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

July 23, 2013

Dartmouth Tuck MBA Essay Questions for Academic Year 2013-14

In this post I analyze the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth MBA Application Essay Questions for Academic Year 2013–14 (Class of 2016). Tuck is great school in a small town. This is both its strength in terms of forming a close knit community and weakness in terms of being a location that some find unattractive. Sometimes when I talk to clients and mention Tuck, I know immediately that I made a mistake. Other times, I working with someone whose second or third top choice is Tuck. To be honest, I have worked with only a few clients who ever considered Tuck their top choice.  The location seems to be the issue. That Tuck is not the applicant pool as a whole’s first choice is reflected in its yield of 54% (BusinessWeek). It is important to keep this in mind as showing a strong interest in attending the program is something you should convey both in your application and interview.  Tuck allows for student initiated campus-only interviews, which I strongly recommen d unless your budget and time makes doing so impossible. Please see here for my post on interviewing at Tuck.

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 a Tokyo reception I attended, we were actually provided with a list of alumni who would be happy to communicate with potential applicants. In “Tips on Applying,” Ms. Clarke emphasizes the importance of getting in touch with Tuck alumni. She, in fact, specifically says that mentioning that you met with alumni is something you should do both in your essays and interviews. She also mentioned that she considers notes from alumni as being in an applicant’s favor.  Click here for information about Tuck events.

Learning from students and alumni by networking with them is also incredibly valuable. Japanese applicants should also visit the Japanese site. See also my Q&As with former clients who are members of the Class of 2011 and Class of 2013.
One thing that is consistent is that current students, alumni, and  admissions officers emphasize that Tuck is about being part of a 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.

Essay Questions for 2013–14
Let’s take a look at the essay questions. I took the questions from the Tuck blog (As of this posting the online application is not up yet). The instructions are to “Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. Please double-space your responses.” I don’t know why Tuck can’t be more explicit and not use such wimpy language (“We encourage..”). I will strongly encourage my own clients to keep it to 500 words or so. Since they want 500, I think it best to give them something that is “500-wordish” meaning around 500-550 words.

In addition to the main essays questions, I have also included an analysis of the international experience question from the application form, which I assume will be included this year, but I will alter this post if it is removed or changed when the the online  application is updated later this summer.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?
The first part of this question is a very standard version of the Why MBA essay question and remains unchanged from last year. See my Stanford GSB Essay 2 analysis as it applies here.
Regarding the fit to Tuck part of the question, 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. You have space in Essay 2 to discuss leadership. Essay 1 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 really fit into their school and why Tuck is best for you.
Given the limited word count available, I suggest doing the why you fit part of the question in combination with why Tuck is the best MBA fit for you. In the Why Tuck is Best MBA for Me and Why I am the Best Fit For Tuck Table brainstorming table I have attempted to account for everything Tuck related that you need to discuss in this essay.
Why Tuck is Best MBA for Me and Why I am the Best Fit For Tuck Table
Why Tuck is Best MBA for Me and Why I am the Best Fit For Tuck Table
Types of reasons that you should include in your essaySpecific things at Tuck (Classes, clubs, or aspects of the program) that make it best for youHow will you fit at Tuck?Is this topic covered elsewhere in the application? (If so, why do you need to discuss it here?)
Reasons that relate to your short term goals:

Reasons that relate to your long-term goals:

Reasons that relate to your personal interests, hobbies, values, experiences):

(You can cut and paste this table.)
The above table will help you outline your answer. I suggest following some variation of these 11 steps:
1. Identify specific reasons for needing a MBA that relate to your goals and your personal interests, hobbies, values, and experiences. Think about these generically before going to Tuck specific versions in the next step.
2. Identify specific things at Tuck that relate to these reasons to justify why Tuck is the best MBA for you.
3. Identify specific ways you really fit at Tuck that relate to your goals and your personal interests, hobbies, values, and experiences.
4. Ask yourself if the reason being discussed is covered elsewhere in your application. If so, why does it need to be in this essay?
5. Go through the above steps until such time as you have a sufficient number of reasons to write about.
6. Write it up.
7. Edit it.
8. Don’t look at it for a while (minutes, hours, days, weeks, all depending on your deadline situation) and read it again.
9. Edit it some more.
10. Upload it.
11. Get on with your life. Step 11 is optional, but highly recommended. :)

2. Tell us about your most meaningful collaborative leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?
This question  has been changed from last year as it now specifically refers to a collaborative leadership experience and not just a leadership experience. 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. 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, not focus on collaboration,  and/or not enough on self-analysis of leadership ability.

most meaningful: Since the leadership experience you write about should be he the one that you consider most meaningful, you clearly explain that.  Applicants frequently assume the significance of a story without interpreting it sufficiently.  Make sure you have clearly explained why the particular leadership experience you write about is meaningful to you.  This is not just a function of explaining your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, but of actually explaining why this particular experience is so significant.

collaborative leadership experience: Tuck is a highly collaborative environment and it makes perfect sense that they are particularly interested in gauging an applicants collaborative leadership ability.  This essay is actually very much one about fit in that regard. You should be particularly focused on a leadership situation involving communication, teamwork, interaction with others.  The point is to find a situation that highlights your capability and self-awareness in respect to communication, teamwork, and/or interaction with others.

What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience? 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.

For my general suggestions on writing leadership focused essays, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay 3.

3. Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?
This question is unchanged from last year. It is critical that you learned something meaningful.  Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the adversity, failure, or setback is, you have learned something important from it. While not stated, you may very well find that one way of showing what you learned is to discuss how you applied your lesson to a new situation.
What is the difference between adversity, failure and a setback? I think the easiest thing to do is look at standard definitions of all three words (taken from Dictionary.com):
ADVERSITY: 1. adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress: A friend will show his or her true colors in times of adversity. 2. an adverse or unfortunate event or circumstance: You will meet many adversities in life.
FAILURE: 1. an act or instance of failing  or proving unsuccessful; lack of success: His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure. 2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected: a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear. 3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency: the failure of crops. 4. deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.: The failure of her health made retirement necessary. 5. a condition of being bankrupt by reason of insolvency.
SETBACK: a check to progress; a reverse or defeat
Examples of possible topics:
Adversity: Taking care of dying relative, being in a battle field, being poor, having a physical disability, being in a disaster, having a boss who hates you, being the victim of bullying, being the victim of prejudice (because of your gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, etc)
Failure: Drawing the wrong conclusions about a situation, taking the wrong course of action, an inability to see significant problems with a project, bad personal behavior that generates a negative result, lack of empathy that leads to the ending of a professional or personal relationship
Setback: an obstacle to progress on a project, organizational resistance to your plans, changes in a situation that makes what seemed to be a manageable project a potential disaster, a loss of efficiency that must be overcome if success is to be obtained
The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the adversity, failure or setback was.  Your reader should understand easily which one you have selected.
2. Clearly state your role when you explain the situation. It should be clear how much responsibility you have for the situation.
3. Explain what actions you took. Think about what your actions reflect about your own skills and personality. Provide a sufficient number of distinct action steps to highlight the diverse ways you handled the situation.
4. Explain what you learned. If what you learned is something you applied to a subsequent situation, please explain that.
Everyone should have many examples of adversity, setbacks, and failures, but the key thing is to have one that you learned from. If you think these words bleed into one another, that is true to some extent, but the nice thing about this question is that it covers a huge variety of situations. Adverse situations are certainly not necessarily failures or setbacks, but simply really bad situations. A setback, unlike a failure, is not necessarily something that ultimately does not work.

4. (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.
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Wharton and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

5. (To be completed by all reapplicants) How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.
An effective answer here will do the following:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Wharton is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

PLEASE NOT I CANNOT CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING UNTIL THE APPLICATION IS UPLOADED. International Experience Question from the online application:Briefly describe all experiences you have working, studying, living, or traveling outside your home country. Include the location, purpose, and length of stay. If relevant, reflect on how these experiences have shaped your world view. (Limit 250 words)
The usual problem many of my clients encounter is how to even minimally account for their international experience in 250 words.
My advice is to focus on 1-3 key experiences which had a significant impact on you. You need to actually say something meaningful about these experiences in terms of the way they have effected your thinking, perspectives, choices you have made and/or beliefs. Given what you have said about yourself so far in the other essays, what other aspects of who are you and what you have done would you like to tell Tuck about?  This can be a nice way to get an additional key story or two into your application.
If you have limited experiences outside of your home country, you will need to make the most out of very little.
If you lack international experience, go get some! Just kidding, well sort of.  My suggestion to not try to answer this question, but identify international experience in the optional essay or Essay 1 as something you want to get at Tuck.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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