Meet Tuck's Admissions Director

A conversation with Sally Jaeger, director of MBA admissions at Dartmouth College

Our guest on Nov. 12, was Sally Jaeger, director of admissions at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, No. 16 on BusinessWeek's Top 30 List. She joined the admissions staff at the Tuck School in 1993, and became the school's director of admissions in 1996. Recently, she was promoted to assistant dean of the MBA program. Ms. Jaeger was interviewed by Business Week Online reporter Mica Schneider. Here's an edited transcript of that discussion:

Q: Applications to Tuck decreased slightly in 2001, with 2,400 crossing your desk. At the same time, Tuck began increasing the size of its full-time MBA class to 240 students, an addition of about 60 people. This application season is quite a different story -- especially since Tuck received a No. 1 ranking from our rival,The Wall Street Journal.


There's no question about it. Something of that magnitude, even though it was back in April, has lasting value. Buying and sending out reprints doesn't hurt, either.

Q: When we last spoke about Tuck admissions, you explained how the school reviews student applications. After two initial reviews by admissions staff, the applications are placed in one of five drawers -- drawer No. 1 being the one of choice for applicants, since it nearly guarantees admission. Care to update us on Tucks review process?


Every application is read by two people, who each assign a rating (to the application). After the two reads, it goes into one of five drawers. That's where it sits until we're vetting in committee. At that point, we cram into a medium-sized room and go through the applications together.

I usually first review the double-one, double-four, and double-five ratings (the ones being sure winners, the fours and fives being probable denials) because those are very clear decisions. They've been read by two people, and require less discussion than the bulk of the applicant pool.

Q: And the fate of the others?


The twos and the threes sit in the drawers until we're ready to discuss them. Those are the most difficult ones we look at. We divide them up, and if you didn't interview the person, and you didn't read his or her application, then you get to evaluate it.

The committee will hand me a pile (of applications) and say, 'Sally, we think these people have some really good qualities that we should look at, and possibly admit.' There can be one that keeps surfacing four, five, or six times.

Q: Most of the time, the "ones" are definite admits. What traits do those applicants show that the applicants placed in the second or third drawer lack?


I think it's everything -- their academics, professional experience, professional development, and their leadership potential. It's someone who excelled academically. Perhaps they majored in history, or electrical engineering, or economics, or English.

They write well, and can describe well what they've done in their essays. That's really important. Someone that says, 'this is what I've been doing. This is what I want to do. This is why I want to get an MBA. This is where I'm going.' When you read something like that, and can say, 'I learned something from this essay, this makes sense, I'm excited about what this person has done, and what this person wants to do,' that person is going to be a No. 1.

When you look at their professional experience, they have risen above everybody else. Maybe they've had a couple of jobs, or they're trying something that's really cool; but it's meaningful. They've had leadership experience. They've had responsibility. They've had managerial experience. They've managed a team.

They've come to campus for their interviews, or they've been interviewed by alumni and they're well received on all counts -- professionally, academically, personally, and socially.

Q: Who are the people who don't make it?


A big part of (a denial) would be somebody who isn't going to fit into the community. They could be a loner, somebody who just doesn't seem to have the social skills, or someone who just is going to be miserable at a small school in a small town. You have to get involved here, you have to be a part of everything.

Q: How predictive does Tuck consider the GMAT?


There are predictive factors within the GMAT, there's no denying that. You look at all the studies that have been done, and they show that it can predict this and that. There are far more predictors on the quantitative side than there are the verbal side. And so, you do have to pay attention to that.

Q: Who should write an applicant's recommendation letters? Is it okay if a reference sends the same, generic letter about an applicant to more than one B-school?


The letter should be written by people who know the applicant well, and who know the applicant professionally. It's someone who can comment on -- not just answer -- the questions we ask, such as an individual's professional abilities.

It isn't okay to send the same note to every business school that the individual is applying to. Some of the questions all business schools ask are going to be the same, but I think the recommenders have to address the individual's fit with the particular business school that they're writing the recommendation for.

Q: How far back does into an individual's academic history does the admissions committee travel when it evaluates an applicant's transcript?


We take a look at all four years (of college). We're looking for quantitative coursework, and challenging coursework. We're trying to get s sense of what the individual was thinking in choosing his or her coursework. For instance, someone who starts out in a premed program, but doesn't do so well, switches to a major that they love, and their grades improve. It's import to look at the entire transcript, because it can explain unusual situations.

Q: How are you answering questions about career prospects for Tuck's class of 2004?


People haven't been asking about that. And I've been surprised, so at some of our receptions I'll bring it up because it's important to address.

The job market is bad right now. But that said, already 38% of our second-year MBAs have a job offer on the table. That's pretty good. But we hope that in two or three years, things will be as they were. We brought in graduates from the class of 1991, when there was another down market. They talked with students from the class of 2002 to say, 'I got to where I wanted to be, but I went from point A to point D. And then to point C in order to get to point B.'

You'll get there. It's just going to take you a little longer. People are getting jobs through on-campus recruiting. We just don't have as many companies coming as we've had in the past. And the school's overseers, a group made up of Tuck alumni, have been going to their clients and saying, 'have you ever thought about hiring an MBA?'

Q: Tuck always changes its second essay question. This year it's about leadership.


That seems to be the thing that everybody's talking about this year. We precede the question by talking about leadership and how important leadership and teamwork is to our community and our culture. So we want people to talk about a post-collegiate teamwork experience, so that they don't write, 'I was captain of the soccer team.' That's great, and that's an important position, but we want them to think a little more.

Last year was the IPO question. The scenario was this: "Your company's IPO was successful, and your share has given you financial independence. The company's founder says that the success must be shared, and mandates that you have to give some of that money back to the business or civic community. You have $25 million to reinvest. What do you do?" We got so much grief for that question because it was a "mandate" from the company's founder. One applicant said that companies cannot do that and proceeded to talk about why it was silly, rather than answering the question. But he was a really interesting person, and really smart. I thought, 'we are asking him for his opinion, and this is his opinion. How can we criticize him? How can we penalize him for telling us what he thinks?'

So, I called him. He was sitting down to watch a football game on a Sunday afternoon. He asked, 'what did I do wrong?' I said, 'nothing. I'm just calling you about your essay #2.' I asked him to reread the question, and to call me the next day. He called me back the next day, and we had a great discussion about it. He said, 'I understand why you wanted to talk to me about it. I read what I wrote, and I still stand by what I wrote, and these are the reasons why.' He's (now) a first-year student at Tuck.

[Editor's note: Tuck requires applicants to the class of 2004 to answer the following three questions:

1. Discuss your career progression to date. Elaborating on your short- and long-term goals, how do you see your career progressing after you receive an MBA? Why do you want an MBA from Tuck?

2. The cooperative manager understands the critical role of collaborative effort in successful organizations. Developing the ability to work effectively in diverse teams is a crucial element of a Tuck education. Please tell us when in your post-collegiate personal or professional experiences you have played a major role in moving a team toward a goal, and describe what you learned in that experience. How will this impact your time at Tuck?

3. What are your interests outside your job or school?]

Q: Sally, you've been to plenty of MBA forums, standing behind a table with a Tuck flag, and a pile of Tuck brochures to hand to prospective MBAs. What's the worst way for an applicant to use his/her time at those fairs?


My favorite question is, 'tell me about your school.' Or, 'Where's New Hampshire? What's Dart Mouth?' You hear people ask that domestically. I also hear a lot of, 'I want to major in finance. Can I do that at your school?'

Q: If prospective MBAs are going to get the most out of the fairs, what can do they do?


They have to do the research before they go, at least visit Web site. It's so easy. These are people who are spending a lot of time on the Internet anyway.

One well-informed question leads to another. And then you have discussion with that person, and then they do have an impact. You do remember them. You get their business card. You say, call me. E-mail me. Stay in touch. Walking up to somebody and saying, tell me about your school? All you do is pick up the e-book, point out the application, and that's it. No conversation.

Q: Many admissions directors are saying that it could be a rough year for admitted students to secure student visas if they're from countries outside of the U.S. What do you anticipate?


I have no idea. We saw some of this last year, because of what happened in China (the crash-landing there of a U.S. military plane). We saw a change in how visas were given out.

The State Department said they weren't doing anything differently, but yet we did see that our Chinese students were having a more difficult time. We have two students who didn't come, because they couldn't get a visa. Another student got the visa three days before he was supposed to be at school.

Q: What are you suggesting these admitted MBA candidates do?


Apply early. Get the offer of admission, and make your decision (to attend a certain school) early. It's not to say that they won't get the visa, but it may be more difficult. We just hope that it will be a fair process.

Q: Attracting minorities to B-school is a challenge shared by every B-school. What's Tuck's strategy?


We just had our very first major diversity conference on campus this past weekend. We combine the conference with our minority alumni weekend. We had almost 50 prospective students on campus for the event. It made a huge difference. They went to class.

Q: How does the school woo women?


We're a lot more aggressive this year with our Women in Business Club -- we hosted three receptions the last week in November.

Q: A number of schools are trying new ways to recruit women. Tuck is among the founding members of a nonprofit spawned by the Michigan Business School that will focus on attracting more women to management education. B-schools have begun talking to younger women to encourage them to apply to business school.


It's time, perhaps, to start looking at doing things differently, because the same old way isn't working. You know, we go along with the whole initiative at Harvard to recruit younger candidates, because we're in the tenth school group, a group of the top 10 B-schools. But I'm not sure that it's the right thing for us. I'm not sure that when the schools allow more and younger women in, that it will be to everybody's advantage.

We were at Darden a couple of years ago, for one of their recruiter weekends. We asked the recruiters what they felt about younger MBAs who were graduating as job candidates. Only one recruiter thought it was O.K. We had a recruiter program at Tuck later on, and the same thing happened.

Q: What suggestions do you have for Tuck applicants who are placed on the school's wait list? What's the chance that they'll be admitted from the wait list?


We tell them to keep us informed of their interest in the school, as well as of any professional changes, including promotions. Certainly, having someone write an additional letter of recommendation for you -- someone who hasn't written one before -- can help.

Don't show up in the admissions office unannounced. That happens more often than you'd think. What happens is, we want to spend some time with that person, but we don't always have that time. It can create an awkward situation. If they want to come and speak with us, they should call us and ask to schedule a 15-minute conversation with us.

Q: Sally, can you wrap it all up for our readers: How does someone make the cut at Tuck?


They've got to put together a cohesive application -- something that's passionate, something that's articulate, an application that tells us why they want to get an MBA, and why they want an MBA from Tuck. They need to clearly articulate their goals and desires, so we see that they will fit well into the Tuck community. That's so important as a small school.

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