Duke Fuqua saw a jump in applications to its Daytime MBA this year. Duke photo
Add another top business school to the growing group that has reversed its MBA application fortunes amid — and despite — the coronavirus pandemic.
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business released its Daytime MBA Class of 2022 profile this week showing a markedly better application total and improvements in a number of key areas. But while it’s tempting to attribute the numbers to the school’s addition of a fourth application round as the pandemic hit in March — particularly its 10.5% jump in apps — Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua’s associate dean for admissions, says the numbers already were trending that way before Covid-19.
“About 50% of our overall application increase came in before the fourth round,” Hubert tells Poets&Quants. “So we actually were already up in applications, by about 5% overall, before we decided to create the fourth round.”
PRE-COVID EFFORTS BEAR FRUIT
Duke, like UC-Berkeley, Columbia Business School, NYU Stern, and others, turned around a three-year slide in applications that saw the school lose 14.6% of its app volume between 2018 and 2019; going back three cycles, the Fuqua School had lost one-fifth — fully 20% — of its apps. The 3,356 applications in 2020 are 320 more than last year, though the total is still about 200 below Duke’s 2018 mark.
Hubert says Duke’s pre-coronavirus investments paid off.
“We did invest a lot in hosting over 200 events that prior year, and that would have driven those applications,” she says. “We activated a much more high-touch campaign geared toward those applicants who were in the process of completing their applications, but had not submitted yet, to ensure that they were able to get all the information they needed in order to complete the submission. So going through the process, it was much more high-touch tactically.
“There was a wave of many schools seeing a bit of an increase, but I think many schools saw it after their fourth round or their final round. We were seeing it before we decided that fourth round.”
ACCEPTANCE RATE CLIMBS, YIELD DROPS, GMAT DIPS
Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua associate dean for admissions. Duke photo
Duke Fuqua’s fourth round lasted 69 days between March 11 and May 19, and though Hubert says it will not be a permanent addition, it did contribute to increased applications, heightened interest from women, and — defying an array of cultural and practical obstacles — internationals.
Already a leader in women’s enrollment, Fuqua this year improved its female representation to 46% from 43%, a total likely to land the school among B-school leaders nationally and globally. “As a community, we really value and recognize the importance of getting to gender parity,” Hubert says. “It’s not just one thing. I think it’s a collective effort that we saw with our staff, our faculty, our students, our alumni engagement: We absolutely invested scholarship dollars and we really had an active outreach effort.”
Likewise with international enrollment. Duke Fuqua maintained its foreign student enrollment at 38% from the last two intakes; as it has for three years in a row now, Fuqua in 2020 enrolled a class with representatives from 44 countries.
“We were very intentional in recruiting internationally, so what we saw with that drop in internationals last year, we saw that reverse itself,” Hubert says, crediting the school’s admissions team for “holding multiple events, going back to cities, going multiple times to key cities around the world, as well as hosting events earlier in the season.
“I am just always in awe of the lengths to which our international students will go to invest in their education and to get here. There is one student who lived in Brazil, but also had a Portuguese dual citizenship, and she traveled to Portugal to fly out to the U.S. to get here. And I think those types of very, very high-touch, very strong communications across the board — but very individualized communications as well — show that our admissions team understands where each international student was.”
As with other top B-schools, however, reversing the application downturn came with a cost: Duke Fuqua’s acceptance rate climbed to 25%, up more than 9% from last year’s 22.9%. It’s actually the second straight year the school’s selectivity rate has climbed. Moreover, with 838 admits and an enrolled class of 408 (the latter larger than last year’s class but smaller than 2018’s 440), Duke Fuqua’s yield dropped for the first time in at least three years going back to the 2016-2017 app season, falling to 48.7% from 56.8%, a 14.3% decline.
The school’s Graduate Management Admission Test average also fell, albeit slightly, to 702 from 705.
“We consciously decided to admit a few more people, given the uncertainty that the pandemic created,” Hubert says. “We’re questioning and asking ourselves things like whether applicants would decide to hedge their bets and not attend this year for job security, or would they feel that this is the right time to invest in an MBA and ride the pandemic out in business school. And there’s also still so much uncertainty around whether embassies globally would be open around the world and the challenges of getting here. And so it was a bit of a wild card. So we wanted to make sure we were prepared either way.
“Fortunately, the students that we admitted, they were all admitted to other top schools, ultimately decided to come to us — so we didn’t see as high a level of attrition as we had anticipated. Interestingly, we also ended up deciding, ‘You know what, the decent thing to do is to grant deferrals.’ And so we did grant deferrals.”
Duke Fuqua photo
GRE SUBMISSIONS JUMP DRAMATICALLY
Minorities continue to gain greater representation at Duke Fuqua at 38%, up slightly from 2019’s cohort. Under-represented minorities — Black, Hispanic, and other non-Asian students — are 23% of the class, up from 17% in the fall of 2019.
In some ways, the Duke Fuqua Class of 2022 is very similar to its predecessors: undergraduate GPA average, for example, remained unchanged at 3.50, and the GPA range of 2.70-4.00 is much the same as well. Median GMAT remained the same at 710. The school’s Graduate Record Exam average dipped only slightly, to 315 from 319.
But the class, forged in extraordinary times, is unusual in key ways, including the percentage of enrolled students who submitted GRE scores, which climbed dramatically to 38% from 23%. This development is largely due to pandemic circumstances — the GRE at-home test was available quicker, and with fewer problems, than the GMAT — but it’s also part of a long-term trend, as Hubert notes.
“I think that people who had later submission, people who had decided to apply later in the cycle, may have had greater access to GRE,” she says. “Overall in all phases, it was a test year for applicants and testing agencies, and I’m really impressed with how quickly both GMAC and ETS were able to pivot and develop an online option. And even though it’s not perfect, I do know that everyone is really trying to react to the pandemic.
“Each year, we’ve been seeing an increase in our GREs that are submitted by our applicants. We also see applicants submitting multiple test formats more. We accept GMAT, GRE, and the EA, the Executive Assessment, now. And I do think people who apply later in the process may have already had access to a GRE. ETS came online a bit earlier.”
2020: LIKE ‘CHANGING THE TIRES ON A MOVING BUS’
The Fuqua School continues to draw mostly MBA students with business and accounting undergraduate majors: 31% this year, compared to last year’s 28%. Engineering and natural sciences undergrads make up 28% of the class (compared to 31% in 2019), while liberal arts students are 19% and economics undergrads are 16%.
All in all, it’s a class formed in strange times — but one the school is deeply proud of, Hubert says.
“These were challenging times. I have to say, this year was a challenging year — but I feel really great about the class that we brought in,” she says. “I think we did the right thing by meeting people where they were, by being thoughtful and considerate of everyone’s situation. Everyone was trying to react — I liken it to changing the tires on a moving bus. So everyone in this industry was trying to do that, all institutions, and I really give credit to our admissions team and to our dean and the school for the thoughtfulness and the ability to really continue to invest and to support our admissions efforts.
“I’m really proud. I’m proud of the students who decided to stick with it and invest in their education. I think this is a great time to pursue an MBA. And I think that the students who will come this year, it will be a different year for them — but I think that they’re still going to get the transformational experience that they’re looking for.”
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