Tackling Tuck's Applications

The admissions director of Dartmouth College's B-school offers essay-writing tips and describes a good fit for its close-knit community

Kristine Laca is the director of admissions at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. After nine years working in strategic planning and marketing at Nike (NKE ), Kristine joined Tuck in 2001. She says Tuck's admissions office is looking for people interested in a small college community atmosphere and a rigorous academic program.

She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Are applications up or down in recent years?


Applications have been down across the board. This year, we're optimistic that the number will be flat to slightly higher. I've talked to a few of my counterparts at other schools, and they mention still being slightly down.

Q:Why do you think there are fewer applicants?


The key age group -- those between the ages of 25 and 29 and affectionately known as the "baby bust" generation -- just doesn't exist in great numbers, especially in the U.S. You also have some positive news in the markets and in business, and people are less likely to leave a good position.

There are also a lot of factors internationally. First, potential students fear the visa process is insurmountable. Incidentally, Tuck has had next to no problems with this, but I've talked to a lot of other schools where this is an obstacle. I think it can be a problem, but that's probably 90% unfounded. Second, you have a lot of startup MBA programs, especially in China. Many of these programs are locally relevant, less costly, and less of a hassle from the student-visa standpoint.

Q: What's Tuck's average GMAT score, and how flexible is that?


Every year the pool and averages change. This past year, the average was 704. We had a range from 570-780 of admitted scores. The year before, our range was 540-800.

Q: What advice would you give someone with a lower score?


There must be something interesting and unique about the person on the lower end of the spectrum. The GMAT is not the deciding factor -- there have been students with very high GMAT scores who have not been a good match for the community.

The GMAT is helpful in providing me with additional data points about important quantitative and verbal skill sets. Looking at the quantitative side, you have to look at the GMAT, undergraduate performance, work experience, as well as feedback from recommendations. If an engineer didn't ace the GMAT, it won't bother me because I'll still be confident in that person's abilities quantitatively.

Looking at the verbal side, you have the interview, analytical writing scores, essays, and comments from recommenders. All of these factors can give the GMAT more or less weight.

Q: Who would you consider to be a good fit for Tuck's culture?


The ability to know your classmates and professors and remain connected to the school long after graduation makes the culture unique. If you're a person who's interested in having a strong community atmosphere where people interact on and off campus, as well as a rigorous academic program that will give you the ability to land a job after graduation, then Tuck is a great choice for you.

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