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June 27, 2015

Dartmouth Tuck MBA Essay Questions for Academic Year 2015-16

In this post I analyze the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth MBA Application Essay Questions for Academic Year 2015–16 (Class of 2018). 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 recommend unless your budget and time makes doing so impossible. Please see here for my post on interviewing at Tuck.

Essay Questions for 2015–16
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. What are your short- and long-term goals? Why do you need an MBA to achieve those goals? Why are you interested in Tuck specifically?
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 B analysis of goals, why MBA  and why a particular school because it applies here.

Regarding the second part of the question, anyone applying to Tuck, should most certainly watch the video series “Applying to Tuck: The Inside Scoop” with Dawna Clarke, the Director of Admissions. 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.  See 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.

2. Tell us about your most meaningful leadership experience and what role you played. How will that experience contribute to the learning environment at Tuck?
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. Weak versions of this essay will focus too much on simply telling a leadership story, not focus on why the experience was meanings,  and/or what you contribute at Tuck based on that experience.

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.

While not required I would consider collaborative leadership experiences: Tuck is a highly collaborative environment, so it is highly likely that they are particularly interested in gauging an applicants collaborative leadership ability.   Given the part of the question that is focused on contribution at Tuck, this essay is actually very much one about fit. You should be particularly focused on a leadership situation that highlights your capability and self-awareness in respect to leading, negotiating, persuading, mentoring,  and/or working  with other people. Such stories are likely to be the basis for showing how you can contribute to the learning environment at Tuck.

Given that the structure of the first year program includes mandatory study groups of 5-6 students in the Fall and Winter terms and  the Cohen Leadership Development Program,  as well as Tuck’s intensely community-focused nature, being able to show how you will contribute to  the learning environment should go well beyond mentioning a particular area of knowledge that you might have

Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it always obvious.  The worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that  role. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not. Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title.

Some clients I have worked with have never really considered themselves as leaders. I think it is critical that if you are applying to Tuck that you have idea about what kind of leader you are.  While there are number of ways to describe leadership, I particularly like this formulation of leadership types that INSEAD Professor Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries has used in one of his Harvard Business Review blog posts (Disclosure I am a student in an INSEAD  program that he co-directs):

I have previously suggested that applicants who are having difficulty really understanding leadership find out what kind of leader they are by taking this quiz based on Lewin’s classic framework.  While leadership  is more complicated than Lewin’s framework, the quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively. However I think the 8 archetypes above provide a much better guide for those who both have extensive leadership experience and those who think they lack it.  Think of these 8 archetypes as aspirational images of certain kinds of leader. You may fit into more than one category. You may find you don’t feel like you are really good at any of the above in comparison to the descriptions above, but that is OK because yo u are trying to identify your potential even if it seems based on relatively little “objective evidence.” I have never worked with anyone who could not demonstrate potential in at least one of the categories above.
Some types of leadership experiences that make for effective content in  this essays,  (as well as recommendations and interviews):
-A time you convinced someone or some group.
-A time you led others.
-A time you demonstrated courage.
-A time you made a difficult decision.
-A time you were innovative.
-A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
-A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
-A time reformed something.
-A time you changed something.
-A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
-A time created something.
-A time you managed or organized something.
-A time you mentored or coached someone.
-A time you represented an organization in public.
-A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.
Some of these are simply derived from the archetypes above, but  all reflect what I have seen in my clients’ leadership essays over the years.

3. (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.

4. (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 Tuck is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

UPDATE: The International Experience Question from the application is no longer an essay, but a list. 

International Experience Question from the online applicationBriefly 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.

"Briefly list all experience you have working, studying, living, or traveling outside your home country. Include the location, purpose, and length of stay. (300 words)"
While you have 300 words for this, they are not looking for any essay, but actually a list consisting of the location, purpose, and length of stay.  Don't make purpose into an essay, but provide a few words, phrases, or a sentence to describe the purpose.  If they wanted an essay, they would not have changed the question. 

-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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