Avoid These 5 Entries in Duke’s “25 Random Things” Essay

Duke Fuqua’s first essay asking for 25 random things about an applicant is meant to cut through boring apps like a hot knife through butter. It is meant to zero in on “dry” candidates and weed them out, ’cause they’re obviously not the right fit for Fuqua.

That means you need to give ’em the ol’ razzle-dazzle and list something exciting and entertaining! It also means you should absolutely avoid the following 5 blurbs, or at least seriously consider their pitfalls.

“My favorite food is X” OR “I like cooking”

Alright… so what? Newsflash, EVERYONE on planet Earth eats food, and the vast majority of us have at least some idea of how to prepare it so that we don’t starve. This means that this topic is THE OPPOSITE of unique, and that’s just not going to work for Duke. That means that if you’re going to include something food related, it MUST say something unique about you, your culture or your personality.

For instance, “I like cooking Chinese food” is bland – there are tons of applicants who love cooking Chinese food. On the other hand, “I like slow roasting my village’s signature duck dish – I find working on getting the skin crisp over 10 hours develops my patience and focus, something that reminds me of the beauty of stillness” is better.

“I like sports”

Once again, big whoop. This extremely common activity does nothing to differentiate you from the other 7 billion people on planet Earth. Worse, unless you’re Tiger, Lebron, Serena, or James, chances are you AREN’T the sportiest candidate applying this year, and your on-field accomplishments will pale in comparison to the guy or girl who was in the actual Olympics.

So by all means, mention that you captained your school soccer/basketball/croquet team, but make sure it says something else about you. Go with “As captain of my school soccer team, I once injured my hamstring mid championship. Despite the pain, I kept playing in the last half, leading my team for victory. Then, I ran for ice.”

Oh, and if you’re going to plug the Blue Devils, make sure you’ve actually watched a game – they can tell if you haven’t.

Anything about your parents

Repeat after me: this application is about me, the applicant, not my family.

This one’s particularly difficult if you’re coming from a family-centric culture, as the urge to bring up mom and dad may be overwhelming. But nothing marks you as someone who hasn’t led a diverse and exciting life quite like padding this essay with your parents’ accomplishments and stories. So instead of “My dad overcame X hardship when I was a child” go with “Witnessing my family go through X hardship pushed me to overcome this challenge by improving myself through Y, leading me to become a ninja.”

Anything about working long hours without rest

Duke wants someone with a big brain, not the worker ant who can put in 100 hours of manual input before collapsing in a heap. You want to show that you’re working smarter instead of harder, and finding ways to overcome insane amounts of work through innovative strategies, NOT coffee-fueled all-nighters at the office.

“I like the color blue, words that start with the letter M, or carnivorous plants…” without telling us WHY.

That’s the big secret to this list: every blurb needs to tell us something about YOU. It isn’t enough to be quirky, we want those quirks to highlight your personality: approachable, dynamic, funny, engaging. You’ll want to make sure the RANDOM things in your list all work in concert to speak to this.

Find a funny story explaining why you developed that love for Venus flytraps. Tell us how your first love’s name started with M and that inspired you to start a charity. Go deep – that’s what they’re looking for.


For some direction on what to actually write in Duke’s 25 Random Things essay, dig into our Fuqua Essay Analysis.

 

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