My decision to pursue an MBA came with a lot of uncertainty. While I knew that I wanted to continue my education, I wasn’t sure what that education would look like. I did not know anyone who had recently graduated from an MBA program, and I had read that B-school culture revolved around drinking alcohol, lavish vacations to far-off destinations, and a myopic focus on profit. The elements of life that bring me the most joy—from time in the mountains to my faith and making music with others—seemed at odds with the B-school norm. As I explained in my last blog, I was attracted to the versatility of an MBA, but I would need to attend a university whose mission aligned with my values and one where I could bring my whole self.

Deciding Where To Go

There is so much information available about universities and MBA programs that it can be a bit overwhelming. I spent hours poring over school websites, to understand whether the values of the school aligned with mine. If the school passed this values test, I dove deeper into their cost of attendance, curriculum, student clubs and organizations, faculty, employment reports and alumni networks, experiential learning opportunities, and processes for taking courses across the university. I spoke with current students and alumni, used university and program rankings as external proxies for quality, and asked trusted colleagues at work and in my network for their perceptions and/or experiences with the programs. I even made an Excel spreadsheet rating each program on ten metrics and weighing scores based on their relative importance.

This process whittled a list of more than twenty programs down to the six in which I submitted applications. They all had one thing in common—a mission of educating decent future business leaders to collaborate with all stakeholders to solve complex global challenges.

Knowing Fuqua Was Right for Me

My decision came to two programs, one of which was Duke Fuqua. Duke had risen to the top of my rankings (using the methodology above), and I jumped at the opportunity to attend Blue Devil Weekend. I went in with two main questions on affordability and cultural fit and left the weekend feeling assured that this would be a good place to be.

A group of Duke Fuqua Daytime MBA Students at Ryan Van Slyke's home
My section is an important part of my life at Fuqua. I hosted my Section 3 classmates at my house and love any opportunity to spend time with them.

The Financial Aid Office was incredibly helpful in highlighting opportunities for post-graduation funding assistance through the Rex Adams Scholarship since I was unlikely to go into high-paying sectors post-graduation. Perhaps most importantly, I met several great people who demonstrated such warmth and courage to find their own fit at Fuqua. Knowing that they chose an MBA at Fuqua and seeing how students treated each other in the hallways offered evidence that this would be a place where I fit in.

Advice for Prospective Students

By now, it’s clear how the story ended: I accepted the offer to attend Duke University and Fuqua. From time to time, I am still surprised that I am pursuing an MBA. Yet I could not be prouder about being a graduate student at Duke University.

The Glasgow Cathedral
As a member of the Duke Chapel Choir, I performed on international tour in Ireland and Scotland in May 2023 in some of the most beautiful spaces, including Glasgow Cathedral.

I took away three key lessons from this process that I hope are helpful for others in my position.

  • Take a Leap

I have found that I grow the most when I put myself in environments and situations where positive outcomes are not always assured. Pursuing an MBA is one of those leaps, and even though there have been challenges, I do know that there will be positive outcomes.

  • “To Thine Own Self Be True”

It is easy to move through life and not actively contemplate what you stand for, what you believe in, and what you will do with what you are given. I hope that the graduate school application process allows others to dig into what motivates them and gives them purpose.

  • Identify Your Priorities

Each of the top 10-15 MBA programs offer similar core curriculums and emphasis on “traditional career paths” into consulting, tech, and finance. Knowing the 5-10 most important attributes about a program, a university, a place to live, and the people you will be surrounded by—and then ranking each option by these attributes—revealed which programs align with what mattered most to me.

Graduate school is a costly endeavor, and getting it right matters even more.