As I count down toward the start of yet another academic endeavor in my life, this time in the Weekend Executive MBA Program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (Class of 2020), I could not think of a better way to celebrate the start of this once-in-a-lifetime journey than to offer words of advice and wisdom to students who are considering business school.
My advice comes from the perspective of a candidate who just went through the complete admissions process at two schools, spoke to at least a dozen admissions directors at top U.S. business schools, personally visited several of the top U.S. schools, and chose Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to be my next alma mater. For the benefit of those who will follow, I will touch on every major milestone of the admissions process at any top business school, with specific examples about my amazing and seamless experience at Duke Fuqua.
First, on taking this step forward:
- Be proud of yourself and excited to have taken this step toward a journey that will be transformational, rewarding, and challenging.
- Gather the required support from your family and managers at work as early as possible.
Second, on finding the right business school:
- Take advantage of opportunities such as open houses, networking events, MBA experience days, etc. in order to engage with the admissions team and learn about the business school and its admissions process.
- Dig a bit deeper into the non-obvious aspects of the institution being considered, such as its culture and values, long-term vision and objectives, leadership philosophy, level of involvement in the community, and global presence. Ask yourself whether the institution you are considering is a close match to your own personal values and beliefs. Duke Fuqua’s focus on inclusion, collaboration, team spirit, and giving back to society at large — as well as Dean Bill Boulding’s honorable belief in not forgetting the role of humanity in technology — are just a few of the many examples that resonated with me.
- Follow your instinct till the end. You will know when a school is the right fit. In my own personal example, the moment I stepped inside Duke Fuqua and Yale University’s School of Management for the first time, I knew immediately these would be the top two choices for me. The aura of these two institutions in terms of its rich history, mission statement, caliber of students and alumni, and tradition of inclusion and excellence in education is evident.
Third, on completing the formal application:
- Be authentic and real. Your application should be a true and close reflection of yourself.
- Timing is key, so plan your essays and recommendations well in advance and stay organized. Keep your recommenders aware of any milestones/deadlines.
- Center your application around your strengths, but be candid around any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in your candidacy and how you plan to mitigate them by offering concrete examples where applicable. The admissions committee is interested in your overall and holistic candidacy.
- If you are applying to multiple business schools, always start with the school you are most interested in. Be honest and transparent with admissions directors on your school choices and keep everyone informed. Over-communicating will serve you better than under-communicating.
Fourth, on continuing the relationship and expressing gratitude:
- Continue to stay engaged with the admissions team. Thank them and make them feel valued, but do so by being genuine and not facetious. This will not increase your chances of getting in. The job of an admissions team is both noble and tough. The nobility stems from the fact that they get to be a bridge to someone’s aspirations, but are also faced with the tough job of selecting the best of the brightest from a very competitive applicant pool. Be sure to say “Thank you” to them as they take the time to review your application and candidacy among many competitive applications.
- Once you get accepted, be grateful and thankful. Express gratitude to your family and close friends, too — they supported you through the application process and will support you through your time in school. Express thanks to your colleagues and managers at work who have committed to supporting you. Many in the world will not have the opportunity you have just been given.
Fifth, on dealing with rejections:
- Rejections are not a bad thing, so view them as a source of strength rather than weakness.
- Never make rejections personal. Instead, thank the admissions directors and the entire team at the school for their time and support throughout your application and candidacy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your application and candidacy, and to provide the school that rejects you feedback as well. Some schools will provide feedback on their rejection of you and also be accepting of your feedback. Do so only by being respectful of each school’s admissions process and procedures.
Navigating the admissions process at business schools can be tough and exciting at the same time. In my experience at Duke Fuqua, presenting my most authentic self to the admissions team, getting to know the admissions team by attending events, and proactively communicating served me well. Duke’s culture of innovation, inclusiveness, team spirit, equality, and excellence in education makes Fuqua stand out. Huge thank you to the Fuqua entire admissions team for their kind and gracious support throughout my application and candidacy.
With this, I can’t wait to cheer on Duke Fuqua as my alma mater and to give back to the school over my lifetime what it will give me in the next 19 months.
Monish Punjabi is a member of the Weekend Executive MBA Program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in business from the University of California-Riverside in 2011 and is currently a senior finance and cost transformation manager at Walmart.