The MBA Gatekeeper To Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business

So does it count? Does it matter to you as an admissions person?

It’s a competitive process. Anything you can do to maximize your chances, you should do. The benefit of retaking the GMAT a second, third or fourth time is that it does show effort on somebody’s part and I will take that into consideration. Even if the score doesn’t go up, it shows they are really serious about this.

Tuck is one of the very few schools to offer rejected candidates real feedback on why they didn’t make it. How come?

Part of the reason we do it is that it is a statement of the culture. We are smaller and we have the capacity to do it. But say you apply to Tuck and are waitlisted and you don’t get off the waitlist. You participate in a feedback call and we say, ‘John, here are three things you can do. Come for an interview next time, retake the GMAT and give us up-to-date recommendations. If you come back next year and do everything we suggested, we do take that in consideration.

We document the feedback calls. If the person reapplies, we will look at what we advised them to do and then we will look to see if they did it. If you took our advice, even if your score didn’t go up when you retook the test, that is a plus. In feedback calls, we will be really candid.

That may be one reason that as much as 15% of your applicant pool is composed of people who re-apply. Do these candidates have any advantage over the general pool?

So many candidates are in the zone of admissibility that sometimes an extra year of work experience would help, or a better GMAT score, or a better reference. We have lots of examples of strong re-applicants. My guess is that the acceptance rate is slightly higher than the general pool because most of them got feedback and we may have encouraged them to reapply. If someone is so committed to Tuck that they will postpone their business schools plans and reapply, we will really take a good look at that.

Some waitlisted applicants tend to be among my favorite because we know them a little bit better than those who apply initially. So it can make a difference to be proactive. There are some gems in those groups. You get to know them better and you are more confident about them.

How does your waitlist work? And how do you make people feel as if they are not being strung along?

Having gone through the process with a son who was waitlisted, it gives me much more empathy for a person who ends up on a waitlist. And I was waitlisted when I went to graduate school so I may have a greater appreciation for what it’s like to be on the other end of the process. There are two reasons why we would waitlist someone: One is, we don’t know what our yield is and what our space capacity may ultimately be. That person is maybe just slightly on the bubble in some dimension. I don’t think there is often a huge difference between a person who is admitted and a person who is on the waitlist. Sometimes, it comes down to splitting hairs. We try to educate people about that because I think there is a perception that the waitlisters are second-class citizens someway. I don’t find that to be the case. Maybe someone hasn’t had a chance to be interviewed yet, so we put him on the waitlist and give him the chance to do it. If they interview well, it will push them over.

We also may put a person on the waitlist because of space. We don’t know what our final yield is going to be. After April 27, we have a better sense of whether we will go to the waitlist.

In other cases, somebody is truly a waitlist candidate. They are too strong to be a deny and just a little shy of being a clear admit. The waitlist is where they belong. If we had a bigger program. a lot of those waitlisters would be admits.

What we are doing now is a new model with the waitlist. If you are on the waitlist, we divide it into five piles. Each officer is going through their allocation and saying what if anything can this person do to maximize their chances. So say here is John Byrne, who has a lower than average GMAT score. We will reach out to him and say, ‘While you are on the waitlist, here is something you can do to maximize your chances. Retake the GMAT.’ We are reaching out to the candidates if there is something they can do in the short-term.

We try to let the waitlist go in phases over the summer so the number of people who are taken off the waitlist varies dramatically. One year, we took zero off the list and another we took as many as 40.  It’s a function of yield and whether we got it right in terms of how many offers of admission we made. We could have been really conservative and held back on offers. If our yield is high, we wouldn’t have made enough offers. Or, our yield was a little bit lower but we were overly generous. It’s a function of yield but also of how many offers we have made and how conservative or liberal we were.

Summer melt—the number of people who put down a deposit to come but over the summer decide not to–would also impact how many applicants you take off a waitlist as well, right?

Some people double or triple deposit. We know that happens. People might melt for a variety of reasons: They get into higher ranked schools. They become pregnant or their wife becomes pregnant. They get a better job and might want to come to Tuck the following year.

In an average year, we lose 20 to 26 in the summer melt. One year we had 36 and another year we had 15. Say we start the summer over enrolled. We will release a lot off the waitlist. It’s very important to be sensitive to them. They have a lot of other opportunities they may be turning down. We don’t want to cut people loose prematurely if it’s possible we could admit them later. We don’t have a crystal ball but we really do try to be sensitive to what they need to do, from getting out of a lease to leaving a job.

Dawna, a recent survey by the association of MBA admissions consultants found that 38% of applicants are asked by their recommenders to write their own letters of reference. Were you surprised by the number?

We were aware of the fact that some applicants are asked to write their own recommendations but I wouldn’t have guessed it would be that high. I can understand these kids are coming from top consulting firms and investment banks. If you are a recommender for three people and now have nine different forms to fill out, I can understand it. But I really rely on the recommendation because I see it as an objective form of information.

I’m going to simply our recommendation form a little bit and do a video blog on it for tips for recommenders. This is going to sound a little corny but isn’t it valuable to society? We are trying to make hard decisions about picking people. I don’t have a problem with a student sitting down and talking to a recommender, saying here are a couple of things you could emphasize. But I am trying to wrap my head around the authenticity of the recommendations.









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