Dartmouth College (Tuck) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

As MBA programs move toward PowerPoint presentations, creative essays and essays without word limits, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College sticks to its tried and true approach: three 500-word essays, one of which is a classic career statement, while the others ask candidates to reflect on individual experiences. Given the more straightforward nature of these prompts, Tuck applicants will likely take comfort in knowing for certain that they have provided what the school wants—they have not missed the point of the questions or veered too far afield. Tuck in some ways allows candidates to more easily showcase their stories in a direct manner, and this means the school will be better able to compare candidates one-to-one—though applicants are hardly “apples to apples” in nature.

Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. Please double-space your responses.

Dartmouth Tuck School of Business1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?

Because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of Dartmouth Tuck’s academic program, merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Tuck School of Business.

2. Tell us about your most meaningful collaborative leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

By specifying “collaborative” leadership, Tuck takes an interesting spin on a classic leadership question. The school does not want to hear about a time when you aggressively took control of a situation, nor about a time when you were just a cog in a wheel. The admissions committee wants to learn about a situation in which you shared power with someone else (or various people) and achieved an objective. Keep in mind that leadership is not a matter of title—you can be the associate to someone else’s vice president or vice versa and still be a collaborative leader if you are helping to drive something forward. In other words, think about your actions, not about the org chart.

As you write this essay, incorporate the dynamics of the experience into your narrative. Do not spend a lot of time explaining the leadership arrangement, and instead simply let the story of the situation unfold, then show your actions and the subsequent reactions (complementary or otherwise) from your co-leader(s).

To effectively reveal your “strengths and weaknesses,” you will need to demonstrate that you encountered challenges along the way and show how you overcame them. You cannot tell the story of your experience and then just tack on a mention of some unrelated—and thus “unproven”—lesson at the end. This is a common mistake, so be extra careful to avoid it. You must also reflect on the experience, because the question asks you to, but make sure the reflection you share is derived directly from the experience you describe in your essay. If you write 350–400 words of narrative and 100–150 words of related reflection, you should be on the right track.

3. Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?

The key to any essay that involves “adversity, failure or setback” is to create a reversal in your narrative. You need to lead the reader in one direction and fill him/her with optimism, so that the reader ultimately feels a true sense of disappointment when the unexpected turn occurs. So, for example, simply stating that you did not make the football team in college is not the same—nor as compelling—as saying that you were a walk-on and made it to the final cut only to then break your leg. The reader needs to experience a certain optimism on your behalf before the final twist of your story lets him/her down.

Again, as for Essay 2, you might spend 350–400 words on the narrative and then 100–150 words discussing the subsequent actions you took and what you learned from the situation. If applicable, you could also describe any takeaways from the experience that have prepared you to better navigate any similar situations going forward.

Note: Do not be afraid to write about a failure for this essay. The admissions committee would not have offered “failure” as an option if you would be penalized for admitting to one! However, if you choose to write about failure (something you brought on yourself) rather than adversity (circumstances that happened to you) then you must be honest about your actions. The admissions committee does not want to read about a situation for which you refuse to take responsibility and effectively shift blame onto others. The school wants to know that you are a strong individual who can lift him/herself up, reflect, learn and grow. Avoidance will only show weakness.

4. (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.

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

5. (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.

Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Tuck wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Tuck MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

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