Dartmouth's Tuck: Admissions Q&A

Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business (Tuck MBA Profile), laughed as she rattled off her 20-plus years of experience in the admissions departments of three top business schools. Three years at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler (Kenan-Flagler MBA Profile), 15 years at the University of Virgina's Darden (Darden MBA Profile), four years at Tuck…and she's still going strong. "I'm one of those lucky people who fell into something they love early on, and I've been at it for a long time," Clarke says.

While getting her masters degree, she found her fit when she decided to take some electives in the B-school at the advice of her advisor. And when, years later, Tuck reached out and offered her a position as director of admissions, she found an even closer fit. "I had always admired Tuck from a distance," Clarke says. "It was enticing to be a part of a school that had so much positive momentum."

In the 2008 BusinessWeek ranking of full-time MBA programs, Tuck ranked No. 12, and has consistently won top marks for career placement of graduates. In 2008, 91% of graduates received their first job offer by graduation. In a conversation with BusinessWeek's Mandy Oaklander, Clarke talks about Tuck's global mindset, its newly fortified curriculum, and its confidence that an MBA is still worth getting.

In terms of numbers, have you noticed any changes in the number of applications received over the last few years?

Applications to Tuck have been up four years in a row, but this year, it appears that the applications will be flat with last year's application volume.

Do you have any idea why?

If you look at the unemployment rate, the new figures that were announced last week indicated that unemployment is now about 8½%, so I think a lot of people think that because unemployment is rising, applications to business school will go up dramatically. But there's still 92% of the population that have retained their jobs. I think that people decide to sort of hunker down when the economy is bad: They keep their jobs rather than going to business school. So I think it's temporary, but we're pleased because our applicant pool had been increasing for four consecutive years. We get almost 3,000 applications for a class size of 240, so we have more than enough really great applicants to choose from.

Tuck only offers one degree program—the full-time MBA.

Exactly. I have had the opportunity to work for four different institutions—three MBA programs. I think it's a huge differentiator that Tuck focuses exclusively on the full-time, two-year program, in terms of access to faculty and guest speakers and recruiters. We don't share any of our faculty or administrative resources with competing part-time, evening, weekend, or global programs. I love the fact that Tuck focuses exclusively on the two-year program. It's definitely our niche.

Do you find you only get a certain type of applicant because of the rigidity of the full-time MBA?

Well, I think that one of the downsides is that we may not have as many graduates each year as another program that offers [many different] programs. I think sometimes it's harder to grow your reputation when you're a smaller MBA program, but our alumni network is so strong. It comes through in so many rankings that it doesn't actually seem to be a detriment to us.

Right now you're in the midst of Tuck 2012, a restructuring of the MBA program. What steps are you taking to improve it?

Every year there are new innovations being introduced into the curriculum. One of the differentiators of Tuck 2012 is that students will have an opportunity to take what we call a "deep dive" into a subject area. Many of our faculty have expertise in specific industries, and there will be opportunities for very small, seminar-type interactions with faculty in the second year.

One of them has to do with the credit crisis. It was basically an in-depth look at the economic and financial issues of the credit crisis in the recent past, currently, and in the future. A lot of the focus of the class is on what we learned from this credit crisis that can prevent it in the future. Another one is called "Measuring the Effects of Diversity in the Workplace." They're looking at really quantitative data and very broad research about how companies differ in their commitment to diversity and whether data supports the fact that diversity pays.

Those are a couple of examples. Next year there will most likely be one on sustainability, one on the strategy of innovation, and another specifically on international entrepreneurship.

What skills are you looking for that you can glean from an undergraduate transcript?

Obviously it will tell us a lot about a student's overall performance, their decision-making process in terms of what classes they elected to take, and the consistency of their performance (whether there was an upward trend or a rollercoaster-type performance.) It's helpful to see how quantitatively prepared they may be. It tells us how much they challenge themselves obviously by their undergraduate GPA, but many transcripts also tell us what their rank was in class and what their GPA was within their major. We can get an awful lot of information from their transcript.

What is the typical amount of work experience you look for?

Most Tuck students have four to five years of full-time work experience. That's an average; obviously there are some students here who have two years of experience, and we have some students who are in their early 40s with far more experience than the average.

Tuck is known for its tightly knit community and emphasis on teamwork. What is the best way for applicants to convey that they possess those qualities?

They should take advantage of the interview. It shows us that they're serious about the process and that they actually visited and are even more familiar with the program. We have an unusual open-interview policy. That means that any applicant who wants to have an interview can: we do not interview on the basis of invitation. I think that there are some qualities that are just more difficult to assess on the basis of a written application, and the interview allows them the opportunity to show their softer skills.

What steps do you take to ensure the diversity of your class?

Diversity is a huge goal of ours at Tuck and in the admissions process. We have people who specialize in the office in different demographic groups, and each of those people has a series of initiatives. For example, Women in Business partners with admissions to put on an annual conference for women each year. We invite prospective students to come and learn more about Tuck, and it's also a conference for current students and alumni. They have helped us organize an alumni mentoring program where female applicants match up with female alums who can mentor them in the process of going to business school. Then there's a host of things that are done with regard to underrepresented minorities. Tuck hosts a huge diversity conference in the fall; it's geared to prospective students, current students, and alumni. We have sort of a separate strategy for a variety of diverse groups.

When BusinessWeek interviewed you nearly three years ago, you noted that international experience was becoming more important to recruiters. What has Tuck done to increase the global viability of its students?

We actually added a new admissions criteria a couple of years ago that's called "global mindset." It was added because we believe that students who possess a global point of view add greatly to the depth of experience at Tuck. They're also more successfully poised for diverse career opportunities. This is not a requirement, but we do ask questions on the application about the extent to which they traveled, worked, and lived abroad. We ask them to list their native language and other languages they know and their proficiency.

Along those lines, Tuck has active MBA alumni clubs in 20 different countries. Is there an increase in the number of graduates seeking job opportunities abroad after graduation?

The number of people who are seeking to be placed abroad has not increased dramatically to my knowledge, but so many firms and corporations that recruit here are multinational. I think one of the reasons that recruiters are interested in more students who have a global mindset is that many multinational companies have to place people in India or China. To have people who have already taken the risk of immersing themselves in those cultures, who are adaptable and resilient and really interested in learning how conducting business in a different culture may be different than in the U.S.—it's a great background to have if you're going to be placed in, or if you have to travel to, a foreign location.

How is the economic crisis affecting job placement of Tuck graduates?

Well, as you can imagine, I think it is a more challenging year for the career development office. But they have on- and off-campus recruiting, they're networking with alumni, they're doing presentations to the Board of Overseers and the MBA Advisory Board to solicit alumni help in finding jobs. They're out visiting companies. They're exhausting all the traditional things that they've done in the past plus a lot more proactive outreach.

In terms of how many students were placed this year vs. last year, I know that it was down slightly. I think it was less than a 10% difference. There are certainly some firms that are hiring fewer students, but [this percentage] shows that there is still a job market for talented MBAs.

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