Application Essays Change to Gain Greater Insights

By Megan Overbay, former Director of Admissions.

megan headshot
Guest Blogger: Megan Overbay, former director of Admissions

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

Willie Green
Willie Green

Willie Green, Assistant Director for Diversity Initiatives

Kalina Monti
Kalina Monti

Kalina Monti, Operations Coordinator



Insight about the admissions process for the MBA program from the Fuqua Admissions team.

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    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


    • Vimal

      Thanks. This was very useful. Now I suddenly have so much more to say. :)

  • Varun

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

  • Pooja Ghera

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

    Very good post.

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  • suchit

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


  • Marco Besomi

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


    • Megan (Admissions)

      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.

  • Prashant Tomar

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

  • Dorothy

    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)


      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!


  • Michael Shou

    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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  • Deborah

    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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  • Michael Shou

    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!!

  • Karun Kurien

    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)

      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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  • Ashok Tiwari

    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.

  • Aniket Pathak

    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.

  • Sarah Bungarten

    Wonderful brief, Megan. Will help students a lot to carve their way through B-School.