Dawna Clarke, formerly head of MBA admissions at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, is joining a leading MBA admissions consulting firm as chief MBA strategist and senior consultant. Clarke, who left Tuck last year, has signed on with mbaMission, a firm founded by Jeremy Shinewald who she had admitted to the University of Virginia’s Darden School in 2000 when Clarke led admissions at Darden.
Clarke, who had been Tuck’s director of admissions for 11 years, had been one of the most highly regarded admission officials at an elite business school. During her time at Tuck, Clarke enrolled 3,476 MBA students. A year before she arrived at the school in Hanover, N.H., in 2005, women represented only 25% of incoming class in 2004. This past year, Tuck hit a record 44% for women. Meantime, the average GMAT score for the class went from 699 in the Class of 2007–her first enrolled group–to 717 in the crop of students who arrived this fall. Off-campus admissions events exploded to more than 225 from only 59 in 2006-2007.
She joined Tuck after serving as the director of admissions at the Darden School where she racked up 15 years evaluating MBA candidates. Clarke arrived at Darden with three years of experience as associate director of admissions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a year in undergraduate admissions at Allegheny College where she began her career in 1985.
SHINEWALD APPROACHED HER SHORTLY AFTER HER DEPARTURE FROM TUCK
When her departure from Tuck was announced last November, Clarke intended to start her own admission consulting firm. But has since changed her mind, deciding to join mbaMission. “I quickly realized that I missed being part of a team and I actually missed being in a leadership role,” Clarke tells Poets&Quants. “I also realized that I’m far more excited about working directly with applicants than I am in building the infrastructure of a firm.”
Shinewald says he initially approached Clarke shortly after hearing that she was leaving Tuck. “A few months ago, when Dawna announced that she was starting her own firm, I held my breath and called her – assuming that she would humor me and suffer the call,” he tells Poets&Quants. “She is actually instrumental in my own story because she admitted me to Darden. So, we had some rapport. Over a few long conversations and then several in person meetings in New Hampshire, we talked about her ambitions and her professional wants.”
Out of those conversations, Shinewald adds, his firm created a new role, chief MBA strategist, to leverage her knowledge for the firm’s entire team of consultants. “We made a point of making Dawna an internal resource available to our consultants, as well as an external consultant available to clients, because of her depth of experience,” says Shinewald. “Dawna is still close with so many admissions officers and it is a small community; her expertise and contacts extend so far beyond Tuck. She was instrumental in launching the common letter of recommendation with GMAC and that meant that she had to work closely with many other schools – and that is just one example of collaboration with other top programs during her 17 years atop two admissions departments.”
‘I WOULD HAPPILY BE STRANDED AT AN AIRPORT WITH HER!’
Clarke is widely admired in the field of MBA admissions. “I’ve known Dawna for more than a decade and have always admired her talent for engaging with a variety of constituents in a way that is professional and personal at the same time,” says Dee Leopold, former managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School. “She has a way of making everyone feel valued and understood. Plus, she’s fun: I would happily be stranded at an airport with her!”
One thing Clarke says she will not miss about her old job is turning people down for admission. “One of the most challenging aspects of being an admissions director was denying or waitlisting almost 80% of a talented applicant pool,” says Clarke. “I’m most excited about the nurturing aspect of being an admissions consultant by working with such promising prospective students and helping them be very strategic in presenting their best effort in competitive selection processes.”
Her joining Shinewald brings the two of them full circle. “I remember being an applicant,” says Shinewald, who had been a speechwriter to the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. before going off to business school. “”I had no idea where I fit in at all in the MBA puzzle. I nervously went to visit UVa and there was this incredibly kind and smiley face -– Dawna’s, of course! — making this a very easy-going process.
‘A NEW GENERATION OF OPEN & ACCESSIBLE ADMISSION DIRECTORS’
“When I met Dawna, I knew that Darden was the right place for me and beyond my time as a student, after I started mbaMission, she was always this kind and welcoming presence at Darden and then Tuck,” recalls Shinewald. “We would hear from our clients as they went on their campus visits to these schools that they felt energized – like a weight had been lifted. Dawna made them feel like they didn’t need to fear the process. Dawna was a critical member of a new generation of open and accessible admissions directors – along with Bruce Delmonico and Soojin Kwon — who were committed to taking the fear out.”
Adds Clarke: “I love the fact that I believed in him during his journey to business school and that he, likewise has been so supportive of my transition from an admissions director into the admissions consulting industry.”
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