These days just about every business school has a blog or two that regularly dispenses advice to MBA applicants. And, of course, there is no shortage of places you can go on the web to get perspectives on exactly how to respond to a specific essay question at a given school, whether it’s the blog of an admissions consultant or even Poets&Quants.
But it’s rare when that advice is as clear and concise as the insider’s guide published recently by Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business which has long had a reputation as one of a handful of schools that really get to know the candidates who apply there.
As the admission folks at Tuck put it, “Within days of publishing these essays, there will inevitably be sources willing to help you analyze Tuck’s questions, as well as our thought process behind them. Instead of relying on second-hand advice, here’s all the guidance you need to write an excellent essay—straight from the admissions committee.”
Here’s how Tuck is helping applicants do their best MBA application:
1) (Required) What are your short and long-term goals? Why is an MBA a critical next step toward achieving those goals? Why are you interested in Tuck specifically? (500 words)
This question is as straightforward as it seems. Pursuing your MBA is a big commitment. There has got to be a good reason for this, right? We want to know that reason. What do you hope to be doing after graduating from an MBA program? How does your path thus far play into that? If the logical path isn’t clear, make sure you tell us why you’re making this transition.
Also, we want details! You want to lead a company, make decisions, problem solve, help people? Great, but does that mean consulting or product management? Healthcare or technology? What companies interest you? What roles do MBAs play in those fields? Pulling out these details will not only make you a more competitive applicant, but will also give you a great foundation when presented with all your career possibilities. Business school is great for exploring different industries, roles, and companies, but without a plan it can be overwhelming.
As for the final part of the question, every MBA program is different. What about Tuck specifically will help you get from where you are now to where you want to be in 3, 5, or 15 years? As an admissions committee, we have only 285 seats to fill every year. We want to make sure we’re offering this incredible opportunity to those who 1) understand why they’re in an MBA program to begin with, and 2) are excited about spending two transformative years at Tuck.
What programs, classes, clubs, treks, or activities does Tuck offer that will help you achieve your personal and professional goals? It’s true that we like people who are enthusiastic about Tuck—we want students who will dive in, not blend in! However, that doesn’t mean that you should try to flatter your way in. There are many, many opportunities at Tuck—you owe it to yourself to do some research and figure out those that are truly most appealing to you.
If you can take Tuck’s name out of this essay and replace it with another school’s name and it still makes sense, then you need to go back and show you know what makes Tuck (and the other MBA programs you’re considering) unique. We don’t want a laundry list of classes, clubs, or qualities at Tuck. We know what Tuck has. We want to know that you understand why those things are meaningful to you. Be authentic, be straightforward, be specific, and tell a story that makes sense.
2) (Required) Tuck’s mission is to educate wise leaders to better the world of business. Wisdom encompasses the essential aptitudes of confident humility, about what one does and does not know; empathy, towards the diverse ideas and experiences of others; and judgment, about when and how to take risks for the better.
With Tuck’s mission in mind, and with a focus on confident humility, tell us about a time you:
received tough feedback, experienced failure, or disappointed yourself or others. How did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself as a result? (500 words)
Life isn’t all successes; there are plenty of failures in there too. We are not trying to bring in a class of perfect people. We’re looking for people who are self-aware, growth minded, and humble, people who recognize those less-than-perfect moments or traits in themselves and then figure out where to go from there. That’s why we focus on confident humility.
Tuck is small in size and big in collaboration. It’s not about being right, being the best, or winning. We don’t seek success at the expense of others. You won’t blend in or be anonymous. You will work with diverse people, with different ideas, perspectives, and experiences that shape them. In business school (and life!), you will be one smart and talented person among many smart and talented people.
We love that our students listen and learn from each other in class and over dinner, that they lean on their study group mates in areas where they’re less strong, and that recruiters highlight how Tuckies stand out as being able to work well with just about everyone.
We’re looking for honesty in this essay. This is not a trick question. We’ve all received tough feedback, failed, or disappointed someone. Show us personal accountability and action. And like the first essay, details are important. Be specific enough that we get a clear picture of the situation, the result, and your role in it. Finally, don’t get to the end and forget the last part of our question: How did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself as a result?
Other thoughts: Stick to one particular example instead of a string of several instances, and avoid being too vague. Consider both your immediate reaction and your reaction once given time to think and reflect.
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.
Optional is optional! We are NOT docking you for an empty optional essay. Actually, quite the opposite; if you give us an extra five paragraphs to read and it’s not necessary, we will question your judgment or your ability to express yourself succinctly elsewhere. For example, you do not need to further declare your love for Tuck here when you can articulate that in the first essay and the interview.
Reasons you should use this space:
Explaining an unusual recommender, or why you didn’t include your current direct supervisor.
Explaining a particularly incongruent semester/class from undergrad, or a poor record overall.
Anything else that may need additional explanation—as in, without it we will not understand the true context behind something.
A good rule here is to keep it to a reasonable length. If you’re unsure if you should explain something, err on the side of including it—just do so as succinctly as possible.
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. (500 words)
This question is very straightforward, but similarly to the optional essay, try not to repeat a bunch of stuff from elsewhere in the application. Naturally, it might happen here and there, but use your best judgment. If you received reapplicant feedback, you should specifically address that feedback—all of it.
Word Counts: All noted word counts are meant as a guideline. While we’re not going to count every word, if your essay is exceptionally short, you either haven’t explained something fully, or simply did not put in much effort; if your essay is exceptionally long, you should consider revising it to be more succinct.