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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 19, 2009

Dartmouth Tuck MBA Essay Questions for Academic Year 2010-11

UPDATED ON 9/8/2009.

In this post I will analyze the
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth MBA Application Essay Questions for Academic Year 2010–11 (Fall 2010). The questions have not changed from the previous year, but I have modified my analysis somewhat. To read a testimonial by my client accepted for Tuck for Fall 2009, see here. To read a testimonial by my client accepted for Tuck for Fall 2008, see here.

I should also disclose that I was a sponsor for Tuck's
Japan Trek 2009
. The reader should assume that I like Tuck, but I believe that does not necessarily impact my analysis below.

Anyone really interested in going to Tuck should attend one of their receptions if possible. Visiting is even better, but attending the reception is a good first step. Click here for information about Tuck events. Japanese applicants should also visit the Japanese site.

I attended the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth's September 9, 2009 Tokyo Reception. It appeared that about 50-60 applicants were in attendance as well as a number alums and current students. The evening began with a PowerPoint presentation by Kristine Laca and was followed a reception with food and drinks (I did not stay. I usually try to avoid that aspect of the events because I think it is time for the applicants to talk with alumni and admissions and I don't want to waste anyone's time.).

As both the alums and the admissions officer emphasized Tuck is about being part of a community. The Tuck Reception I attended reflected that. They intentionally hosted an event that would give everyone in the room a chance to mingle and to easily have a chance to talk with the admissions officers and alums. If someone was not comfortable in that cocktail party environment, they have no business applying to Tuck. Each person counts and each person will need to participate. This communicated at least to me, the same message of "friendly community" that had been made by the admissions officer: students, their families, faculty, and staff at Tuck are all part of one community.

Anyone applying to Tuck, should most certainly watch the video series "Applying to Tuck: The Inside Scoop" with Dawna Clarke, the Director of Admissions. I will make reference to Ms. Clarke's advice below.

If you are really interested in attending Tuck, I strongly suggest making a real effort to visit or at least to attend a reception. This will be a great way to meet with admissions officers in a very friendly environment. It is also an amazing way to network with the alum at the event and afterwards. At the Tokyo reception, we were actually provided with a list of alums who would be happy to communicate with potential applicants. In "Tips on Applying," Ms. Clarke emphasizes the importance of getting in touch with Tuck alum. She, in fact, specifically says that mentioning that you met with alum is something you should do both in your essays and interviews. She also mentioned that she considers notes from alum as being in an applicant's favor.

Essay Questions for 2010–11
Let's take a look at the essay questions. I took the questions from the pdf.

Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. Compose each of your answers offline in separate document files and upload them individually in the appropriate spaces below. Although there is no restriction on the length of your response, most applicants use, on average, 500 words for each essay. There are no right or wrong answers.
Please double-space your responses.
I don't suggest writing much more than 500 unless you really need to. That said, admissions will not be counting the words, so anything in the range of 450-600 is safe. Of course, if you need to write more, there is no absolute restriction, but I would tell a client to keep it to 750 maximum.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)
This is a very standard version of the Why MBA essay question. See my Stanford GSB and/or Columbia Business School analysis as it applies here. Keep in mind the real importance of the second part of the question. Tuck's program is small, according to Businessweek, there are 506 students in the full-time program. According to the Tuck Class of 2010 Profile, the target class is 240. For the Fall 2008 Class, Tuck admitted 16% of 2898 applicants who applied, so making the case that you really belong is critical. The yield was 54% (admitted who attend). These numbers are worth bearing in mind. On the one hand, Tuck is difficult to enter, but on the other, it is not always the first choice of those it admits. You can be certain that reading your application know this. Under such conditions, clearly showing why Tuck is ideal for you is critical.

2. Tuck defines leadership as “inspiring others to strive and enabling them to accomplish great things.” We believe great things and great leadership can be accomplished in pursuit of business and societal goals. Describe a time when you exercised such leadership. Discuss the challenges you faced and the results you achieved. What characteristics helped you to be effective, and what areas do you feel you need to develop in order to be a better leader?
I suggest looking at my analysis of HBS Option 2, Stanford 3, and Kellogg 2 to craft your initial answer. Keep in mind that according to Dawna Clarke in "Tuck's holistic admissions process" video, leadership ability and/or demonstrated potential is one of three key common characteristics of Tuck students (see my analysis of question 4 for the other two). You should most certainly provide a full answer to this question, one demonstrating that you really understand your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Weak versions of this essay will focus too much on simply telling a leadership story and not enough on self-analysis of leadership ability. The point of this essay is to show not only leadership capability, but leadership awareness.

3. Discuss the most difficult constructive criticism or feedback you have received. How did you address it? What have you learned from it?
It is possible to write this based on the topic used for a standard failure essay (see my analysis of Wharton 3), but that is only one possibility. The basic structure for this essay is clear enough:
1. Briefly describe the situation where you received constructive criticism or feedback. Who did you receive it from and why? Why was it the most difficult? Explaining why is the most important part of this section of the essay.
2. Specifically state your response to the constructive criticism or feedback. This might take the form of a brief summary of your action steps or description of your change in attitude.
3. Explain what you learned. Often the best way to help your reader understand this is to provide them with a different situation where you applied what you learned.

In addition to the standard reasons for asking this question- a test of ability to show how you learn from feedback, a test of your ability to honestly assess your own limitations, and a test of your ability to think critically about your past actions- this question makes particular sense for a program like Tuck where learning in a community is critical. The structure of the first year program including mandatory study groups of 5-6 students in the Fall and Winter terms, the Cohen Leadership Development Program, and the intensely community-focused nature of the environment certainly requires that all students be open to receiving and issuing positive, but critical feedback.

4. Tuck seeks candidates of various backgrounds who can bring new perspectives to our community. How will your unique personal history, values, and/or life experiences contribute to the culture at Tuck?
Keep in mind that in addition to leadership, the two other common characteristics of Tuck students that Ms. Clarke mentions are teamwork skills and communication/interpersonal skills. So if you have not effectively covered those two categories in another essay, you should address them in one way or another here. Keep in mind that this essay is not just a way for admissions to understand some important aspects of who you are, it is also a place for them to see whether you know enough about Tuck to provide effective examples of the way you would contribute.

One way I like to think about contribution questions is to use a matrix such as the following:


I use the above matrix for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates. Luckily, Essay #3 specifies that you should be looking only for those aspects of your application that really best demonstrate why you should be a part of the Kellogg community.
The number of contributions that can be covered in about 500 words will obviously vary greatly. Consider that some contributions might be fully analyzed and justified in a matter of 20-50 words, while others will require 150-200. I suggest finding something between two and about four contributions to discuss. Just make sure each contribution is meaningful and described effectively enough. Keep in mind that you want admissions to be excited by you, so if you make this a mere summary of why you are good fit, you will be boring them.

Finally, given the small size of the Tuck as well as its relatively remote location, the importance of each member to this community is perhaps greater than at a bigger school located in a more urban area. Therefore, it is particularly important that you are very specific about how you will contribute.

5. (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.
Like the optional question for Wharton, this is primarily a place for explaining something potentially negative. Under no circumstances include an essay clearly written for another school.

Finally, if you need to prepare for a Tuck interview, please see here. I might update it sometime, but I doubt that much will change.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com
. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.

-Adam Markus
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