Prebusiness Advising

First & Sophomore Years

Last updated: July 8, 2013

Basic Information for Duke students Interested in Graduate Business School

Frequently Asked Questions

(1) Is there a prebusiness curriculum at Duke or is there a specific major that prebusiness students should choose?

The answer to both questions is no. Students should seek to get a good liberal arts background. Within that sweeping statement three things should be noted. First, students must do all that can be done to develop communication skills. Second, students should sharpen their analytical and quantitative skills. Most often this is done through courses in calculus, statistics, microeconomics, accounting, and computer science. Third, students should also make an effort to increase their understanding of human nature. Since a large part of business dealings has to do with organizing, working with, and managing people, the more applicants know about themselves and others, the better managers they may become.

(2) Are there courses available specifically related to business and management?

The Department of Sociology, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences offers a few management-oriented courses to undergraduates. The courses are designed to explore business functions, such as marketing and organizational behavior. Courses in accounting and finance are available in the Department of Economics.

Also, the Department of Sociology has developed specialty courses for students interested in business as well as a certificate program in Markets and Management Studies. These courses and this program approach business issues and functions within a liberal arts framework and cover areas and issues that appeal to undergraduates.

(3) Will a double major increase the chances of getting into business school?

No. A double major is fine if desired, but it is irrelevant in terms of business school admission.

(4) What factors are considered in admission decisions?

Admissions decisions at various schools are made in different ways. In general, there are two sets of factors which are considered in the admission process. The first set of factors is the objective ones, that is, undergraduate grades and the score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The undergraduate transcript is a major criterion and will be among the first considered. In most cases, it will not automatically make a decision affirmative or negative, but it will be scrutinized carefully and considered. Rather than immediately accepting or rejecting an application on the basis of a grade point average (GPA), business schools delve into the record and make note of courses taken, strengths and weaknesses of the total program, and grade patterns. The objective factors at most schools, together count for about fifty to sixty percent of the admission decision.

The second set of factors used is the subjective aspects of the application. These include demonstrated leadership ability, participation in various worthwhile activities, relevant work experience, and evidence of potential contributions to the business world. In general, subjective factors comprise about forty to fifty percent of the admissions decision. The objective factors are important, but subjective factors are given serious consideration. Lastly, the personal interview is being used more and more by schools in the admissions decision. Most applicants welcome the opportunity to present themselves personally.

(5) What about recommendations?

Because the subjective factors are important, recommendations can be significant if they are perceptive, identify strengths as well as weaknesses, and are well written. Letters are generally required from employers where there has been significant work experience.

(6) When should the GMAT be taken?

The GMAT may be taken in the spring or summer after the junior year or the fall of the senior year if applying to schools during the senior year. Students, in general, seem to perform better after the junior year. Since there is no reason to take it before this time, prospective applicants should not plan to take it earlier. The junior year can be spent becoming familiar with the GMAT. Good, quality study is a necessity. One advantage to taking the GMAT before leaving Duke is that you will still be in "student mode" and perhaps feel less anxiety about the GMAT than a student who has been away from the classroom for a couple of years. Test scores are reported for a five-year period and are, in most cases, accepted by schools during that time.

(7) Should the GMAT be taken once for practice?

No, definitely not. Whenever any GMAT scores for a person are reported, all scores for a five-year period are reported. Since some schools may average scores, it is better to plan to take the test only after a student has carefully prepared. If a low score is made, then take the test again after additional preparation. The Prebusiness Advisor will discuss the matter with those considering a second try.

(8) What about work experience?

During the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of business schools preferring that applicants have full-time work experience. Not only is it of value to the applicant in terms of admission, but work experience also makes the business school experience itself more meaningful. Schools usually like to see two years of experience though some are now asking for three to four years.

There remain, however, schools open to students applying directly from college, and a few are actively seeking applications from college seniors. In reviewing these applicants, attention is given to summer work experience and other engagements that may help in clarifying careers in business and offering an orientation to business. The decision about when to go to business school, in the end, becomes an individual matter. Individuals should know their strengths and weaknesses, needs and career plans, and then make a decision as to whether to go directly to graduate school or work prior to doing so.