Live Chat: Tuck MBA Admissions

Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business (Tuck Full-Time MBA Profile) in Hanover, N.H., accepted 20 percent of the 2,528 people who applied to the full-time MBA program in 2010.A priority is keeping the community small and tight-knit so faculty and administrators can offer personalized attention to students, says Dawna Clarke (screen name: DawnaClarkeTuck), director of admissions at Tuck. Recently, she fielded questions about the program from the public and from Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (screen name: FrancescaBW). Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:

YHmac: What importance does your undergrad transcript have in the application?

DawnaClarkeTuck: The admissions process is a holistic one. We look at a wide range of criteria and undergraduate performance is one of them. We'll consider your overall performance—if there was an upward trend, the rigor of the classes, the extent to which you were involved—and any extenuating circumstances. You can also take post-baccalaureate courses to make up for a poor undergraduate GPA.

Springer: Could you explain how much weight is placed on entrance-exam scores?

DawnaClarkeTuck: My answer would be somewhat similar to the one regarding the undergrad GPA. It's truly a holistic process and factors such as the GMAT are one of many that are taken into consideration.

My advice: The GMAT is a test in which preparation pays off. Most applicants take the test two to three times, and we'll look at the highest score. We also accept the GRE.

Springer: How much prior business experience do you like to see?

DawnaClarkeTuck: The average of prior business experience tends to be more than four years. However, the range is typically two to 20 years. It's the quality of a person's experience (and how they present it in the interview, essays, and application) that matters more than the quantity of experience.

We have found that our recruiters are more likely to hire those MBA candidates with significant (meaning at least two years) experience before the MBA. Prior work experience really adds to the richness of the classroom experience for your peers as well.

fd10: What subjects would you recommend for post-baccalaureate courses to supplement a lower-than-average GPA (particularly if we've already taken calculus)?

DawnaClarkeTuck: I'd recommend courses that a) are relevant to the MBA curriculum and b) you haven't already taken. Some examples would be accounting, business statistics, finance, or economics. There are many evening classes at universities in major metropolitan areas, which make it more feasible when you're working full-time.

MAB: How important is the GMAT score for international applicants—let's say Indians, who I believe apply in huge numbers. Also, since eliminating people on scores alone is quite easy, is it the first criteria for elimination?

DawnaClarkeTuck: We never eliminate a candidate based on a low GMAT score. We're fortunate in that we're a small school and every applicant is reviewed thoroughly regardless of the GMAT score. India is quite impressive in terms of its educational system, so we tend to see very strong GMAT scores from students from India, but the range of admitted GMAT scores from India is in sync with the general range.

pwing: What international study opportunities does Tuck offer?

DawnaClarkeTuck: We love to see applicants who are interested in global opportunities. In fact, we added a new question on the application several years ago about "global mindset." We have many international opportunities through a multitude—19 to be exact—of study-abroad programs [and] for-credit field projects in international locations. And the on-campus Tuck curriculum is quite international. A large percentage of the cases and class discussions have an international component.

About 33 to 35 percent of our student body is comprised of international students, so much of the informal learning takes place through cross-cultural interactions. We also have a very impressive Center for International Business, which orchestrates a myriad of opportunities on campus (such as the annual India and China conferences) as well as events and programs around the world. Check out the international business center on our Web site.

Springer: Are there admissions representatives available on weekends?

DawnaClarkeTuck: The reason why admissions representatives aren't available in Hanover on weekends is primarily because we're on the road quite a bit on weekends in the fall. However, we have several on-campus recruiting events in the fall on weekends, such as the Women in Business Conference, which is Nov. 4-Nov. 5 in 2011 and the Diversity Conference, which is Nov. 11-Nov. 12 . There's an application process for each of these conferences, so please see the website if you are interested. We also have two summer visitation programs for those who want to visit sooner rather than later.

Springer: Is there an optional program for working executives?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Tuck doesn't offer a degree-granting executive MBA program. However, we do have a multitude of executive programs. One you might be interested in is called TEP (Tuck Executive Program), which is a four-week program offered every summer.

FrancescaBW: What options are there for international students in need of a co-signer?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Our international loan program does not require a co-signer.

Springer: Is it possible to attend Tuck and work full time?

DawnaClarkeTuck: It's really not possible to attend Tuck full time and to work full time, but good for you for being so ambitious. I don't know of anyone who has ever done both and I definitely wouldn't recommend it. Having done half my master's degree full time and the other half while working full time, I think a student gets so much more out of the full-time experience, if that's at all possible for you to do.

jbates: I recently read a piece on HBS selecting more applicants with engineering/technology backgrounds versus financial backgrounds. Is Tuck similarly looking to expand a certain demographic?

DawnaClarkeTuck: I read the same article. No, we are not shifting our focus on experience. Tuck is a general management program, and we definitely want a class that is well-represented in terms of the breadth of industries.

MAB: Are applicants with international experience given preference in terms of evaluation of their work experience, assuming all other parameters are almost the same?

DawnaClarkeTuck: One of the admissions criterion is "global mindset." We interpret this broadly. Some demonstrate this through previous travel or study-abroad programs, some have taken extensive language training or have work experiences. It's not a requirement, but we like to see that an applicant has some global experiences or interest in developing this area.

Jbates: I also know Dartmouth has a great engineering school. Is there an opportunity for a joint or dual degree, or could a student work engineering electives into his or her schedule?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Dartmouth's engineering school is very strong, and "yes" to all of your questions. It's a very marketable combination to have an MBA and some engineering skills.

FrancescaBW: This comes from someone who couldn't join us. How would you compare and contrast the benefits associated with Tuck's learning model—which appears to aim for a balanced approach featuring case studies, traditional lectures, small group projects, and other teaching methodologies—as opposed to a school such as Darden, where you also spent some time, which uses case studies exclusively?

DawnaClarkeTuck: I think Tuck differentiates itself in several ways. One is our scale and focus. Tuck only offers a two-year, full-time MBA degree program. The faculty, staff, and administration are solely focused on our full-time students.

This focus, coupled with the scale (roughly 250 to 270 students in each entering class), allows us to deliver a very personalized experience. Yes, it's true that we use a variety of teaching methods, including cases, experiential learning, the first-year project, lectures, and a heavy emphasis on the learning that takes place in study groups. In the second year, there are new opportunities to take a very "deep dive" in small group seminars as small as 12 students on subjects such as the economics of the financial collapse.

FrancescaBW: What's your best advice for applicants who want to stand out with the admissions committee?

DawnaClarkeTuck: There are so many answers [to this question]. Before you begin tackling the application itself, really spend some time reflecting on what you are most proud of regarding your previous experiences, accomplishments, and who you are. Then think of ways to communicate those experiences to us in a way that really illustrates your themes. For example, it's great to have a story that illustrates why you feel you are an inspirational leader.

Different applicants "shine" for different reasons. Some have impressive experience in a unique industry, others have motivated people to accomplish something impressive, some stand out academically. I think stories and vignettes are a very effective and memorable way for us to get a sense of what you have to offer. I also think the application process (as daunting as it might seem) can be a great opportunity to reflect on your strengths and to reinforce all that you have to offer.

MAB: How do you judge the work experience of candidates with different firms in a similar domain? Do you prefer stronger brands when the applicant pool is huge?

DawnaClarkeTuck: We're very familiar with the typical career paths at many of the well-known firms. While name-brand recognition can help in some cases, there are many successful applicants each year from lesser-known firms. I think the key is educating the admissions committee (through your application and interview) of a) what your firm does and b) what impactful role you've played within the organization. It's one of the things that keeps it so interesting for us. We're constantly meeting people from all walks of life who do interesting things. Educating us on your firm is key.

jbates: Do most Tuck students have a charted career path or would you characterize the student body as more generalist? What are the merits of either approach?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Most students who seek a part-time or evening MBA are "career enhancers," and most students who seek a full-time MBA are "career switchers." I think one of the benefits of the MBA is to explore industries and functional areas that you haven't even considered. At Tuck, our placement office does a great job of bringing in companies for briefings to expose you to the multiple opportunities for MBAs. I think many come in with an idea of what they think they want to do and some change their minds, given the exposure Tuck provides.

jbates: Are there any statistics on how many Tuck graduates start their own companies?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Tuck is known to be a school that cultivates future entrepreneurs. If you look at the stats right after graduation, they are going to be significantly lower. But long term, about 60 percent of our alumni eventually start or acquire their own businesses.

MAB: How do you see the job market for international students in the United States? With the economy in a downturn, do the recruiters prefer natives?

DawnaClarkeTuck: Great question and great assumption, but the good news is that both in 2011 and 2010, our international student placement rate was equally as high as the rate for domestic students. By the way, Tuck's placement rate last year was ranked No. 1 among our peer group.