Duke Fuqua is one of the best business schools in the US, often known for its tight-knit community and the Team Fuqua spirit.
Ranked among the top 20 B-Schools consistently by the Financial Times, Fuqua is a highly competitive school, especially for Indian candidates. To learn more about the program and how it can impact one's career, we caught up with Astha Bhatnagar, who completed her MBA from Duke Fuqua in 2019 and is currently working as a Senior Product Manager at Amazon in the US.
Here's her story, in her own words!
I did my under-graduation at IIT-BHU and I was working at BCG before commencing my MBA. While I enjoyed learning about hardware development during my college days, I was always interested to learn more about business. As a result, I ended up recruiting for consulting roles.
While I worked closely in tandem with the strategy consulting teams, my roles were more analytics-centric and I realized soon that transitioning to strategy will not be easy without a business degree. Other than that, I kind of always knew that I wanted to do an MBA! I enjoyed managing and organizing events, reading about different startups and was always surrounded by people wanting to build their own businesses. Somewhere, I was highly drawn towards an MBA due to these personal experiences. So, for me, this was pretty much always the plan.
The application process
Coming to the entire application process and how I went about it, I started with giving the GMAT first. It’s important to understand that the GMAT is a conceptual exam and repetitive practice might just give diminishing returns. Hence, I focused more on how I’m studying rather than the number of questions I’m practicing.
The second important aspect for me was to decide which schools I want to apply to. I think this is very important and it’s something that candidates should give due thought to! As for me, I had certain criteria such as, location, the culture of the school, the placements and my overall profile fit with the school.
I was conscious even about stuff like the weather in different American cities (believe it or not, it is a serious consideration for many) and the culture at different b-schools. Like, Fuqua is all about collaboration, community and leadership and say, if you’re an introvert, you might take some time in opening up and really belonging where you go. So, yes, it is as personal as it gets!
I applied to five schools and Fuqua was one of my top choices. In hindsight, I was also not entirely confident about making it to an M7 and I made a conscious choice to not apply to any either. However, I sincerely advise you to apply to at least one of your dream schools even if it feels like a stretch.
Next came the essays, which were undoubtedly the most tedious part of my applications. To just think about your story, what you want to say and how to say it, was an overwhelming process. I think as Indians, we are not really accustomed to this kind of writing or these kinds of questions in college applications or job interviews in India. So, thinking through all your experiences (big or small), finding stories that portray who I am and tying them all together to really convey who I am was a process, and not an easy one!
I think the most interesting essay to work on was the ‘25 random things’ essay, which is a part of Fuqua’s application. Though it is quite tricky and can easily convert into a disaster, I think it is good to maintain a good balance of different aspects of your life, such as, achievements, volunteer or extracurricular activities, and a few personal unique traits.
Remember that this is not just a fun piece of writing that the AdCom wants to read. They do want to get to know you more, who you are and the values you exhibit. As I mentioned, Fuqua is a lot about collaboration and leadership and hence, I ensured that the AdCom sees those values in my candidature through the experiences that I shared in this essay. So while it is titled ‘random’, it cannot all be random.
My Fuqua experience
It goes without saying that I had an absolutely amazing time at Fuqua. My time at Fuqua was truly eye opening. It taught me how to be more genuine, while at the same how do I market myself effectively whilst being genuine. Like, I met and saw people who made a lot of impact and talked about it with passion and that is something I did not have prior to my MBA. Secondly, I learned about leadership in its truest sense. At Fuqua, we don’t only talk about ‘decency quotient’, we’re really taught it. We’re taught how to be decent human beings, how to be more empathetic and so many other leadership lessons that help us realize and understand the kind of leader we want to be.
I also faced a few challenges as an international student but those weren’t specific to Fuqua. They were more about me being in an international and quite different territory from where I come. Having never traveled to the US before, I wasn’t acclimatized to their ways and culture. I had some inhibitions, however, I realized soon how unnecessary they were. I would just suggest all aspirants to be open minded and accept challenges. The helpful factor was that close to 40% of the class at Fuqua is international students, so you have a lot of people who are going through something similar.
Naturally, b-school is a place where a lot of things are happening at the same time and you can easily get overwhelmed. But I had a mentor from one of the clubs at Fuqua who told me this (and it didn't quite make sense to me earlier, but that’s easily one of the best pieces of advice I got): do not participate in clubs to just write it on your resume; participate only if you want to actively contribute something and learn something from it. That really helped me streamline my thoughts and prioritize where I wanted to invest my time in. I networked with my peers, I participated in events where I saw opportunities to learn and grow, but I didn’t feel the unnecessary push to really be everywhere!
Coming to placements and my post-MBA goals. While I was working as a consultant before my MBA and I had experience in two different organizations, I realized that I do not want to pursue consulting in the longer run. Personally, I prioritized more on having a good work-life balance and that was a bit challenging for me in a consulting career. Hence, I identified product management as a great option and a route that would help me combine my technical and business skills.
At Fuqua, I was among the few lucky students who did not have to go through off-campus recruitments and secured an internship as well as my job through the Duke’s campus placements. When I say campus placements, they are nothing like what we witness in India. The format of campus placements here came as a shock to me! Here, you are only allowed to network and build connecting with the firms directly, who are visiting your campus. It’s quite tense, everybody’s out there and trying to put their best foot forward.
Here, I definitely faced a challenge as an international student because only 10% of the jobs were even open for international students. While several opportunities are available, there were only a handful jobs that we could apply to. So we saw our American peers get recruited quite quickly while as international students, competition was stiff and we had limited choices. And this is not specific to Fuqua. This is applicable to all b-schools in the US because not all companies are willing to hire international students. It isn’t that opportunities don’t exist, it is just that it takes a lot of hard work, determination and stress to make it happen. You will not be left unemployed, but you might also not get the kind of job that you were hoping for. And that is a reality that you have to be prepared for!
Think through your choices, even about your decision to pursue an MBA outside India. If you're not 100% sure, step back and reconsider. But, if you're 100% sure and gearing up for your international MBA journey, hold tight, let loose, be yourself and be open to new experiences! You are in for a great journey.
Check out Astha's complete video interview below
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