Greetings from Tuck’s Admissions Office! As you can imagine, admissions is a very cyclical process. During the spring and into the summer one of the things that keeps us busy is offering feedback to candidates who were not admitted. These applicants hope to either strengthen their candidacy while on the waitlist, or make themselves a better candidate for next year. While everyone is a little different – and often, the difficult truth is that the applicant pool was incredibly strong and our class size just can’t accommodate all of you awesome people – there are several areas for improvement that crop up again and again.
If you’re unsuccessful in your first attempt at admission into your dream MBA program, first take a few moments to assess your application. Self-aware applicants can usually identify the places in their application that are lacking. Then, read on for advice on eliminating, or at least minimizing, your weaknesses.
My undergraduate GPA is low.
If possible, start by acknowledging this in the optional essay and providing an explanation (not an excuse!). Then, prove to us that you’re capable of handling an extremely rigorous, and quant heavy, curriculum. You can do this by scoring well on the GMAT (or GRE), taking additional, supplemental classes beyond your undergraduate degree and submitting well-written essays. It’s also important to clearly show us areas you do excel in; leadership, global experiences, community involvement, etc.
My GMAT score is lower than I think it should be.
First thing to keep in mind--a school’s average GMAT is just that, an average. One big advantage to this challenge versus a low GPA is that you can choose to retake the GMAT (or GRE), without consequence. After giving it your best effort, if you feel like there’s no amount of additional preparation that will improve your score, you’re still not out of the game. Again, you’ll need to prove you can handle a rigorous quantitative curriculum; high undergraduate GPA, supplemental courses with good scores (we often suggest financial accounting, statistics and microeconomics), etc. Finally, highlight areas of your background that shine.
I come from a non-traditional professional background.
Great! Tuck values unique experiences and individuals – many students decide to go to business school with the intention of switching careers and/or industries, so you won’t be alone. This in itself is not why you were unsuccessful. However, you do have to show us through your essays and interview how that unconventional experience will actually bring a different and positive perspective to your classmates. Also, while you may not have been crunching numbers, there’s a good chance you’ve been honing skills that will help you succeed in business; leadership traits, interpersonal skills, communication expertise, etc. Be sure to tell us the reality of the situation, not just what you think we want to hear. Is your previous work experience based on a passion of yours? Wonderful! Let us know.
Additionally, take some more time to reflect on these important questions – for you and for us. What are your long-term goals? How will an MBA help you achieve them? Why now? Why Tuck? Once you answered these, if your path still leads you to Tuck, your sincerity and passion will be evident.
I have very little global experience.
Like everything else, global experience is an important factor in your application, but certainly not the only one. You may have more global experience than you think. Have you worked or lived outside your home country? Have you visited for an extended period of time? Have you worked with global clients within your home country? Do you know a second language? Make sure to think broadly.
Or, maybe this is the perfect time to jump on that international opportunity you’ve been postponing!
I haven’t had substantial leadership experience.
Like a lack of global experience, you may have more leadership experience than you think. Consider times you led without a formal title. Do you take the reins when it comes to projects with your colleagues? Was there a committee or sub-committee that you steered in undergrad or for a non-profit or athletic endeavor? Likewise, it could be a great time to volunteer for leadership roles in the workplace, or perhaps volunteer for this responsibility in a community activity you’re involved in.
I had a couple of jobs in a short period of time – or something else that might look bad.
This definitely happens and for a variety of different reasons. The most important thing here is to explain the situation. The less information you give us, the more we have to guess and though we’d love to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, this method may not be to our advantage, or yours. The optional essay is a great place to address job switching and employment gaps.
I’m concerned about my letters of recommendation.
The most common concern here comes from not having been able to ask a current supervisor. While it’s certainly helpful to have the insight of a direct supervisor, not having one isn’t a deal breaker. Other good options could be the person you reported to prior to your current boss, current clients, a colleague who led a team for a project you worked on or the director of your department or team. The key thing to remember is when selecting recommenders, focus on people who can really speak to your strengths (and weaknesses) in key areas such as leadership, teamwork, and aptitude. Former professors, family members or your little league coach won’t help you.
Here’s the key: rather than resolve yourself to months of worry and regret over things you can’t change, there are many ways to actively turn a less than ideal situation into a more positive one. Also, you probably noticed a theme: the application process really is holistic. Really! We know that you’re way more than just one particular data point. Good luck!