As the widespread MBA application slump hardened into a three-year trend at U.S. business schools this year, no top-10 school took a bigger hit than Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. (In fact few schools outside the top 10 were as severely impacted, either.) The Tuck School lost 22.5% of its MBA application volume compared to the previous cycle, down to 2,032 total apps from 2,621 in 2017-2018. The huge drop sent Tuck’s acceptance rate soaring by more than 11 percentage points, to 34.5% for this year’s entering class.
The falloff appeared more severe in part because the school’s performance in numerous rankings over the past year has been nothing short of awful. It started with The Economist, which dropped Tuck four places to 12th. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the school 19th, down 12 positions, from seventh a year earlier. In U.S. News, Tuck also fell out of the top 10 earlier this year, sliding from 8th to 12th, tied with NYU Stern and Virginia Darden. Tuck is currently ranked ninth among U.S. business schools in Poets&Quants‘ composite ranking.
Throughout it all, the tinkering and tweaking has been ongoing in the admissions office in Hanover, New Hampshire; for example, Tuck eliminated its early action application round in 2019, which boosted its overall yield rate. The school also has had some turnover in its admissions office. But Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions, says larger forces have conspired to fuel Tuck’s application slump.
“I believe the reasons for recent shifts in application volume go far beyond the natural rhythms of the economic cycles,” Peña told Poets&Quants in August. “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.”
CONFIDENT IN A TURNAROUND, WHICH MAY ALREADY BE UNDERWAY
Peña is confident there will be a turnaround — and recent events back him up. In the newly released 2019 Businessweek ranking, Tuck roared back, climbing 17 places to No. 2 on the list, below only top-ranked Stanford. In an October interview with The Dartmouth, the student newspaper at Dartmouth College, Peña said the decline in applications “was entirely concentrated in this last year” and added that, historically, “Tuck generally catches up with market application volume one or two years after the rest of the market.”
As Tuck catches up, Peña and Dean Matthew Slaughter are pushing for even more changes, according to The Dartmouth. These include fundraising for more student scholarships, greater recruitment of foreign students — Peña spent a great deal of the summer recruiting in Asia, Latin America, and Europe; he spoke to P&Q from the road in August — and changes to the program’s first-year core curriculum that have emphasized analytics and leadership skills. All this in addition to the revamp that Peña oversaw when he stepped into the top admissions role in 2017.
The fundraising campaign may be of particular interest to current and future students. As of last December, Tuck was the sixth-most expensive MBA program in the U.S. at more than $220,000; in response the school has increased the number and size of scholarships awarded in the past couple years. Among those listed on the school’s website: are scholarships and fellowships for U.S. minorities, women, LGBTQ, and military veterans. Tuck scholarships range from $10,000 to full tuition, with the average being $26,415.
‘THE VISA POLICIES CURRENTLY ARE NOT VERY FRIENDLY’
Jhanvi Jagad, a first-year MBA student at the Tuck School, says she decided to come to Tuck for its tight-knit community and the fully immersive experience, things that “are only possible in a college town like Hanover.” A native of Mumbai, India, who has worked as a manager for Deloitte in London, Singapore, and her hometown, Jhanvi, 26, initially had concerns about visa issues when she applied to become a member of the Tuck Class of 2021 — but with her cosmopolitan background, those concerns have mostly been assuaged.
Including dual citizens and U.S. permanent residents, 38% of Jhanvi’s class is international. She and her fellow students in Tuck’s 2021 class represent 45 countries by citizenship — the greatest number of countries represented by a single class in the school’s history.
“Throughout the process I was in touch with a lot of international students, not only at Tuck but various other prestigious B-schools in the U.S.,” Jhanvi tells Poets&Quants. “No one had a convincing firsthand experience that would prove the visa problem. The worst-case scenario is that companies transfer people to offices elsewhere and bring people back in a year or two.”
Which is not to say that the current H-1B visa situation doesn’t need correcting, she adds. For one thing, it caused her B-school-bound friends to go their separate ways.
“I believe that the visa policies currently are not very friendly,” Jhanvi says. “You feel that more so when you come in with such diverse and high-quality experience, and to top it up study at one of the most dignified places in this country. There should definitely be provisions made for high-skilled people who are looking to find jobs here and boost the U.S.’s economy.
“I have friends from India and Singapore who applied only to schools in the UK and Europe because they don’t want to take a risk on the visa. Imagine a bunch of friends who decide to go do an MBA together and make plans to live in the same neighborhood after the MBA because that’s how we grew up. Now this will probably never happen because my friends decided to go study in the UK while I took this leap of faith.”
It’s a leap, but there’s a pretty big safety net, too. In Tuck’s 2019 employment report, 97% of those seeking employment without U.S. permanent work authorization received offers within three months of graduation.
SCHOLARSHIPS WON’T MAKE OR BREAK MOVE TO U.S.
Jhanvi joined Deloitte when she was 17 and still an undergrad majoring in finance at the University of Mumbai. She started in the audit practice and by age 20 had become the youngest certified public accountant employed by the consulting giant. Once a certified accountant, Jhanvi moved to mergers and acquisitions; prior to Tuck, she spent eight years in Deloitte offices, most recently in Singapore as the manager of a team with an average size of four to six people.
For her, the decision to attend Tuck was never based on scholarships. They may help some students, she says, but they won’t be the deal-maker for those contemplating whether to come to the United States at all.
“I came here because I wanted my two years to be as different as it could be. I have always lived in highly crowded cities, so coming to a place like Hanover has been so fruitful,” Jhanvi says. “If an international student is applying to Tuck, he/she has already made the decision on coming to the U.S. Now, if he/she gets awarded a scholarship, that is only making them choose between two U.S. schools — not between whether to come to the U.S. or not.”