Application Essays Change to Gain Greater Insights

One of the more challenging jobs that the Admissions team faces each year is selecting our application essay questions. We strive for questions that will fill any gaps in the application, tie the applicant’s story together, and shed light on what truly makes the person who they are — beyond what is stated in the resume, test scores, and transcripts. Despite our best intentions, it can be difficult to convey what we are seeking through our essay questions, and we sometimes receive submissions that are regurgitations of information found elsewhere in the application, overly manufactured versions of what applicants think we want to hear, or in some extreme cases, plagiarism of content found online. This is why you may notice so many admissions teams adapting their approach to essay questions. We are in a constant search for the tool, question, or method that will evoke a sense of who the applicant truly is, and what makes him/her unique.

Who Are You?

This year at Duke, we are stretching the definition of “essay” in an effort to harness the sort of insight that we’re looking for from applicants. The Daytime MBA application now includes three very straightforward short answer questions about the applicant’s goals. Here, we’re just looking for the facts, with minimal embellishment. We do have an “essay question,” but what we’re seeking through it is  a glimpse into the conversations that applicants have with the people who know them best. Think about it. When you tell your best friend why you are applying to a specific school, you do so with genuine passion and enthusiasm. We want to hear that honest emotion, along with the reasoning that you give your best friend/mom/significant other/mentor about why you are applying not just to MBA programs, but to Fuqua.

Finally, we are asking for a numbered list — a kind of top 25. That’s right. For one of the “essays,” we want a list of 25 things that illuminate your passions, personality, quirks, hopes, fears, etc. A couple of years ago, the “25 Random Things” list went viral, and back then, we shared our lists within the Admissions team at Fuqua. It became a tradition, and new team members share their lists when they join us. Like our new hires, our applicants are looking to join our Fuqua community. Thus, we thought that the Random Things would be an appropriate way to get a true sense of our applicants and how they would engage with and impact our community.

Complete essay questions and instructions are available on the Daytime Admissions pages.

We Are Team Fuqua

Since applicants are also seeking to understand the schools to which they are applying, and whether Fuqua is a good fit, we will use the Random Things to help you to get to know us and our community. In my contributions to the blog throughout the year, I will include a smattering of Random Things about our staff, and I encourage our student bloggers to do the same! It is only fair that I start off, so below are a few selections from my 25 Random Things, as well as those from a couple of other amazing Admissions team members. We hope you enjoy getting to know us!

admissions blogger

Blogger Megan Overbay

Megan Overbay, Director of Admissions

  • I was a … ummm … headstrong child. I liked to dress myself, and would throw nasty temper tantrums when I didn’t get to do so. My mom finally stopped fighting me, and when she dropped me off at school, the woman who ran my Montessori school said that the hideous outfit I had put together was a sign of intelligence.
  • My grandparents have traveled to every continent, every state, and pretty much anywhere you would ever want to go. They keep a map of the world with pins designating all the places they have seen. In my lifetime, I aspire to have a map that’s as full of pins as my grandparents’ map.
  • There is an assumption that because I am a good baker, I am also a good cook. This is not true. Baking is a science. Cooking is a mystery. What does “add salt to taste” mean anyway?
  • I didn’t start running for exercise/sport until I was a junior in college. I got my first bike (since my Huffy Pink Thunder) when I was 22. I didn’t start swimming until two years later when I got hurt and couldn’t run or bike. I’m now a triathlete. ANYONE can do it if they decide that they want to do it.
  • I was waitlisted in Round 1 when I applied to Fuqua for the Class of 2003. When Liz Riley Hargrove (our Associate Dean) called me that March to congratulate me on being admitted, I thought I had won the lottery. I did.  :-)
Willie Green

Willie Green

Willie Green, Assistant Director for Diversity Initiatives

  • My real name is Willie, not William. Seriously, it’s on my license, birth certificate, social security card and everything.
  • I have asthma but during freshman football practice in high school, I decided I wasn’t going to use my inhaler and I haven’t used one since.
  • At the age of 4, I told my parents I wanted to be a doctor, and was on my way until a couple of drag out fights with Organic Chemistry and Biology in undergrad.
  • During my junior year of high school, I was nominated for a male beauty pageant. For the talent portion of it, my best friend and I lip-synced to Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” with suits, and dreadlock wigs (sorry no pictures or videotapes exist).
  • I have a pretty good memory about random stuff, especially when it comes to sports (teams, who was on the respective team, etc.), music and when songs came out, and people, and how and when I met them.
Kalina Monti

Kalina Monti

Kalina Monti, Operations Coordinator

  • I can juggle. My uncle was a professional juggler at one time, and he taught me how to do it.
  • As a child, my family raised a few chickens and goats. We also grew large gardens with fresh vegetables and herbs (I miss it terribly).
  • I was bitten by a copperhead snake on my left foot while moving things on my back porch (it was hidden under a cabinet, and afterwards I was out of commission for several weeks).
  • I took ballet and danced on toe shoes until said toe was broken. Then I moved on to Cross Country and Track in high school (loved it!).
  • My favorite author as a child was Dr. Seuss, and I still love him (quote: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is You-er than You.”)
Admissions - Megan Overbay

More posts from Admissions - Megan Overbay

Megan Overbay is former Director of Admissions at The Fuqua School of Business and provides insight about the admissions process for the MBA program.

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37 Responses to Application Essays Change to Gain Greater Insights

  1. Hi Megan,
    You guys are getting really inspired on your questions this year. I have some good candidates for you this next process.
    Best wishes


  2. Varun says:

    Great Post
    i was wondering what all i want to convey about my top 25 list, but these inputs help a lot

  3. Pooja Ghera says:

    Thanks a lot. This post gives a lot of direction on how to convey the top 25.

    Very good post.

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  7. suchit says:

    I was confused as to what to write in this essay..Just got the answer..”Be Yourself” :)


  8. Marco Besomi says:

    Good post!! Now I´m better oriented on how prepare my top 25 list.


    • Megan (Admissions) says:

      I’m so glad this post has helped to clarify what we are seeking in our essays, and that you are excited about the changes! Please stay tuned throughout the year, as you’ll get to know our staff and current students as we continue to share excerpts from our 25 random things.

  9. Prashant Tomar says:

    Thanks ! This is really helpful. Great inputs on the ’25 random things’ :)

  10. Dorothy says:

    It looks like most of your top 25 are personal rather than professional. Is that what you’re looking for with this list? I’ve started my list and it is mostly random personal things, but it is a business school application after all… just wondering how to balance the personal and professional on this one!

    • Megan (Admissions) says:


      Thank you for inquiring about this — I am sure many others have the same question. What we are hoping to gain from the 25 things are key elements of who you are outside of what is presented on your resume, in your transcripts, recommendations, and elsewhere in your application. Many people will likely touch on their professional experience as they discuss goals and why Duke is a great fit for them in our other essay questions. The 25 things should fill in gaps and present a holistic picture of you. Thus, if there are elements of your professional experience that are not covered elsewhere, by all means include them in your list of 25 things. If not, the 25 things can be more focused on personal, including community activities, hobbies, etc. There is no magic formula for this – just the best representation you can provide us of who you are.

      I hope this is helpful!


  11. Michael Shou says:

    I have struggled to piece out my random things. Your kindly sharing really provide me some hints. Thanks very much. Now I get to know where to start. \(^o^)/~

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  13. Deborah says:

    This was very entertaining and insightful!

    I imagine the admission team will have some fun reading through some of our lists this application season as we reveal our stories and individual quirks!

    If there are certain random facts that would benefit in clarity with a photo or diagram, could we include those into the Word document?

    Thank you!


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  20. Michael Shou says:

    My 25 Random things didn’t help me get an interview. Maybe I should better prepare and apply Duke next year. While the random things you share did let me reflect my life, still thanks!!

  21. Karun Kurien says:

    Hi Megan,

    I appreciate all the lists that the adcom and students have posted. I notice that Dipesh Shah has added a link to extra information about his facebook internship. Is it acceptable for applicants to do the same – add links to more information/pictures/videos?

    I’m asking because I would like to post a picture but additional links might be seen as a way to work around the 2 page word limit.


    • Megan (Admissions) says:

      Hi Karun!

      I would include all significant/important/relevant information in the actual text of what you write. You are welcome to include a hyperlink, but I cannot guarantee that it will be followed, so you don’t want to count on any important information being contained there.


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  32. Ashok Tiwari says:

    Hi Megan
    It is wonderful to see the insight of everyone’s top 25. Although my son Amitesh is planning to write his top 25 for his application to get into Fuqua but in fact it inspired me to self-introspect and find out significant 25 about myself. It may take few days to find it out honestly.
    Thanks a lot.

  33. Aniket Pathak says:

    Thanks to the members of ‘Team Fuqua’ who have posted their list of ‘Random Things’ above – Really gives an overview of what’s expected here. This is one of the most interesting essay questions I have seen till date and I am having fun while drafting a response to this. Thanks for putting this up.

  34. Shubham Singhal says:

    Hi Megan
    This seems to be a wonderful share. Contrary to my initial apprehensions on what to go in there, I now realize that there’s a plethora of ‘Random Things’ about me, both personal and professional that I could now share with the Adcom and my future ‘Team Fuqua’.
    Thanks again !

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