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Let’s face it: most MBA admissions essays are pretty much the same: what have you done, how do you fit, what do you hope to do? While it’s obviously smart to tailor these essays to particular schools, it’s also true that once you’ve written your first personal statement, you can repurpose much of that text for subsequent schools. But Duke Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” list / essay is its own thing.
Now, as a consultant, I love this prompt because it forces people to break through the carefully constructed “Application Self” that they deploy anytime they’re trying to sell the best version of themselves and instead embrace the discomfort of moving beyond their controlled and comfortable self-presentations. That’s why this prompt works… and why it’s so confusing and borderline terrifying.
Here at Gurufi, we’ve had great success helping people get into Duke, and in part it’s because of the advice we provide them when constructing this list, both in terms of what to select and how to say it. So here are seven tips that you can use, including a list of potential questions to ask to help you create a strong, personal, and effective list that reflects your personality, values, and yes, quirks. Remember, rather than focusing solely on professional achievements, this prompt asks for a glimpse into the more personal and human sides of candidates. Understanding how to tackle this essay
can set you apart in the admissions process.
- Embrace the ‘Random’ but Keep It Relevant
The term ‘random’ may suggest that anything goes, but the best essays show a strategic selection of
facts that collectively paint a picture of who you are. Random does not mean irrelevant. Each fact should offer a fresh perspective or insight into your character, values, and how you engage with the world. Whether it’s your knack for remembering obscure facts, a passion for salsa dancing, or your experience volunteering across continents, each tidbit should add a new color to the portrait you’re presenting to the admissions committee. A good place to start is to ask three good friends: “suppose you were going to tell your mom about me. What stories about me would you include to give her a picture of who I was, what I cared about, and what I was like to be around?” These replies might give you some insights into things that people find most distinctive about your and / or what moments from your life best exemplify your personality and character.
- “We, Not Me.” Your Character and Team Spirit
During a recent conversation with Duke Fuqua’s Russ Morgan, he noted that the admissions staff often keep an informal tally of how many times applicants use “me” versus “we.” The idea being that Duke cares deeply about collaboration and building a dynamic and interactive community, and as such want to see whether applicants view success as mostly personal as opposed to within the context of a shared goal. As such, your essay should reflect your ability to contribute to and thrive in a collaborative and collegial environment. Rather than simply stating that you work well in a team, share anecdotes that show your collaborative spirit in action. This could include a story about a time you resolved a conflict, led a group to success under tight deadlines, or went above and beyond to support a teammate.
- Diversity and Cultural Competency Are Key
With a significant international student body and an emphasis on diverse perspectives, Fuqua
values cultural competency. Indeed, in recent years, the school has redoubled its efforts to make DEI a substantive part of its education. Your essay should highlight your experiences and comfort with diversity. Have you worked on global teams, navigated cross-cultural communication challenges, or learned a great deal from someone with a very different background? These stories can demonstrate your readiness to join and contribute to the diverse Fuqua community.
- Honesty and Vulnerability Can Be Strengths
As a whole, your essay should have balance. This means showing successes and achievements, but also including a bit of quirkiness and also a few moments where you talk about vulnerabilities or setbacks. Admission officers are well aware that no candidate is perfect, and they appreciate honesty and self-awareness. Sharing a fear, a mistake, or a lesson learned shows maturity and depth. It reassures the admissions team that you are someone who is reflective, able to grow from experiences, and relatable. Similarly, talking a bit about passions outside of work can show that you’re well-rounded and also allow you to show that you’d bring some variety and spice to the incoming class.
In terms of writing an interesting set of random factoids, a great exercise for revision is to highlight every verb in the text. If you find that you are repeating verbs, especially “to be” (and its variants: am, was, were, are, etc.) then swap those out. Verbs show what you DID, which is ultimately the most important information in these essays. Give real attention to them.
- Vary the Length and Depth to Create Dynamic Rhythm
Since you have a maximum word count (750), use it strategically. Not every entry needs to be a deep
dive; some can be short and light-hearted, while others may require more explanation. A mix of lengths and tones will keep the reader engaged and offer a more complete view of your multi-faceted personality.
- I’m at 17, and I’m Stuck!!!
If you’re having trouble populating your list, here are some ideas that you can explore to generate additional items.
- Regrets and Learning: Share a regret not just as a missed opportunity, but as a catalyst for future actions, showing your growth mindset and resilience.
- Unique Skills as Superpowers: Relate a unique skill to how it has helped you in your career and personal life, showing your resourcefulness and impact on others.
- Soft Spots and Personality: Your penchant for something unusual can reflect your creativity or unique way of seeing the world.
- Quirks and Individuality: Your differences make you memorable. Illustrate how these quirks play into your life choices and interactions.
- Ever got lost? Is there some city, place, or time that you remember with particular vividness? Why? What about that place or moment excites you still?
- Pride and Accomplishments: Share what you’re proud of with an emphasis on the journey, not just the destination.
- Desires and Motivations: Talk about something you desire, not for its material value but for what it represents in your life story.
- First Experiences: Reflect on a ‘first’ that was a turning point or a significant learning moment.
- Wishes and Aspirations: Connect a deep wish to your overall narrative, showing how it aligns with your life’s mission.
- What does your family mean to you? Are you close? A parent? How has family shaped your worldview? Are you a spunky youngest child? A deal-making middle kid? A confident and assertive oldest child?
- Nicknames and Stories: Use a nickname to introduce a story that offers insight into your character and past experiences.
- Likes with Meaning: Explain a like or preference in a way that reveals more about your personality or values.
- Entrepreneurial Ventures: Describe a time you made money in an unconventional way, showing your initiative and problem-solving skills.
- Conquering Fears: Share a fear you’ve overcome, the process behind it, and what it taught you about yourself.
Remember, the point of this essay isn’t to show that you’re perfect and amazing in 25 different ways. Lean into your individuality, and for each one, ask yourself “why?” and “why is this important?” View this essay / list as a chance to stand out as an individual and showcase the unique attributes you would bring to the Fuqua community. By being thoughtful, honest, and creative, you can craft an essay that will capture the attention of the admissions committee and help pave your way into the Duke MBA program.
For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at email@example.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.