2018 Duke University Fuqua Business School first required essay: 25 Random Things About Yourself
“…the admissions committee also want to get to know you—beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of ‘25 Random Things’ about YOU.”
The good people in the Fuqua Admissions Office sure put a nice spin on this prompt, but it’s a well-laid trap. In the MBA application process, an applicant will have no doubt done a bit of reflection on what makes them compelling in the eyes of an admissions reader. They may even have some talking points about themself distilled and ready to deploy in admissions essays, interviews, or the oft-imagined elevator encounter with the admissions director. What an applicant almost certainly doesn’t have are 25 interesting things about themself canned and ready to go…this is what they are counting on.
By pushing applicants beyond their rehearsed talking points, the folks at Fuqua claim they are trying to “get to know your personality, background, special talents, and more”. They are also giving applicants enough rope to hang themselves. As evidenced by some ill-advised responses to this prompt that have come across our desk here at FourthWrite, Fuqua applicants may have trouble distinguishing between what makes them seem interesting, unique, or even quirky, and what makes them seem off, problematic, or unsalvageably weird.
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When 4th year medical students apply to residency programs, they hope to be invited to interview at as many schools as possible. The interview trail often involves a grueling season of cross-country travel, full of stops at different hospitals where applicants will have multiple rounds of formal interviews, work/shadow within their specialty, and generally get to know the senior residents, doctors, and hospital staff in the program and hospital. This whole “get to know you” piece is a very important part of the process—these are folks that will be spending long hours with whoever they admit, and will count on them to handle their business during long hours at the hospital, and not be too annoying at 3 a.m.
One way to get to know someone very quickly is to place them in a high stakes social situation and provide them with unlimited access to alcohol. And this is exactly what many residency programs do to the applicants they host. Cocktail mixers, dinner with wine—everything on the school’s tab. The Fuqua folks’ entrapment was sly, but not even they implicitly encouraged their applicants to have a drink or three before the admissions committee judged them on their personality. Again, we’ve heard some horror stories here at FourthWrite, like when two prospective residents at an “applicant social” cocktail mixer started making out, in the club-style. “Did they know each other beforehand?” you might ask. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that neither prospective was admitted. Bottom line: applicants should always be mindful of their alcohol intake at these functions, and, unless they are positive they can hold their liquor like champs and still maintain impressive mixed company para-professional conversation, they should go easy on the booze.
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An important truth behind the common admissions exhortation to “be yourself” is that you have many selves, and some of those selves will come across better than others in the admissions context. The first rule of boxing is useful in admissions as well: protect yourself at all times. Whether you are being asked random things about yourself or presented free-flowing alcohol, remember that you are in the midst of a selection process for a professional degree; even if it hasn’t been framed as such by anyone you are interfacing with, you are at a job interview. Be yourself—your best self, the one who doesn’t introduce themself with things that are off-putting, drunken, or degenerate.