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Dec 20, 2019

Looking Ahead: Essay Tips for Round 2 Applicants

Luke Anthony Peña

By Luke Anthony Peña
Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid

Happy December, friends! Winter has arrived, the holidays are here, and Tuck looks more beautiful in the snow than ever. My Admissions and Financial Aid colleagues and I are taking these final weeks of 2019 to rest and recharge in between welcoming those of you recently admitted in Round 1 and encouraging those of you applying in Round 2.

Speaking of Round 2, I’ve heard from many of you that you’re working diligently on the refining touches to your Tuck application. The team and I want you to apply with confidence and know exactly what we look for, where we find it, and how we assess it. Earlier this fall, I spoke with Clear Admit about our application process, including how we at Tuck approach application essays. Today I write to reiterate some of the key points I hope you take to heart when writing your essays.

We’ve written at length here on our Tuck 360 blog about responding to each of our three essay prompts. We’re clear and unambiguous about what separates a strong response from an unremarkable one. But in addition to transparency, my colleagues and I also believe in simplicity. The application does not need to be unnecessarily complex. Our essay prompts are written to give you the opportunity to demonstrate our ‘aware’ and ‘nice’ criteria.

I tend not to dwell much on mistakes or pitfalls, because I want to empower you to apply with confidence, and that means focusing on all that can go right rather than all that can go wrong. I do often tell applicants that the best way to stand out is to stop trying so hard to do so. We care a lot at Tuck about your awareness, both of your strengths and your areas for growth and development.

Talking up the former and downplaying the latter might seem like a tempting approach, but it misses the point of pursuing an MBA. Presumably, you’re pursuing this degree to grow, professionally and personally, in ways or at a pace beyond what is currently possible. So lean into this opportunity to tell us with confidence all the strengths you bring to Tuck, and also tell us with humility the ways Tuck can help you grow.

The best advice I can give for the essays: write them, share them with someone whom you know and trust, and ask them not “Is this a good Tuck MBA essay?” but instead “Is this truly me?” If yes, you’ve done good work. If no, keep at it—you’ll get there!

I read every Tuck application in my first two years here, which sums up to about nine thousand essays. I’ve read tens of thousands more at my previous institutions. There is no correlation between a memorable essay and a good essay. The goal of a good application is not to leave a lasting impression on the reader, and if that is your mark, I will encourage you to reconsider your approach. The goal should be to answer the question, obviously, but to do so in a way that reveals who is the applicant behind the application.

I think of the essays as perhaps our best opportunity to get an unvarnished glimpse into the person you are. The reference letters and interview notes give us necessary insight into how others see you; the essays are you in your own words. Straining to make them memorable usually clouds rather than clarifies our understanding of who you are.

So the best essays are not facades but windows into how you think, act, and self-identify. The most effective essays are those that my colleagues and I finish reading and say “I have a clear sense of who that person is.” The most confounding are those where we say “That was interesting—perhaps even memorable—but I have no better idea who this person is than when I started reading.”

Share your essays with someone you trust and ask “do these essays, in content and tone, accurately reflect the person you know?” If you are willing and able to bring your full self to the essays, we have more confidence that you can do the same as a student at Tuck.

No matter where you are and how you celebrate this holiday season, my Tuck colleagues and I wish you peace, joy, and good cheer. We know preparing your application can be stressful, so we hope our insights on this blog and elsewhere help you be more confident and less anxious as you get ready to submit. And while Tuck will officially reopen for your questions on January 2, you can meet our students in dozens of cities around the world until then, and you can always write me via email or social media—I am happy to be accessible and helpful!