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Aug 17, 2018

Tuck Admissions Insights: Your Application Essays

Luke Anthony Peña

By Luke Anthony Peña
Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid

Happy August, friends! Recruitment season is in full swing, and my Admissions colleagues and I are traveling to the corners of the earth to get to know you, and give you the opportunity to get to know Tuck. I’ve spent the last four weeks meeting many of you in Tokyo, Seoul, ShanghaiBeijingChicagoNew YorkHoustonDallas, and Mexico City, and I look forward to meeting more of you on upcoming trips to BostonHouston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Now that our application is live, many of you are asking questions about what we’re looking for in a great Tuck candidate, and where we find it. The simplified and streamlined criteria are generating lots of interest, and we’ve explored them in depth on our website and in this space. The other topic coming up frequently on the road is our essays, and I’d like to share thoughts here on each of the two required essays. There’s lots of advice and guidance for our revised essays popping up all over the web, so I want you to hear insights directly from me on behalf of the team that will evaluate and assess them.

Before diving into each, some relevant context: as with every component of your application, both essays map directly to our simplified and streamlined criteria. Both essay prompts open with a framing sentence that articulates the connection to the relevant criterion, followed by the essay question itself. Starting this year, both essay responses will be submitted via text box rather than an uploaded document, which means the 500-word count is now a firm limit.

Essay Question #1

Our first essay prompt begins by stating, “Tuck students are aware of how their individuality adds to the fabric of Tuck.” This essay maps to our “aware” criterion, so we encourage you to review what being aware means at Tuck. Beyond awareness, there’s another important cue here: the interplay between individuality and community. We want you to confidently bring your whole 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 rather than stand apart.

Then comes the question, which is really a two-part question: “Tell us who you are and what you will contribute.” The first part is your opportunity 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.

The second part of the first essay invites you to turn a narrative corner and articulate how your individuality, which you just shared with us, will add to Tuck. The emphasis on contribution is intentional; while we hope you expect to gain much from the Tuck community, we also expect you as a student to give at least as much as you take. Like the first part of the essay, there’s no one right answer, and we’re expecting responses that vary in both content and specificity. You might identify elements of the Tuck experience – facultycenterscoursesclubs, etc. – that you intend to engage. Or you might reflect more broadly on how your individuality enhances our distinct culture. Perhaps you bring a set of experiences and perspectives that you believe will be particularly uncommon in our community. However you choose to respond please know that we’re not taking an opinion on how broad or narrow your contributions are. Instead, we’re evaluating your grasp of what Tuck is, and how Tuck’s distinctprogramcommunity, and culture align with who you are.

The first essay is meant to invite reflection, and the second is meant to invite a story. You’ll note that the first essay prompt doesn’t ask for a story or an example, and telling one isn’t necessary for a strong, reflective response. Some of you may choose to tell a story to further illustrate who you are, but this will be supporting evidence for your central thesis, which is your articulation of your individuality and identity. In the second essay, the story is the central thesis, and you absolutely need one to deliver a strong response.

Essay Question #2

Our second essay prompt begins: “Tuck students are nice and invest generously in the success of others.” This essay maps directly to our “nice” criterion. This criterion has generated considerable interest, so I’ve had numerous opportunities to definewhat being nice at Tuck means. And when you read carefully, you’ll note that investing in other’s success does not mean sacrificing your own. Some of you have asked me to clarify the degree that your investment in others should have personally set you back. My response: ideally, not at all.  The wise leader – and thus the great Tuck candidate – considers investment in others mutually beneficial, and creates outcomes where both you and others win.

The question continues: “Tell us about time when you helped someone else succeed.” Again, we’re asking you to tell one specific, discrete story.  A poor response will speak broadly and generally about your investment in others but fail to produce a meaningful example. An adequate response will factually recap events and outcomes – the “what,” “when,” and “who” – without additional exploration.  A good response will explore your motivations – the “why” – that prompted you to act. And a truly great response will consider the broader impact and implications of your actions beyond this one investment – the “so what.”  That’s a lot to take on in 500 words, so you’ll have to use good judgment about the level of situational detail to provide; you’ll need just enough to provide helpful context, but not so much that the narrative drowns out the analysis.

Let me share some additional thoughts on the second essay, based on questions I’m hearing from you:

  1. The stakes matter, and bigger is better. Smiling each day at a colleague might be an investment in that person’s morale and happiness, but the stakes are low. Anyone can be nice when it is convenient, so on the margin, tell us about a time when the stakes were meaningful, the circumstances were challenging, and success was far from guaranteed.
  2. Scope matters, and smaller is better. 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 your niceness, so on the margin, tell a story that focuses on one other person or a small group.
  3. Ownership matters; you have to proudly own your contribution to a positive outcome. Some of you are straining to reconcile being nice with highlighting your impact. This is a good reminder that nice Tuck students aren’t deferential; instead, you have the strength and courage to invest in others with the confidence that you can contribute to their success.
  4. Balance matters; the question mentions both you and someone else, and we encourage you to devote thought to both.  A strong essay will acknowledge the circumstances, behaviors, and responses of the person in whom you invested; it will also consider your own actions and motivations for doing so. Both individuals are fundamental to an interpersonal relationship, and so we hope to hear from you about the role that you both played in the interaction.

Looking Ahead

I’ll be back here in September to say more about the four short answer questions, but here’s the sneak preview: they’re intentionally really short. You’re already reflecting deeply on the two required essays, so we want to relieve you of the pressure to craft an elaborate narrative around your goals. The best responses will be direct, straightforward, and matter-of-fact. I’ll say more next month.

In the meantime, keep up with me on Twitter, and message me directly there - I’d love to hear from you!