This time last year, Poets&Quants wrote about how the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business had bucked the national trend and seen an increase in applications to its full-time MBA program — even as its peer schools experienced the second of what increasingly looks like a three-year (and counting) downturn. But what was true for Dartmouth Tuck in 2018, alas, is no longer true. Apps are down in Hanover, New Hampshire, too.
“Both domestic and international applications, I believe, are down,” says Luke Anthony Peña, executive director for admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth Tuck, describing newly released data about Tuck’s Class of 2021, which numbers 284 total students. However, he adds, the trouble at Tuck isn’t centered on international students, whose reluctance to pursue graduate business education in the United States in recent years has been the prime cause of the widespread application downturn.
Peña did not disclose the extent of Tuck’s app decline, though sources say the school suffered a sizable double-digit drop of more than 20%. (Since publication of this article Tuck has confirmed that its applications fell by 22.5% which sent its acceptance rate soaring by more than 11 percentage points to 34.5% for this year’s entering class–see Apps To Major MBA Programs Plunge Again). The falloff was made more severe, no doubt, because the school’s performance in numerous rankings in the past year has been terrible. It started with The Economist, which dropped Tuck four places to 12th. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the school 19th, down 12 positions, from 7th a year earlier. In U.S. News, Tuck also fell out of the top ten earlier this year, sliding from 8th to 12th. This year, Tuck also eliminated its early action application round, which boosted its overall yield rate, and has had some turnover in its admissions office.
Of course, Dartmouth is in good company in the MBA app doldrums. Only this week The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania announced a more-than-5% decline in its applications, with confirmed declines at NYU Stern, Duke Fuqua, Yale SOM, Virginia Darden, and several other top schools.
“I will say I believe the reasons for recent shifts in application volume go far beyond the natural rhythms of the economic cycles,” Peña tells Poets&Quants. “I think they have to do with how and when and where and why today’s graduate leaders are choosing to level up their skills and to build broader networks.”
‘A CLASS OF SMART, DIVERSE, AND RISING GLOBAL LEADERS’
There was plenty of good news in Tuck’s new class profile, which went live on the school’s website on Tuesday (August 20). The Class of 2021 hit some key milestones, setting an all-time high for average GMAT score, 723, highest percentage of U.S. minorities (24%), and greatest international representation, with 38% of the class being international (including dual citizens and U.S. permanent residents).
How, with the downturn in applications, did Tuck enroll a record number of international students this year? “We’re just seeing strong international students in the pool and we’re admitting them and they’re choosing to enroll,” Peña says. “Again, we’re certainly not immune from these market forces, but the quality of international applicants that we’ve seen has been quite strong this year.”
Tuck also maintained its school-record scores on the Graduate Record Exam: 163 on the verbal portion of the test, and 161 on the quant; and bounced back up to its average GPA of two years ago, 3.52. The most number of students submitted a GRE score in Tuck history: 21%, up 6 percentage points in one year.
“We’ve enrolled a class of smart, diverse, and rising global leaders,” says Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions and financial aid. “Tuck students are motivated to learn from each other’s experiences and expertise, and we in admissions are excited by the breadth of perspectives our T’21s bring to the community. Already students have begun to invest in one another. We look forward to seeing them thrive and develop meaningfully as leaders.”
COMPARING THE CLASSES OF 2020 AND 2021
Dartmouth Tuck is ranked 9th among U.S. business schools in Poets&Quants‘ composite ranking, and 12th by U.S. News — tied with NYU Stern and Virginia Darden. Both rankings rely somewhat on the qualities of the 2018 incoming class, which set a record for most women, at 45%, as well as most countries represented in the class. While Tuck slipped slightly in one category this year, with 42% of first-years being women, the school set a record with students hailing from 45 countries by citizenship.
Last year, first-year students came to Tuck from 225 unique employers, with an average 63 months’ professional experience, a little over five years. This fall, incoming students come from 227 unique employers and had 64 months’ professional experience. In 2018, 32% of new students arrived in Hanover with partners, 4% with children in tow; this fall it is expected to be 29% and 3%, respectively.
When it came to the pre-MBA professional backgrounds of the Class of 2020, the largest single group racked up work experience in financial services, 26%. Consulting came next with 19%, followed by nonprofit and government students with 15% of the total. New MBA students who had worked in technology represent 12% of the class, while those who came from consumer goods and retail account for 6% of the newest students. Some 6% also came from energy, 5% from healthcare, pharma, and biotech, 5% from media and entertainment, and 4% from manufacturing. This fall the biggest group again comes from financial services (25%), followed by consulting (20%), nonprofit/government (13%), and tech (13%). Seven percent hailed from the consumer goods/retail sector, while another 7% came from healthcare/pharma/biotech, 6% from energy, 4% from manufacturing, and 2% media and entertainment.
In 2018, Class of 2020 students who had majored in the arts, humanities and social sciences during their undergradute studies made up slightly more than half the class at 51%. The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) contingent represented 29%, while business majors composed 20% of the new students. Totals for the Class of 2021: 43% humanities, 30% STEM, 27% business.
CONCERNS ABOUT YIELD
When Poets&Quants touched base with Peña in April, his greatest concern wasn’t application volume so much as it was yield — the proportion of admitted MBA candidates who actually enroll. “When you have this many schools down — and many are down for two years in a row — yield is going to be a nightmare because everyone has had to dig deeper in the pool,” he said. “I would not be surprised if schools had to go deep into their waitlists or have to shrink their classes. It’s the collective impact of so many schools being down that is unique.”
However, speaking to P&Q this week, Peña expressed relief that international student yield had been more robust than expected.
“The yield among international students, I know, was stronger than we’ve seen in past years,” he says, “and that speaks to the value proposition that Tuck has for our international market.
“We certainly enrolled a class that we’re very happy with. The competition for top talent is as fierce and competitive as I’ve ever seen it. It’s certainly the case where many of the top schools are competing for the same students, and then when it’s a smaller pool of students. So certainly we’re experiencing that as well.
“Our capital Campaign for Tomorrow’s Wise Leaders has substantially increased our scholarship budget. This year we were able to move successfully on strong applicants who, absent funding, would not have enrolled at Tuck. We’ve always had strong candidates in our pool who really wanted to be at Tuck but sometimes went elsewhere because we couldn’t do enough to make Tuck a financial reality for them, and I’m delighted to say that our capital campaign is helping to change that.”