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Tips for Taking on Tuck

Dawna Clarke just completed her first full year as director of MBA Admissions at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, but she's no stranger to the MBA admissions arena. Clarke came to Tuck after 15 years in the admit office at the University of Virginia's Darden School—the last five as director of admissions. Prior to that, she served as associate director of admissions at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler.

Clarke says well-developed communication and interpersonal skills are both important to recruiters and vital to success at Tuck. That's why Tuck places such a heavy emphasis on the interview component of the admissions process, she says—those so-called "soft skills" are harder to gauge from the written application.

Another plus in Clarke's book: International experience, which she says is becoming increasingly important in the recruiting process.

Clarke spoke recently to reporter Kerry Miller. An edited excerpt of their conversation follows.

In a nutshell, who's the ideal Tuck student?

We really pride ourselves on the fact that the admissions process is not formulaic. Because we're the general management program, there's not necessarily a background that we're looking for. We want people from lots of different functional areas, geographic areas, and industries. This year, 34% of our students are international, and there are about 25 different countries represented between the first and second year. We have students from lots of different industries—from health care, education, the Peace Corps, nonprofits—it's not just people from finance and consulting.

Overall, though, we're looking for positive people who are team players and have potential to be leaders. The students we admit have strong interpersonal skills, they're bright, they have strong analytical skills, they're strong communicators, and they have a capacity to succeed in a rigorous academic program. Over the years, Tuck has gotten great feedback from recruiters about the type of people they accept as well as the type of results that they produce, and I think the school is really proud of that.

Dean Danos has been pretty firm about not wanting candidates with fewer than two years of work experience unless they're applying for the combined MD/MBA (see, 8/7/07, "B-Schools: You Don't Have to Wait"). Is that a policy that's likely to change anytime soon?

I haven't gotten any directive on that at all. Our average age did go down this year, from 29 to 28, and it's possible that it will come down again, but we still really like to see at least two years of work experience. So I don't anticipate that that policy will change anytime soon.

Have there been any other changes this year in the demographic makeup of the class?

Well, slight changes. This year, we have the highest percentage of international students that we've ever had in Tuck's history. Women increased to 33%, which was the highest percentage of women we've had in Tuck's history as well. And we're really shooting for a better balance among our international students. We're aiming for a pretty equal balance between Latin American students...

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