The aim of the Dartmouth Tuck MBA is to produce “curious and creative leaders,” and they go about it by selecting an impressively diverse group of people and putting them through a top-class program that goes way beyond the traditional case-based approach.
The core curriculum of courses at Tuck is designed to develop the practical skills that leaders will need to make decisions in the real world. The aim is for participants to learn to gather and analyze data, create a vision to inspire people, and acquire the skills to make it a reality.
Alongside all of that, from day one Tuck also puts a huge emphasis on developing leadership. Candidates get feedback about their style from their classmates, and each receives individualized coaching. Numerous electives focus on leadership, and there are plenty of academic and non-classroom projects that aim to develop the qualities of “confident humility,” empathy, judgment, risk evaluation, and understanding what one does and does not know.
This focus on practical learning continues in the First-Year Project, a required course in which teams of students apply their first year’s learning to real-world issues of strategic importance for a client such as a multinational corporation, SME, or nonprofit.
All candidates also complete an experiential course in a different country, known as TuckGO. There are several ways to do this, including a Global Insight Expedition led by a faculty member with deep knowledge of the country, which involves meeting locals and local businesspeople. (Recent destinations have included Morocco, Armenia, and Vietnam.) Alternatively, some do their First Year Project overseas, working on an on-site consulting project outside the U.S. or completing a one-term exchange with a foreign partner school.
The second year is when candidates can use their independent study option to deep-dive into an area that interests them. Recent topics have included Contemporary News Media, Big Data, and Machine Learning; and Exploring the Financial Interactions Between Artists and Art Consumers/Financiers.
Second-years also choose from over 100 electives, organized into streams such as Accounting, Finance, and Health Care. Courses range from the predictable to the impressively left-field, including Communicating with Presence — where students learn to use theater skills to communicate more effectively — and Business Applications of Natural Language Processing.
Tuck MBAs also are required to take at least one “minicourse” exploring ethics and business. Courses include such unusual subjects as Business and Climate Change, Ethical Decision-Making, and Business and Ethics at the Base of the Pyramid. Students can work on independent study projects with NGOs in such countries as Bolivia and Tanzania.
Some of these might seem unusual, and the impressive embrace of unusual topics seeps into all corners of Tuck’s MBA. There is a student-led Mindfulness Society, and a recent trip to China looked at the evolution of running culture there.
This MBA is far from a scattergun, though. As they deepen their focus, students can also work with one of Tuck’s centers, hubs for teaching research and application. There are centers for Business, Government and Society; Digital Strategies; Private Equity and Venture Capital; Entrepreneurship; Healthcare; and Energy.
Because Tuck is located in a small town, students tend to socialize together, a reality that is intensified by the fact that more than half of first-year students live in halls of residence on campus, and the rest close by. Second-years live off-campus, but many live in houses passed from generation to generation of Tuck students. For students who value the deep contacts an MBA can offer, that could just be the icing on the cake.
A HIGHLY COLLABORATIVE AND CARING CULTURE
If MBA education were like ice cream, Tuck would be one of a handful of premium brands. This is a super rich and delicious concoction of an MBA education, a picture-perfect business school solely dedicated to providing students with the ultimate MBA experience. There are no business undergraduates sharing the halls, nor part-time MBAs in evening classes, nor executive MBAs who come in on Friday nights. The school’s executive education offerings are limited. All of this allows Tuck to focus virtually all of its resources and energy on one thing: a full-time MBA program. In a day and age when most business schools are juggling all kinds of programs that siphon off the best faculty from the full-time MBAs, Tuck stays true to its mission of guaranteeing every student a truly transformative and intimate MBA experience. This is a rare and beautiful thing if you want the premium version of the degree.
The school does this in a spectacular New England setting, isolated in Hanover, N.H., away from the distractions of a busy city. At Tuck, most students have the option of living in lavishly appointed dorms right on the school’s own first class business school campus. The school’s world-class teachers are known for their excellence and are in a class with Harvard Business School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School. Attending a Tuck class is to witness a master teacher in action, soliciting different opinions in rapid-fire style, moving every student along a challenging but entertaining journey to a final destination where the big idea or thought waits to be unfolded. Harvard, Tuck and Darden have at least two other attributes in common: 1) MBA students at these three schools are taught largely and almost exclusively by the case method, and 2) The first-year curriculum is a lockstep program where cohorts of the same students move through the courses together. Harvard’s cohorts are 50% larger than those at Tuck and Darden so there is less pressure to fight for air time during the vigorous discussions in class where participation accounts for half of students’ grades. The bonds students form in their sections often endure a life time.
Tuck, like Darden, has a highly collaborative and caring culture where MBA candidates genuinely support and encourage each other. Backstabbing at Tuck is unheard of. In fact, some corporate recruiters say the students here are too nice. And unlike many of the big MBA factories, Tuck offers small cohorts and class sizes. By the time a student graduates from Tuck, he or she knows every single classmate who’s wearing a cap and gown at commencement.
The integrated core curriculum at the Tuck School provides coverage of key functional areas and disciplines: statistics and decision science, corporate finance and capital markets, managerial and global economics, marketing, organizational behavior and personal leadership, strategy, communications, and operations. Students who have extensive previous background in a particular discipline may exempt out of a course and take an elective in its place, though opting out of a core course is often discouraged because it takes students away from their assigned cohorts.
With the core curriculum as a foundation and more than 80 electives to choose from, students can customize their education to meet individual needs and interests. Elective offerings allow students to focus on specific areas of study within the context of the cross-functional knowledge required in top management positions. In addition to the core and elective courses, students are required to satisfy an ethics and social responsibility course requirement during their two years.
Tuck dropped two places to take the ninth spot on the most recent Poets&Quants ranking of top U.S. schools, published in November 2018, losing the seventh spot that it had held the previous two years. Since the first P&Q ranking, Tuck has been a mainstay in the top 10, having peaked at sixth place in the inaugural 2010 list, and dropping to ninth in 2015.
Why did Tuck slip this year? The drop was largely due to its rather dramatic tumble from 7th to 19th place in the 2017 Businessweek rankings, which accounts for 15% of the Poets&Quants ranking. This plunge can be attributed to Businessweek introducing a rather radical new methodology. While the intention was reasonable — to give more weight to alumni evaluations of their experience at a business school, rather than information provided by the school itself — the results have raised eyebrows.
In the most recent Businessweek ranking released in late 2018, Tuck fell yet another place, to 20th. Why does it rank so poorly on that list? Although Tuck ranked sixth in Businessweek for compensation, it was just 30th for networking, and a gobsmacking 81st for teaching.
There is reason to be skeptical about exactly what this rating measures, however, given that William & Mary topped the teaching ranking, while Harvard came in at a laughably low 61st. Tuck’s 30th place for networking is also surprising, given the school’s reputation for having a strong alumni network — 70% of Tuck alumni participate in its annual giving campaign, a phenomenal figure that is multiples of the number at most other schools.
Proof that nothing much has really changed at Tuck is that elsewhere, its ranking has remained stable. It also fell slightly in U.S. News list, from eight to 10th place. Given that the U.S. News ranking has the second-highest weighting in the Poets&Quants ranking, accounting for 35% of a school’s score, that also had some effect on its position on our list.
Elsewhere, Tuck’s MBA was ranked 15th in the world by The Financial Times on its 2019 list, just one place higher than the year before, making it the 10th-highest American school — the same place it held in 2018. It made fifth place in the 2018 Forbes list, the same position as 2017, while it fell three places from eight to 11th on The Economist’s list, which has the smallest weighting in the P&Q composite ranking, at 10%.
There is always a philosophical discussion to be had about which ranking system is most accurate, but there is one constant: Schools do well when they or their alumni have learned how to work the system. Once students realize that their alma mater is languishing in a place that might damage their job prospects, it is in their interests to start giving the school higher scores on the metrics that matter.
Perhaps the most galling thing for Tuck about the Businessweek ranking is the fact that in 2017 the school rose one place to fifth on the list, leading P&Q to remark at the time that “The school has figured out the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking where it has underperformed for a number of years.” A cynic might argue that one proof of a school’s quality is its ability to mobilize its alumni to improve a low ranking.
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Note: MBA Program Consideration Set: If you believe you’re a close match to this school–based on your GMAT and GPA scores, your age and work experience, you should look at these other competitive full-time MBA programs as well. We list them by stretch, match and safety. These options are presented on the basis of brand image and ranking status as a general guideline.