Dartmouth College (Tuck) Essay Analysis, 2011–2012

If you are stressed about applying to Tuck, you may want to take a moment to read our exclusive interview with Director of Admissions Dawna Clarke. Ms. Clarke is known for her openness, enthusiasm and generally encouraging/laid back approach to admissions. You should feel better after coming to understand that through the application process, the Tuck admissions committee is just trying to get to know you as an individual and assess your fit with their school—not looking for reasons to “ding” you.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)

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, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of 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 at Dartmouth.

2. Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

As you consider your options for this essay, keep in mind that your “most meaningful” leadership experience may not—and need not—be the one in which you produced the greatest end results. Note that Tuck is asking here for meaning, not impact. So, the experience you choose to discuss can be one in which you challenged yourself and put forth your greatest effort, leaving your comfort zone and diversifying your skills, even if the results were negligible. What you learned from this experience is what is crucial—particularly with regard to your “strengths and weaknesses”—and thus you will need to show that you have given a significant amount of thought to the experience and uncovered some personal and revealing takeaways.

Note: One mistake that many candidates make when responding to this question is offering a profound story of success and then, at the very end, mentioning some trivial weakness. Your essay needs to clearly present and spell out your weaknesses (and strengths) within the context of the greater story you are sharing. Tuck is interested in learning about how these characteristics of yours played a part in the significant experience you are relaying; you cannot simply include some arbitrary reference to a weakness that is not validated by your actions.

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?

In its application essays, Harvard Business School wants to hear about three setbacks you have faced. Michigan Ross wants to know about a time when you were frustrated or disappointed and also gives you the option of writing an essay about an obstacle you have encountered. UC-Berkeley Haas wants you to discuss a situation in which you were a student of your own failure. And in this case, Tuck wants to know about a time when you experienced adversity, failure or a setback. This trend seems to indicate thatbusiness school admissions committees want to know that today’s MBA students can roll with the punches and are problem solvers capable of learning from life’s challenges—not entitled or spoiled individuals just looking for a quick way to advance their careers.

A strong essay response to this question will start by describing how the stage was set for a success of some kind but then show how that success was derailed in a swift manner. Without asking for pity, you need to make the reader truly understand your intense feelings of disappointment—even feel somewhat crushed themselves by the story of your experience—and offer honest reflection on how you grew as a result, ideally by presenting clear evidence of change. Don’t be afraid to leave yourself exposed to criticism; in asking this question, the admissions committee is seeking an honest answer. They will not be interested in someone who blames others and can’t be honest about his/her own role in a negative situation.

4. Tuck seeks candidates of various backgrounds who can bring new perspectives to our community. How will your unique personal history, values, and/or life experiences contribute to the culture at Tuck?

Tuck’s essay question four is quite broad; within “personal history, values, and/or life experiences,” you have a great deal of range. So, you can develop one or two significant themes, drawing from your life experiences, and then relate them directly to certain components of the Tuck experience (clubs, research centers, courses, conferences, competitions, etc.). This essay offers you the opportunity not only to highlight your most exceptional attributes but also to convey just how well you know the school by clearly illustrating connections between these unique aspects of your profile and specific elements of the Tuck MBA program. By thus demonstrating a true understanding of your personal connection with the school and communicating how your strengths could benefit the entire Tuck community, you will complete the essay portion of your application on a very compelling note.

5. (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 may 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.

6. (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 a personal challenge of sorts, 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 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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