Today we take a close look at Dartmouth’s admissions essay topics for the 2010-2011 application season. You’ll see that some of the questions have changed a bit vs. last year’s essays, although Tuck still hits on the same themes. That suggests that the school still feels that these themes (e.g., leadership and overcoming adversity) work well for the school in terms of finding applicants who are good Tuck material.
Note that Tuck does not have specific word limits for its essays, but the school does provide some rough guidance: “Although there is no restriction on the length of your response, most applicants use, on average, 500 words for each essay.”
Here are Tuck’s essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Dartmouth (Tuck) Application Essays
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.)
This is the common “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most schools ask. Tuck takes the concept of “fit” very seriously when evaluating candidates — maybe more so than any other top school, given its small class size and remote location — so be sure that you can present a compelling argument for why Tuck in particular is the right place for you to earn your MBA. If your answer has everything to do with you and nothing to do with Tuck, then you probably have more work to do in researching the school.
Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?
This question is new this year, and replaces another leadership question. Interestingly, last year’s question was more specific and contained more clues as to what exactly Tuck looks for in its applicants. As we noted last year, the previous question was maybe a bit ambitious in terms of how much an applicant could cover in about 500 words. Still, the advice we gave last year remains mostly the same: Keep your response focused on one single situation, what action you took, and what the results were. Note the last part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. What exactly happened is very important, but so is evidence of self-reflection. Ideally you can show that you learned something about yourself, such as a shortcoming or lack of experience, that you were able to act on and improve. That’s the richest type of response one can give here.
What is the greatest challenge or hurdle you have overcome, either personally or professionally, and how did you manage to do so?
This question is also new, and replaces one about the toughest criticism you ever received. While this question is certainly different, in many respects it addresses the same core attribute that Tuck wants to see in its applicants: The ability to objectively take a challenge and setback and turn it into something positive, coming out better in the end. It’s interesting that Tuck had gotten away from the “toughest feedback” or “biggest failure” questions, since those tend to be very revealing. This question is subtly different, but there are many responses that could work for a “failure” question that could still work well here. In fact, writing a response about overcoming a failure or weakness will usually more powerful than answering with “My biggest challenge was completing a marathon.” While that’s impressive, it’s far less revealing than a story about a time when you had to make a more fundamental change to who you are as a person and as a leader.
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?
This is a good chance to specifically highlight any strengths or themes that may need more emphasis in your application. Everything in your background is fair game here: your work experience, your personal life, and your hobbies all make you unique. Don’t just think of “diversity” in terms of race or national origin!
(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.
As always, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay!