This blog post is the final entry in our admissions criteria series, which means we’re overviewing how you can demonstrate in your application that you are smart. Being smart at Tuck means you have the necessary intellectual aptitude to succeed in a rigorous and demanding learning environment. That said, being smart goes beyond your raw intellectual horsepower; it also matters how you use it. Tuck students use their smarts to continually learn, which means first acknowledging you don’t know everything, and then exercising curiosity to seek out new perspectives, experiences, and challenges. Tuck students subscribe to the growth mindset; no matter how smart you currently are, you can continue to grow your intellect and knowledge.
Like our accomplished criterion, smart encompasses both outcomes and underlying behaviors. In your application, you provide two indicators of outcomes that map to smart: your grades and your test scores. While both factor into how MBA programs are assessed in rankings, we acknowledge that neither is a perfect reflection of your intellectual aptitude, as both include noise and require context to be accurately assessed. Nevertheless, previous academic performance, communication skills, and ability with numbers are directionally predictive of success in MBA studies. So, while my colleagues and I need to consider your grades and test scores, we also want to offer context that will help you understand how we evaluate them.
The marks on your transcript help us assess sustained outcomes over time. Every academic journey is unique, and so each of your transcripts look different. Some of you earned degrees in courses of study, colleges and universities, and/or countries where the grading was especially rigorous. Some of you earned degrees in which you were given no numerical grades, or perhaps no grades at all. Some of you considering Tuck might have earned a three-year degree—or even no undergraduate degree at all—while others may have completed post-graduate coursework or advanced degrees. Some of you have already studied quantitative topics, while others have little or no prior quantitative coursework. No matter your academic history, we welcome your Tuck application.
We calibrate and assess your grades within the context of your school’s grading scale and rigor and we are mindful of trends within degree programs and across your academic history. We care that you have challenged yourself and performed well relative to expectations in your academic environment. If you have succeeded academically, trust that we will see it. And if your academic performance was not strong, either in totality or for a portion of your studies, you can help us understand why by offering a brief explanation in your optional essay.
The scores on your test(s)—the GMAT or GRE, and the English proficiency test if applicable—help us assess a standardized outcome at a moment in time. While some of you may find the tests easy and painless, we know they are difficult and stressful for many. While I can’t eliminate all test anxiety, I can assure you that these are exams for which you can prepare, both in content and format, and preparation often improves performance. I can tell you that we consider your highest scores—not your averages—across exams and sittings, and we do not penalize you for taking tests multiple times; we want to reward you for your best work. In fact, we encourage you to submit all of your valid test scores. Even if your scores have not improved, it is helpful for the Committee to see all of your test results, which show progression and determination to strengthen your candidacy.
We have no preference between the GRE or GMAT and among the English proficiency tests, and we encourage you to take the test(s) on which you score best. Scores are one component of one of our four criteria, and every round we admit candidates with modest scores who demonstrate our other criteria in compelling ways. Yes, your scores do matter, we encourage you to do well, and all else equal a higher score increases your chances of admission. But the admission rate for applicants with modest scores will always be higher than for those who don’t apply at all. Don’t disqualify yourself on account of your score if you know you demonstrate our criteria in other ways.
Beyond your grades and test score outcomes, you also demonstrate that you are smart through your behaviors. There are two components of your application where these behaviors emerge: your reference letters and your interview. A good reference letter offers meaningful examples of your curiosity, creativity, resourcefulness, growth mindset, and enthusiasm for challenges, all of which speak to your ability and desire to learn. With this in mind, encourage your references to go beyond merely listing achievements; remind them to give us examples and stories which highlight not just what you did but also how you did it. And you can expect your interviewer to ask questions that invite you to demonstrate the smart criterion. Our encouragement here draws again from the growth mindset: offer behavioral examples from your past that highlight how you grew your knowledge and look forward to the future by sharing how Tuck will help you satisfy your curiosity and learn.
My colleagues and I continue to believe in giving you an open, transparent, and applicant-friendly admissions process, and we hope this blog series about demonstrating each of our four criteria—smart, accomplished, aware, and encouraging—helps you apply with greater confidence and enthusiasm.