Jun 29, 2020

Tuck Admissions Insights: 2020-2021 Application Essays

Patricia Harrison

By Patricia Harrison
Director of Admissions Evaluation & Yield

Today our 2020-2021 MBA application opens and so I’m writing here to offer you transparency into our essays which, when done well, are both challenging and rewarding to write.

There are many sources of advice and essay guidance from various influencers and websites, so my colleagues and I want you to hear insights directly from those of us who are reading, evaluating, and assessing your essays. 

Before diving into each, some relevant context: as with every component of your application, each of the three essays map directly to our criteria: smart, accomplished, aware and encouraging. Each essay prompt opens with a framing sentence that articulates the connection to the relevant criterion, followed by the essay question itself. You enter each essay into a text box field in the application, which means the 300-word count is a firm limit. 

Essay Question #1: “Tuck students can articulate how the distinctive Tuck MBA will advance their aspirations. Why are you pursuing an MBA and why Tuck?"

This essay maps to our “aware” criterion, so before you start reflecting and writing, review what being aware, ambitious, and purposeful means at Tuck. Once you’ve done so, recognize that there are two important considerations here. First, your aspirations matter. You’ve shared elsewhere in the application your short- and long-term goals, which we hope are both audacious in scope and grounded in reality. Second, the distinctions you see in the Tuck MBA matter. Take the necessary time and effort to identify what about an MBA, and especially the Tuck MBA, aligns with your goals. 

The question itself has two parts. We hope you’ll devote roughly half the essay to why an MBA is right for you, and the other half to why Tuck is right for you. To the former question: explain why, given the various paths for growth and development, you’ve chosen to pursue the MBA degree. If you come from a professional or personal background where pursuing an MBA is common, or an MBA is a common step towards your goals, keep in mind that your background or goals don’t answer the question for you. Instead, demonstrate that you’ve given real thought to the value of an MBA for you beyond simply walking a well-worn path. Conversely, if an MBA is less common for your background or your goals, take this opportunity to “connect the dots.” We believe that an MBA can add value for a diverse population across a variety of professional pursuits; we read with optimism that you have thought carefully and can express how it adds value to yours. 

To the latter question: explain why, given the number of strong MBA programs, you are applying to Tuck. The key distinction here is the difference between loving Tuck and knowing Tuck. You need a clear-headed awareness about how Tuck uniquely advances you towards your goals, and that requires knowledge of the alignment between what Tuck offers and what you want. Instead of focusing on how much you want a Tuck MBA, tell us instead about how well Tuck aligns with your goals. 

One other quick note: since you’ve stated your short- and long-term goals elsewhere, you don’t need to use valuable word count restating them here. We read each application in its entirety, so you can assume the person reading your application has already seen your goals before reading your essay. Some of you may choose to use this essay to elaborate on goals, while others might make your case for an MBA and Tuck without explicitly referencing your goals. Either way, consider this essay a supplement to your goals rather than a recitation. 

In summary: a strong response will go beyond generic responses, applicable for any MBA program or any Tuck applicant, and will instead provide a clear, highly personalized articulation of the match between you and Tuck. 

Essay Question #2: “Tuck students recognize how their individuality adds to the fabric of Tuck. Tell us who you are.”

Like the first essay, this second essay also maps to our “aware” criterion. There’s another important cue here: the interplay between individuality and community. Some of you have asked us whether your response should show that you “fit in” with Tuck, or should instead highlight that you are different and distinct. They’re not mutually exclusive. We want you to confidently bring your whole unique personal self, including your strengths and growth areas, to Tuck. We also hope you appreciate how this extraordinary community is a tapestry of the collective individuals therein, and adding to it means choosing to consistently engage.

This prompt is an invitation to articulate your individuality, and we’re excited to read your response. We’ve long been known for getting to know our candidates well, and this is another deliberate step to learn more about you. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this question is that there’s no one right answer, or even a right category or domain of answers. We’re expecting responses that are as diverse and wide-ranging as our students. Maybe you define who you are most strongly through your professional experiences and aspirations. Or perhaps your sense of self is rooted in personal values that may or may not have anything to do with your professional work. Maybe a community of importance, a culture, or specific relationships shape who you are. The heart of this question is about your identity, and the strongest responses will reveal the clarity and depth of your reflection.

This essay prompt focuses on the person who will show up here rather than the things you will do here. Given the framing statement preceding the question, we expect some of you may choose to explicitly name aspects of Tuck where you will add. That’s okay, but the true heart of this essay is your individuality rather than a list of classes and clubs of interest. In fact, a strong essay does not necessarily have to mention Tuck at all; you may be able to convey who you are in ways that implicitly but powerfully illuminate what you bring. In summary: we hope your response is honest, revealing, and deeply personal - one you and only you could have written! 

Essay Question #3: “Tuck students invest generously in the success of others even when it is not convenient or easy. Tell us about a time when you helped someone else succeed.”

This essay maps directly to our “encouraging” criterion, so we encourage you to review what it means at Tuck to be encouraging, collaborative, and empathetic. A key point: investing in other’s success does not mean sacrificing your own. Some of you have asked if your investment in others should have personally disadvantaged or set you back. Not at all! We hope you consider investment in others mutually beneficial and create outcomes where both you and others win. 

The emphasis on “even when not convenient or easy” is intentional. We hope to see evidence that your investment in others is not routine, common, or entirely expected. The best examples have considerable stakes, and perhaps even legitimate risk. Smiling each day at a colleague might be an investment in that person’s morale and happiness, but the stakes are low. Tell us about a time when the stakes were meaningful, the circumstances were challenging, and success was far from guaranteed. We hope to see that the thoughtfulness, care, and intentionality of your investment led to an outcome in which both you and the other person benefited either in expected or unintended ways. 

Note that we’re asking you to tell one specific, discrete story rather than offer general reflections or a collection of stories. The 300-word count is brief, so you’ll have to use good judgment about the level of situational detail to provide. Provide just enough context to set the stakes while leaving yourself enough space to focus on what you did and what outcome you achieved. 

Two additional thoughts: 

  • Tell a story that focuses on your investment in one other person, or perhaps a very small group. Investing in the success of a huge group is commendable, but the richness and depth of interpersonal interactions therein will be limited. Individual relationships offer more compelling evidence of relationship-building. 
  • Proudly own your contribution to a positive outcome. Some of you have asked how to reconcile being encouraging with highlighting your impact. This is a good reminder that Tuck students exercise confident humility. Have the humility to invest in others as well as the confidence to recognize your positive impact and share it with us. 

In summary: a strong response will go beyond examples that are low-stakes, routine, common, or expected, and will instead highlight an investment with meaningful stakes where both parties benefited either in expected or unintended ways. 

As always, my Admissions colleagues and I are happy to be accessible, responsive, and helpful if you have any questions about your essays or any other part of your Tuck application. Happy writing – we look forward to getting to know more about you through your essays!