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Sep 17, 2018

Tuck Admissions Insights: Your Short Answer Responses

Luke Anthony Peña

By Luke Anthony Peña
Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid

Happy September, friends! The T’20s have arrived, the T’19s have returned, and another great year is underway at the Tuck School. My Admissions colleagues and I are squeezing in as many trips as possible to see you before our September 24 application deadline—we have events on six continents this month alone! I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo.

If you haven’t yet seen our updated class of 2020 profile, I encourage you to check it out.  In addition to enrolling a record number of women, we also enrolled students from a record number of international countries, and experienced growth in application volume from the previous year. In the midst of news about MBA application declines at many top schools, I’m thrilled and delighted that the mission and values of Tuck are resonant with so many of you around the world.

Speaking of applications, I shared thoughts last month about our two required essays, both of which map directly to our simplified and streamlined criteria. This month, I’d like to share thoughts on our four short answers that focus on your goals. I want you to hear directly from me what we’re looking for and how we’ll find it.

SIMPLIFIED, STREAMLINED, SHORTENED

First, some context about the updated format: we’ve always cared at Tuck about your professional goals and aspirations. That hasn’t changed. In recent years, we asked you to share your goals with us in a long-form essay. While your goals remain important to us, requiring you to craft a long narrative around them isn’t necessary for you to articulate them and for us to understand them. We instead encourage you to reflect deeply on your identity, your contributions, and your efforts to invest in others.

This is why the short answers have word limits that are… short.  Many of you have told me that they’re really short. This is by design. There’s no room, literally or figuratively, for elaborate storytelling here. We want your responses to be crisp, clear, concise, and matter-of-fact. My advice to those of you trying hard to shoehorn in a supporting narrative: save the additional details for your interview, and trust that we really, truly do want you be factual and direct.

The responses may be short, but I assure you that they matter to us. As we map your application to our criteria, the short answers directly reflect your awareness. As articulated in our criteria, aware Tuck candidates envision what’s ahead, identify coherent goals, and illuminate how the Tuck MBA will advance your aspirations to better the world of business.  

QUESTIONS ONE AND TWO

While your first essay highlights what you will contribute to Tuck, your short answers convey what you expect to accomplish thereafter. This distinction helps frame the scope of the first question which asks you to share your short-term goals. Some of you have asked for clarification on the short-term time horizon. This question is not asking about your goals while at Tuck; you have opportunities elsewhere to highlight what you will contribute to Tuck such as in your first essay, your fourth short answer response, and your interview. In this first short answer, we’re keen to learn your goals immediately after graduating from Tuck. We stopped short of explicitly specifying that the goals must be professional, as some of you have goals that are both professional and personal. That said, I expect most of you will tell us about the job and the impact you expect to have after you graduate.

If the first short answer is meant to capture your first stop on your post-MBA trajectory, the second is meant to capture your last. What is your dream job? What role and impact do you want to have 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now? What legacy do you want to leave?  My colleagues and I are especially excited to read your response here, as this reflects how you aspire to better the world of business.

Let me take a moment to highlight a critical phrase in our awareness criterion: strong candidates will have coherent goals that are both audacious in scope yet grounded in reality. I can’t overstate the importance of this balance. On one hand, the Tuck School and the world of business need wise leaders who dream big. You don’t better the world of business through low ambition, so share your highest aspirations with us. At the same time, remember that judgment is an essential aptitude of wise leadership. You need that good judgment to identify the right steps on the path to your goals, and to assess whether the Tuck MBA makes sense as one of those steps. If the path from an MBA to your goals isn’t apparent, you will need an especially compelling response to our fourth short answer prompt about how Tuck helps you achieve your goals. Absent that, we will wonder about your awareness and your ability to contribute and thrive here.

Both your short- and long-term goals should be ambitious and realistic, though on the margin, we will expect your long-term goals to tilt towards the former and your short-term goals to tilt towards the latter. This balance will be the hallmark of strong responses to these first two prompts. We’re not taking an opinion on the industry, the function, the geography, or the ideology of what you aspire to do. Instead, we’re assessing that your goals are coherent, audacious, and realistic.

QUESTION THREE

The third short answer asks how you arrived at your goals. For many of you, this is the short answer that offers the greatest temptation to craft a narrative.  We appreciate that (slightly) more detail is appropriate here, and we’ve given you (a few) extra words relative to the first two questions.  But this is still short, and we continue to encourage directness.  An alternate wording for this prompt is “Where did your goals come from?”  For some of you, a specific person or group of people may have shaped your goals. For others, a formative academic, professional, or personal experience was a significant influence. Some of you will have a clear inflection point informing your goals, while others’ formed slowly and gradually. You can’t share every relevant detail in 75 words, so you’ll have to make choices about the most substantial influences. As you do, keep in mind that strong responses will demonstrate that you’ve given thought and reflection to why your goals are your goals.

QUESTION FOUR

Finally, the fourth question asks how Tuck helps you achieve your goals. The first three prompts don’t require you to mention Tuck at all. This prompt is different; we expect you to illuminate how the distinctive Tuck MBA will advance your aspirations. My recommendations:

  • Opt for depth over breadth. You may be excited about many aspects of Tuck, but a 75-word limit won’t allow you to list them all. Instead, focus on 1-3 aspects of Tuck that are directly relevant to your goals. 
  • It’s okay to focus on how you will benefit from and thrive at Tuck. Yes, we also expect you to share how you will contribute to Tuck, but you have ample space in your first essay to articulate this. 

For this final prompt, a weak response will demonstrate little to no awareness of Tuck; a merely adequate response will name aspects of Tuck that are related to your goals; and a strong response will explain how your immersion and engagement at Tuck accelerates your progress towards your goals.

LOOKING AHEAD

For those of you applying in Round 1, I wish you well as you put the finishing touches on your application! By the time I return here in October, we’ll have begun learning more about you via your application. I expect I’ll have thoughts and reflections about what we’re seeing in applications, and how we are evaluating it. Check back next month, and keep up with me on Twitter in the meantime.