Answer both of the following questions. For each question, respond in 500 characters only (the equivalent of about 100 words).
 Why is pursuing an MBA the right next step for you?
Most people already have a sensible answer to this question. Making sense at all is good, but we’re not interested in good. We’re interested in ADMIT-good, top MBA-good, good enough to beat a lot of “good” competition. To get to that level, there’s a key component you have to get right: “Why next?” (aka, why NOW?)
This is the part many people will miss. To answer this question “correctly” is to demonstrate an absolutely inarguable grasp of what YOU need to in order to achieve the BEST possible version of your future goals. Think about that for a sec. There are other ways to achieve your goals…. Probably some that don’t even include business school… but maybe those versions aren’t as good. Here’s a neat trick to tease that out: Imagine NOT pursuing an MBA as the very next thing you do. Pretend you do thing X next, and then maybe thing Y, and THEN you get your MBA (from Duke) and then pursue your goals exactly as you’d need in order to “win it all.” Where does the best version of that end up? Picture it. Now, articulate to us right now why that version is LESS GOOD than the version where the MBA is the very next thing you do. Show us the delta, in terms of future impact.
Once you have a clear idea of that, now you need to find a way to convey it in 100-ish words. Ouch. Well, the good news is that exercise in teasing out the reason TIMING matters will help you HOME IN on the key nugget faster. You may not have the space to lay out the whole delta for us, but if you do this correctly, we should be able to extrapolate what that delta is, based on your response.
 What are your post-MBA career goals? Share with us your first choice career plan and your alternate plan.
Start by stating your goals in a VERY straightforward way, space is limited. “I want to be an X at a company like Y doing Z awesome thing.” Then, establish what your first choice plan is (tightly) and quickly establish why that’s the best version (speed? Amplitude of success? Some other measure of greatness?). Use the same logic here as we discussed above for the first question: what’s the delta between your preferred plan and your alternate plan? Identify it, and explain how it makes your first choice plan BETTER.
Then, explain how that’s not the only way you could get there, and that alternate plan X is another way. Even if the alternate path is not quite as awesome, it should still be a rock-solid way of getting to that same end goal.