with Duke on-campus? I live in the area and did my visit/interview a couple of weeks ago. I felt very positive about the school after my visit — I think they may very well be climbing the rankings soon. They are doing a lot of things right.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the essays. I am working on my Duke essays this week, adapting existing essays for the first two and then writing the second two from scratch. That and wrangling recommenders is my last hurdle before my R1 apps are done and I wait for interviews.

  2. October 14, 2008 12:41 pm


    I have a question for you.

    I see that you have applied to ISB. You’ll hear from ISB on or before Nov 20th but you wouldn’t know the decisions from your other target schools at that time. ISB requires INR 2L to be deposited within 15 days of the decision deadline.

    I agree with you that you can’t bank on just one school now and need to compare the costs and finances before making a decision. But will you, then, deposit the 2L in accepting ISB’s offer and forego it if offered admission at say Wharton or Kellogg?

  3. ahembeea permalink*
    October 14, 2008 12:49 pm

    Vitaly – I am not in US hence it would be an off campus interview for me. I mirror your thoughts and think that Duke is a great school and growing very fast, especially since they are free from any legacy! Atb for your applications and interviews.

  4. ahembeea permalink*
    October 14, 2008 12:57 pm

    Ashwanth – I will certainly accept ISB’s offer, given the prudence in going for an Indian MBA now where things are more certain for me and my family. That means parting with 2L. I still am undecided about what would happen if I make it to W/K as well, so lets wait for that golden moment to come when I have more gold in my hands than I can handle!!

  5. October 14, 2008 1:06 pm


    We are on the same boat in this regard. So wanted to know your thoughts on the same. I would also part with 2L and then wait to hear from US.

    All the best!

  6. October 14, 2008 7:48 pm

    Glad to see you back to positive thoughts in this post, just as promised.

    Congrats on getting through all of your apps!

  7. ahembeea permalink*
    October 14, 2008 9:05 pm

    Matt – thx again. Your words did make a difference!

  8. October 16, 2008 1:04 am


    I’m wondering if you were planning to attend the Ross information session in Mumbai on Friday. If you are interested you can check out how to register here:

    I’ve met the presenter, Kelly Kong Rogers, and she is really great. (I also worked a little on the powerpoint, so if you go, give me some feedback!) If you don’t have a chance to go, have a good weekend.

  9. anon permalink
    October 17, 2008 8:51 am

    ross did not ask for gmat scores in online application. I did not see a placeholder for gmat. I am having all doubts after submitting.

  10. ahembeea permalink*
    October 17, 2008 10:28 am

    Anon – It does ask you for your GMAT test date, and I think the date + your name combo is sufficient.

  11. anon permalink
    October 17, 2008 11:59 am

    Thanks tryst. Right. It does ask In general schools are asking to self-report right. I was surprised to not to see anything like that in app. You reply to all my requests. I hope we end up in a school next year.

  12. ahembeea permalink*
    October 17, 2008 2:34 pm

    Anon – you are welcome. Leave your email id next time around so that we can catch up on where else u’re applying and how you are enjoying the process!

  13. saahil permalink
    October 18, 2008 9:01 pm

    One query from ur archives – u have eliminated Yale because of selectivity. pls help me wth tht n throw some more light on ur findings about yale. am unable to make up my mind abt it.

    Thanks a lot!

  14. ahembeea permalink*
    October 18, 2008 10:02 pm

    Saahil – I still consider Yale to be among the best programs out there. I dropped it from my list due to my perceived chances of making it to Yale (smaller class size, selectivity of 1/5) compared to some of the other schools on my list. This shouldn’t deter you from applying to Yale if you find it to be a good fit for you. Atb!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: