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Fuqua avoids drop in MBA applicants

The Fuqua School of Business seems to be escaping the decline in applications facing many of the country's other top-tier business schools. The nationwide decline has been attributed to the attractiveness of Internet start-up companies and the lure of e-commerce, but to Duke's business students, two years at Fuqua have more to offer.

Students and administrators cite the campus' team-oriented environment, students' continued access to growing Triangle companies and high rankings as the reasons why Fuqua is bucking the trend.

"We're a hot school right now," said assistant dean Dan Nagy, director of Fuqua's MBA program. "We're still in a growth mode, while other schools are already topping off."

Last year, Fuqua's application numbers were up about 8 percent, and this year the school expects another increase of about 7 percent, to about 3,900. Nagy said part of this increase can be attributed to Fuqua's rise in the national rankings. The school now places ninth in U.S. News and World Report magazine's latest annual list. "We're now on the map as being a top-tier school," he said.

However, simply being a top school does not guarantee a large applicant pool. Representatives in the office of admissions at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, for example, said they received 2,689 applications for the class of 2001, down from 2,916 the year before.

Although the national media blame the drop in part on the lure of Internet companies, Lisa Park, assistant director of admissions at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said this factor may not be the sole explanation. "We have seen a slight drop [in numbers]... but it's really difficult to say what the reasons are because we have no opportunity to speak with those who decide not to apply," Park said.

Many business schools are responding to this recent downturn in applications by broadening their recruitment efforts. "We try to reach all kinds of business fields... and a wider audience," Park said.

Similarly, Duke now seeks a wider range of students than it did in the past. "We have been very aggressive in going out to venues that we haven't usually," said Fuqua Dean Rex Adams.

Beyond simple advertising, Adams added, the Fuqua applicant pool has remained high because of what the school has to offer. "There has been more market perception about what the nature of the Fuqua experience is," he said.

Nagy explained that to prospective students, Fuqua's environment is appealing, and "little things add up" when a student is deciding where to spend two years getting an MBA. "The North Carolina weather and the basketball help," Nagy said. In addition, the Triangle is "currently a nurturing ground for hot growth companies."

Although students have accepted the financial consequences of leaving the business world for two years during a rapidly growing economy, they remain interested in these "hot growth" companies. Many agree that an MBA will help when seeking jobs with new businesses.

"The Internet is rapidly changing," said second-year Fuqua student Juli Jadick. "Because of it, business is changing rapidly. You have to have a solid business plan and business school gives you a ground."

The high salaries offered by Internet start-up companies can be very appealing, but students who choose to accept the two years of additional schooling said that in the end, they will come out on top.

"There are a lot of opportunities to work with companies while at school. You're not totally out of the loop," said Fuqua student Reagan Rylander. "Fuqua is good at providing broad management perspectives and a broad range of experience."

Nagy said part of Fuqua's special appeal to students is its team-oriented approach, which helps prepare students for entering various business communities.

Moreover, Nagy explained that in order to keep up with the increasing demand for training in the electronic business realm, Fuqua has added seven new courses in e-commerce and many others that cultivate entrepreneurial skills. These new classes have proven quite popular and most are oversubscribed. "That's what our students want, and that's what the world wants," Nagy said.

Adams said the combination of earning a higher national ranking and the competition for applicants with the world of e-commerce has made Fuqua work even harder.

"A powerful influence on our business school is that more and more of our students want to use their MBA degree in entrepreneurial ways. We're working harder at [this] and are expecting things to continue to [go up]," he said.

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