A Candid Interview With Tuck’s Head Of MBA Admissions

Luke Anthony Peña. Tuck photo

Tell me about “nice.” Why is it important that Tuck MBA students be nice?

We announced the new criteria in June and we have been watching the reaction both externally and internally very closely. We are happy that the reaction both internally and externally has been overwhelmingly positive. Our alumni and our students feel that these words really capture the essence of the Tuck experience. The external constituents — our applicants in particular — have found this simplification and streamlined criteria to be very understandable, very accessible, and very intriguing. Certainly, many of the media publications that have picked up and covered the criteria have been curious and intrigued by the new words. Certainly the word “nice” has been the word that has attracted the most attention of the four.

I think this is exciting and appropriate — it’s quintessential Tuck. This has long been a particularly distinctive feature of the school. I will confess that we wanted to be thought-provoking with this word. We wanted to get people talking. We wanted people to see this word and be curious to learn more. We wanted them to ask, “When Tuck says they want nice candidates, what does that really mean?”

For us, “nice” means that our candidates will have practiced a habit of kindness. It means that applicants are invested not only in their own success but also in the success of others. We believe that the wise leaders of today and tomorrow acknowledge that the world’s most challenging problems are not solved alone. We believe that wise leaders work to build the right teams that will elevate outcomes and elevate our ability to tackle our world’s greatest challenges and problems. In order to build the right teams, our wise leaders need to engage others effectively, motivate others, empower others, and have empathy for the diverse experience of others — and in order to do that, we believe that our students should care for others, be kind to others, respect others, lift others up.

I’m also careful to note, being nice does not mean weakness. When you care about another person and are invested in that relationship, you have the courage to stand up to them. you have the courage to challenge them tactfully and thoughtfully, and you have the courage to act with principle with that person even when it’s not easy or convenient.

The wisest, nicest leaders will make not only themselves successful but the others around them as well.

When you accept someone who also gets accepted to one of your peer schools, say Columbia or Haas or Ross, who wins that fight more often? This is less a data question and more a sense of where those lucky students usually choose to go. 

Tuck photo

I believe that it’s wide and varied, the places that people go. It’s very personal, a very individual decision. There are some students who are admitted that know Tuck was their top choice throughout the process, and they’re excited to be here the moment they receive admission. There are other students who have a very difficult decision, and we work with them and provide all of the great information about our community that we can. We admit every student with the hope of enrolling every person that we admit. That’s not always the case. (Tuck’s yield rate in 2017 was 48.8%.) Of course students sometimes choose to go other places, and yet I think because our candidates are looking at many different schools, it means we’re attracting students with a wide range of preferences and a diverse set of options. That to me is a sign of a great recruitment and selection process.

Relatedly, what is the pitch Tuck uses to get the students you want?

We believe very deeply in our mission of wise leadership to better the world of business. We are very clear that we want to not only train leaders but train leaders who practice wisdom. Wisdom to use means the combination of the aptitudes of confident humility, empathy, and judgment. And so we will tell students, “If you aspire not just to lead change but to be a wise leader, to change and impact the world, Tuck is a great place for you.”

I believe Tuck has a distinct combination of three factors: First, we focus exclusively on the two-year, full-time MBA. Tuck does not have a Ph.D. program, Tuck does not have an undergraduate program or a part-time program or an executive MBA. All of our faculty resources, our initiatives, and the classmates within the community are focusing on one another and pushing each other beyond their limits.

The second factor is the distinct scale at the Tuck School. We have 285 students, and this is a class size in which the students get to know each other very well and develop deep trust and collaborative, supportive relationships with one another. And so there is a sense of commitment and investment with one another that is unique among business schools. And then finally, of course, the location is distinct. Tuck is — acknowledging my bias — the best business school outside of a major market in the U.S.

This to me means Tuck is the very best school for a truly immersive experience. The students here study free from distraction and free from disruption, and focus fully on the transformative experience of the two-year MBA program. That allows our students to extract maximum value from the experience and leave very well-equipped to be the wise leader that they aspire to be.

What are some unique ways that students have gotten your attention?

Students can initiate their own interviews at the Tuck School, which means that students can show up on campus for interviews, particularly all throughout the fall and winter. The Tuck School is a very open place, so this means students pop into my office unannounced and without warning, which is delightful and fun. And so many times I will see applicants that I’ve met in cities all around the world and they surprise me to say hello, and I always enjoy when that happens.