Well that’s a provocative headline ain’t it.
As industry-watchers, we, you know, watch the industry. We try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what these MBA programs are doing, how they’re responding to changes in the marketplace of interested prospective students, in some cases, how they’re responding to each other, what they’re doing to anticipate the future needs of employers in the world and how they are (hopefully) innovating and strengthening their offerings to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.
It’s really hard to know for sure what’s going on at a school from the outside. This of course is why we constantly emphasize the importance of a campus visit in order for you to know if a school is even right for you. After all, you’re the one who’s saying she wants to spend two years of your life there. What if it’s not even a place that you really like? What if they don’t have the focus on the niche sector you’re most interested in? What if the students don’t seem to prioritize quite the same things?
When you’re going on name and reputation alone or have outsourced your decision on where to apply based on what some business publication has decried as “the best” then you’re flying blind. You don’t really know what a school is about. You certainly aren’t in a position to discuss its culture and community if you’ve not experienced it firsthand.
And so EssaySnark is indeed going out on a limb with the questions we’re posing today. Because we’re outsiders; we don’t know what’s going on in the halls of Fuqua. We can’t say for sure what’s behind the things that we’re observing today.
All we can do is evaluate the adcom’s actions, meaning three specific components that we use as tea leaves:
1. What is the school’s strategy? What are they doing to attract candidates? How “out there” are they in drumming up interest? How engaged on social media, how visible in the marketplace where applicants congregate (be that virtual or IRL)?
2. How does the school construct its application? What means do they have to solicit useful and insightful information from candidates that allow them to shine as individuals?
3. Who are they accepting? What do they value most in a candidate? Where are they overlooking flaws like lower GMAT in favor of interest and diversity? Where are they sticklers for stats?
These three dimensions give us quite a bit of information, as esoteric as they may seem, upon which we can draw conclusions about trends that are in play at a school and where that school is going.
For example, over just five or so years, Ross has fully impressed us with their focus on culture and new initiatives, and they’ve gone from an almost second-tier school that many applicants used only as a safety, to a school that many BSers now choose as a top pick. They have made their value prop visible, and you likely have at least a reasonably positive impression of them even if you have not got them on your short list. You probably have been exposed to enough buzz about Ross that it’s rubbed off on you and your overall sense is that it’s a good school, regardless of how well, or not, you personally have researched them before.
This phenomenon is something called “brand equity” and it’s the intangible value that you associate with a firm or a product, like the generally positive associations with Apple, or the leaning-negative feelings about Facebook. Brand equity is the reason why HBS is in constant demand and is seen as the pinnacle school — even when you don’t really know why.
If you’ve become enamored of Ross and decided you really want to go there, it’s likely you can rattle off at least three reasons unprompted.
Most people who apply to HBS cannot come up with even one. Or they say “case method” but that’s not a reason to go to Harvard Business School. That’s not something to be excited about; it’s just how it’s done there. Every other bschool in the world also uses cases as part of its pedagogy, but yet when you wrote your essays to them you didn’t gush about the case student method in your “why MBA” essay.
Nobody on the planet wants to go to Harvard because of the case method.
You want to go to Harvard because it’s Harvard.
Okay, back to Duke.
Duke is a good school. We saw Fuqua embrace culture as a critical component of the bschool experience before many of its peers did. Duke University is of course world renowned, a very good school, just like Northwestern or Dartmouth or University of Chicago or all these other places.
Fuqua was practically a renegade when they created their “25 Random Things” non-essay essay, way back in 2012. That was pretty revolutionary at the time. The only other schools that gave applicants such a blank-slate approach to an app requirement then were NYU and Booth.
But 2012? Dang, that’s a long time ago now.
Sure, the 25 Random Things has proven the test of time. It’s probably the most FUN assignment of any business school’s app. Apparently the Fuqua admissions people have a “it ain’t broke” philosophy in place. Their app requirements have been almost entirely unchanged in all of that time (excepting some tweaks to the phrasing of the long-essay prompt).
Okay, but what about category #3 that we can observe: Who gets in?
What seems to be happening in the most recent admissions cycles is, candidates who are accepted to a set of two or more schools, where Duke is among that set, are often choosing the non-Duke school to matriculate.
Candidates who are accepted only to Duke are going to Duke.
Obviously this is a gross generalization, and we don’t have access to the entire results of all applicants everywhere.
But from our slice of the admissions landscape, it’s a trend that we seem to have spotted, which has generated this working hypothesis.
Other schools like Ross are really kicking it into high gear. Same with Darden, which used to be seen as a next-tier school, but which has gotten a somewhat higher visibility sheen in the past few years. But Duke? They’re not really on our radar as much. It’s not like they’re a safety school; oh no. They’re still quite selective and it’s by no means easy to get in.
But from what we can tell, they’re just not impressing the BSers out there enough to get them to say “yes” when there are multiple options on the table.
We’re going to keep watching and see if this theory is wrong.
About six years ago, Duke was so popular that they became quite difficult to break into.
But just this past season, we’re not sure that still holds as true as it was.
Anyone get into Duke + other schools who wants to share your experiences and impressions? Where are you leaning? What school will you choose, and why? Is Duke a first choice for lots of you? Why or why not?
We want to learn. Comments are open if you want to share your opinions!