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

September 09, 2010

Dartmouth Tuck MBA Essay Questions for Academic Year 2011-12

In this post I analyze the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth MBA Application Essay Questions for Academic Year 2011–12 (Fall 2011). Question Three has changed from the previous year and have also updated and/or significantly revised some other parts of my analysis.  To read a testimonial by one my two clients accepted for Tuck for Fall 2010, see here. 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 2010 and 
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.

 While did not attend a Tuck presentation in 2010, I attended last
September's Tokyo Reception. It appeared that about 50-60 applicants were in attendance as well as a number alumni 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.

Especially in regards to the community aspect, I suggest reading the Q&A I conducted with  a member of the Class of 2011.   In particular:

Adam: What is the Tuck community like? 
Tuck 2011: The Tuck community is like family. Literally for those who live on campus since they spend most of time together. Everybody is friendly and you don't need to worry about making friends here. From an academic point of view, collaboration between students is highly emphasized in Tuck and you will experience and learn to work together with others.
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 afterwords. 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 2011–12
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 analysis as it applies here. Keep in mind the real importance of the second part of the question. Tuck's program is small with a target class  240.  According to BusinessWeek, for the Fall 2009 entering class, Tuck admitted 19% of 2804 applicants who applied, so making the case that you really belong is critical. The yield was 49% (admitted who attend). These numbers are worth bearing in mind. On the one hand, Tuck is relatively difficult to enter, but on the other, it is often not the first choice of those it admits. You can be certain that  those 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?
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.

"inspiring others to strive and enabling them to accomplish great things"
Tuck is specifically concerned with your ability to work effectively with other people and to positively impact them.  A key constraint of the essay is that the story you tell must involve influencing and empowering other people.  Otherwise, it does not really matter whether the story you tell is about a  professional or personal topic.   My suggestion is that you tell your best possible story demonstrating your ability to lead others.

I have developed the following grid to help you outline a leadership stories. The categories this grid employs may go beyond any particular schools essay requirements. Filling it out completely will help you write about your leadership in a way that will help convince admissions of your leadership potential. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

How to use the grid:

1. Decide on a specific story.

2. Identify the most significant things you did in the situation, these are you action steps.
3. For each action step identify:

  • What skills or qualities you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The strengths you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The kind of leadership you demonstrated.
  • What you still need to learn about leadership.
4. Think about the results and identify how they relate to your action steps. So, at minimum, you should be able to state the impact on others and/or yourself.

5. After completing the chart you will see that some aspects of your action steps may be repeated. If there is a total duplication and nothing new is shown, either you need to redefine the action step or you may decide not to focus on it very much.

6. Once you think you have two to four fully worked-out action steps for two to three stories, start writing your essay.

7. Next start re-writing. Eliminate duplicate points made between action steps. Make choices about what parts of each action to step to highlight. Given that there are usually word limits, you will have to make some decisions about what to include. Simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough. Consider what it signifies about you. Consider what your actions reveals about your leadership potential.
Thinking and writing about leadership is an important part of preparing for interviews because you can be certain that you will have to talk about leadership. So, you might find that the parts of the outline you jettison now will become valuable when you will want to have alternative stories for your Tuck interview.

 "what areas do you feel you need to develop in order to be a better leader?"
I will state the obvious:  You clearly want to link what you need with Tuck!   Think about what you need in relationship to your career goals.  Don't worry if there is some discontinuity between your leadership story and your needs as they may or may not well connect.  This is a test of your ability to honestly assess your own limitations, not just as a leader, but more generally.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. It is important that you demonstrate the self-critical capacity expected at Tuck.

3. What is the greatest challenge or hurdle you have overcome, either personally or professionally, and how did you manage to do so?
This question is new for this year.  It is an ideal place to discuss a personal or professional accomplishment that was truly hard.  An effective answer will:

1. Clearly explain what the challenge or hurdle was.

2. Answer why you consider it your greatest challenge or hurdle.  I know that many applicants are likely to worry about whether their greatest challenge is impressive enough.  Most applicants should not worry about this as long as they can clearly explain why they considered the situation they faced to be their greatest challenge or hurdle.  While some situations might seem like obvious challenges or hurdles (Overcoming a terrible affliction, facing death in a combat situation, prolonged unemployment, recovering from bankruptcy, etc.), even in such situations, you still must provide an explanation.  The highly subjective  nature of this question requires it.

3. Explain what steps you took to overcome it. Just as an in my analysis of Essay 2 above, treat each action step that made it possible for your overcome what you faced as an opportunity to not only state what you did, but to interpret it for the purposes of highlighting your strengths. At least 50% of the essay should focus on this. 

A key question to ask yourself after you have a first draft: Do you really believe what you wrote? 

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. 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.
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.
This is primarily a place for explaining something potentially negative. Under no circumstances include an essay written for another school.  It is fine to write about something positive here, but just make sure that it is something they really need to know.  It really is certainly fine to write nothing here.

Finally, if you need to prepare for a Tuck interview, please see here.

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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