Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article written by an anonymous “hired gun” who writes admissions essays, term papers, and even doctoral theses for paying students, who in turn pass these off as their own. Bloomberg Businessweek also ran a similar piece that profiled a couple of similar services that write essays for business school applicants.
Are these services unethical? Yes, we think so, but that’s so obvious that we won’t devote any more words to it here. (If you’re reading this because you’re looking to hire someone to write your admissions essays for you, then you can keep looking.)
What really concerns us is that schools and admissions offices seemingly don’t question how someone with a horrible command or English could create a perfectly constructed essay or research paper. If you are to believe the sources quoted in both article, these services work well enough (i.e., students get caught rarely enough) that they have thriving businesses with repeat customers. Again, the students who submit these and the hired guns who write them are flaunting the rules of the system, but where the hell the admissions officers, professors, and university department heads who should easily catch this sort of behavior? You mean to tell me that, as a student with broken English clumsily defends a doctoral thesis that he’s barely read all the way through, the thought of, “I wonder if this is his work,” never crosses their minds?
Again, that doesn’t excuse such behavior, but we really wonder about who’s minding the shop at these supposedly academically challenging institutions. Just like the TSA may never catch every pen knife that goes through airport security, it’s understandable if a handful of forged academic papers slip through the system now and then. But, if the practice is as commonplace as the Chronicle piece makes it out to be (just look at the business this guy’s company supposedly does), then someone is not doing their job. This isn’t even a question of what the penalties should be for students who are caught cheating — those penalties should of course be steep — but a question of why more of these students don’t get caught in the first place.
Another concern of ours: It bothers us is that such services cause the whole industry of admissions consultants and coaches to get painted with the same broad brush. As mentioned in the Bloomberg Businessweek article, AIGAC is an international organization devoted to upholding ethical standards among admissions consultants. Bring admitted to AIGAC is no small task — a company and its individual members have to jump through many hoops to be admitted — and maintaining one’s membership is just as involved.
Although AIGAC now has dozens of members around the world, it takes just one or two bad actors (like the ones profiled in these articles) to cause some admissions officer to go off half-cocked and ban any type of application assistance, no matter what the circumstances. We’d hate to see that happen because of these services.
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If you stumbled across the article while procrastinating on your business school admissions essays, you’re in luck. Hopefully this article will be the best thing that could have happened to your essays. Today we present three ways to break through writer’s block and get your MBA admissions essays back on track.
When we say “writer’s block,” we mean any situation where you know what’s on paper (or on your computer screen) is far from being a finished product that you’ll be happy to submit as part of your finished application. Maybe you just can’t think about what to start writing about (this is what most people think of when they hear “writer’s block”), but an even tougher case can be when you’re staring at a nearly-finished essay and you just know that it’s not working. In either case, try these three things to clear your mind and start fresh
Talk to an Old Friend or Relative
Why would connecting with an old friend or relative help with your writer’s block? Doing so can help stimulate memories and ideas that may be buried deep in your brain. A conversation with an old friend may remind you of why you got so excited about your current career in the first place, giving new oomph to a “Career Progression”-oriented essay. The real thing — whether it’s talking to an old friend or looking through old pictures — is far more effective at jogging your memory and unleashing old (but good) ideas than is sitting at a computer.
Write Something You Know You’ll Never Submit
There’s something to be said for doing a “dry run” that you know will have no real consequences. Stumped on your Stanford GSB “What matters most and why” essay? Write an absurd piece that you know would immediately get you dinged if you ever submitted it. Or, write it as a character from a movie would — Gordon Gekko is always a good one to fall back on — and let your creative juices flow. Just be sure that you remember NOT to submit this version when you send in your application!
Get Some Rest!
At the end of the day, no mind is better able to create than a well rested one. One night of at least eight hours of sleep and another night of dedicated writing is always more effective than two nights of tired writing and less sleep than your body really needs. Science backs this up, too: While you’re asleep, your brain processes the day’s memories and makes new connections between neurons to store those in your long-term memory. This “flushing out” of your short-term memory helps your brain take in, process, and synthesize new information. Tell that to your professor when you get caught napping in class!
Got other ideas? Share them in the comments section below! For more MBA admissions advice, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!
Recently we came across this terrific piece on a hypothetical college course that the author would one day like to teach. The course would require students to ruthlessly edit their own writing with every assignment they submit. We immediately circulated here, because it hit so close to home for the Veritas Prep team. Every day we work with clients to help them sharpen their ideas, and this exercise helps crystallize it perfectly.
The author, Jason Fried, says:
Today we’ll dig into INSEAD’s MBA admissions essays for the coming year (you’ll need to log into the online application to access the essays). Here they are, followed by our comments and advice in italics:
INSEAD Application Essays
Please give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities; and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, number of clients/products and results achieved. (250 words)
The goal of this essay is clear: You must succinctly help the admissions office understand exactly what you do on a day-to-day basis. As easy as it is to become consumed with your GMAT score and your extracurricular activities, at the end of the day, the most accurate predictor of your professional potential is what you have done in your career to date. Don’t be spooked by the fact that the school asks for the number of employees under your supervision and the size of the budget you manage — if you haven’t really managed a team or owned a budget yet, that’s okay. The school is just trying to understand exactly what it is you do in your present job. Also, note the emphasis on your PRESENT job. This is not a typical “career progression” essay; stick to what the question asks.
Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words)
Here is where you can provide some context around your career progression up until now. Of course, doing this in 250 words is a tough job, do you will really need to stick to the highlights in terms of what you have achieved and the reasons for the moves you have made. You will have to ditch most of the flowery prose in favor of clear, easy-to-follow facts. The second part of this question is interesting in that it pretty directly hits on something that INSEAD and any other top business school wants to know — that you’re interested in pursuing an MBA to turbocharge an already successful career, not to bail out of a stagnant one. Painting the picture of a successful young professional (in not many words, of course!) will be key here.
Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (400 words)
While the Job Essays above required you to really stick to the facts and simply summarize your resume, here is where you can start to provide more narrative. Many applicants see the word “weaknesses” and tense up, thinking, “Oh no! I need to come up with an innocuous weakness that won’t kill my candidacy!” But the admissions committee knows that no one is perfect. INSEAD truly wants to understand what you’re good at and where you need some work. The school wants to see evidence of strong self-awareness and a desire to build on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. The seemingly natural place to go from here is to explain how INSEAD can help you with these areas, although note that this is not a “Why INSEAD?” essay prompt. Keep the focus mostly on you and what you have accomplished to date.
Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words)
This question reminds us of Harvard’s “three most substantial accomplishments” essay prompt. Not surprisingly, our advice is pretty much the same: This gives you a great opportunity for you to spell out at least two main themes that you want to emphasize in your application. Remember, the “why” in your story is even more important than the “what,” so be sure to spell out why these accomplishments are so critical to describing you as an emerging leader. Also, don’t feel that both accomplishment need to come from your job. If you have a great achievement from outside of work — such as from your community service efforts or even from a hobby that you’re passionate about — that can also provide great material for this essay.
Describe a situation taken from school, business, civil or military life, where you did not meet your personal objectives, and discuss briefly the effect. (250 words)
Ack, a failure question! Time to run for the hills! Don’t worry — as stated above, INSEAD knows you’re not perfect. The question is how you are able to overcome your failures and grow as a result of them. INSEAD’s word choice in asking for the “effect” of your failure is odd; what the school really wants to hear is what you learned and how you improved (both as a professional and as a person) as a result. And, ideally, you can even work in an example of ho you put what you learned to use when faced with another challenge. Of course, the word count is tight, but being able to work in this example shows that you’re not just talk.
Discuss your career goals. What skills do you expect to gain from studying at INSEAD and how will they contribute to your professional career. (500 words)
Now we’re really getting into the “Why and MBA?” and “Why this school?” questions. Note that, as important is it is to make a convincing case about your career goals and your reasons for wanting an MBA, you also really need to spell out why specifically INSEAD can help you achieve your goals? This is where you need to show that you’ve done your homework, and convince the school that you’re not only applying because INSEAD is a highly ranked program.
Please choose one of the following two essay topics:
a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you? (250 words)
b) What would you say to a foreigner moving to your home country? (250 words)
Both of these essay prompts try to help the admissions committee understand you a little bit better. While it’s easy to lump these questions into the “diversity” bucket, really what the school is trying to gauge is your emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity. More than perhaps any other MBA program INSEAD truly is a melting pot of management education. You may be in study teams with people from four other continents — how well will you work with them at 3:00 AM when you have a tough final project due in six hours? A little bit of humor a humility can go a long way in answering these questions. Help the admissions committee be able to envision you sitting in a study group on INSEAD’s campuses in Fountainebleu and Singapore.
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Here are UCLA Anderson’s MBA admissions essays for the 2010-2011 admissions season. Note that Anderson has changed its essays pretty extensively this year. And, the school’s famous “video essay,” which is optional, returns for 2010-2011. Pay special attention to our advice regarding the video response, below.
Here are the school’s essay topics (for new applicants) for the coming season, followed by our comments in italics:
UCLA Anderson Admissions Essays
What event or life experience has had the greatest influence in shaping your character and why? (750 words)
This question is new, although it’s only subtly different from last year’s first essay prompt. Here, the UCLA admissions committee is trying to dig deep into who you are and what makes you tick. We actually prefer last year’s wording, since this year’s version seems to put extra emphasis on a single event, which may create some pressure in applicants’ minds to come up with a dramatic single incident. In reality, the “or life experience” part of this year’s question still leaves it open-ended enough that you shouldn’t feel the need to focus on one single point in time. Try to answer this question with your personal development in mind. Your tendency will be to tie it right back to your career and why you’re pursuing an MBA, but consider this input from the admissions office: “Please be introspective and authentic in your responses. Content is more important than style of delivery. We value the opportunity to learn about your life experiences, aspirations, and goals.”
Describe your short-term and long-term career goals. What is your motivation for pursuing an MBA now and how will UCLA Anderson help you to achieve your goals? (750 words)
This question carries over unchanged from last year, and should be approached the same as most other “Career Goals” / “Why an MBA?” essays. Note that the “Why an MBA?” component is very important, but you absolutely MUST demonstrate in this essay a knowledge of and a passion for UCLA Anderson. One way any school protects its admissions yield is by ferreting out those who don’t show enough enthusiasm for the program. Failing to answer the “how will UCLA Anderson help you achieve you goals” part of the question is a sure way to get ferreted out by the admissions committee.
You may respond to the following question via written essay, audio or video clip: What is something people will find surprising about you?
It’s easy to get too worked up over this video response, but we do recommend that our clients take advantage of it, despite the point that Anderson makes about not giving preference to those who submit one. Why? It’s simply easier for an admissions officer to envision you at the school if he or she can see your face and feel at least some connection with the real you. We think you should prepare well and make sure you deliver your answer smoothly, but a more impromptu-sounding response will sound warmer and more authentic than an overly scripted response. Lastly, have fun with this! Your response doesn’t need to be funny or wacky, but brightening the admissions committee’s day always helps.
Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)
Only use this question as necessary. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any.
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Today we dig into Stern’s application essays for the coming admissions season.
You will see that Stern’s essays haven’t really since last year. Still, our advice has evolved slightly, so read our comments closely. Stern looks extra hard for applicants who can prove that they really are passionate about the program.
Our comments follow each question in italics:
NYU Stern Admissions Essays
Think about the decisions you have made in your life. Describe the following (750 words):
(a) What choices have you made that led you to your current position?
(b) Why pursue an MBA at this point in your life?
(c) What is your career goal upon graduation from the NYU Stern? What is your long-term career goal?
This question carries over unchanged from last year. What we think makes this question unique vs. other school’s “Why an MBA?” questions is Stern’s emphasis on the choices you’ve made up until now. Be sure to answer that part of the question — don’t simply write about what you’ve done up until now, but also explain why you did those things and made those choices. Stern provides some useful admissions tips on its essay page, including podcasts to help you clarify your story. These are great resources for any Stern applicant.
We take great care to shape the Stern community with individuals who possess both intellectual and interpersonal strengths. We seek individuals who are highly intelligent, collaborative, and committed to flourishing as Stern leaders. Please answer the following questions (500 words):
(a) What is your personal experience with the Stern community? Tell us what actions you have taken to learn about us.
(b) Describe what most excites you about Stern from both an academic and extracurricular perspective.
(c) How do you anticipate making your mark on the Stern community? Be specific about the roles you will take on and the impact you hope to achieve.
This question is also unchanged. Stern has removed the part of last year’s question that asked about the toughest piece of feedback you’ve ever received, and as a result this question has evolved to hit the question of “Convince us that you’re passionate about Stern” more directly. Note the emphasis on specifics — don’t speak in generalities or just copy language from the school’s web site. What do you know about NYU Stern that convinces you that it’s right right school for you, and that you’re the ideal Stern student? And how will you convince the admissions committee? Looking at this kind of essay question early in the process will hopefully provide the impetus you need to really do your homework.
Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative.
This famous “creativity question” is also unchanged. Like Booth and Anderson, Stern seeks new ways to learn about what makes you unique. The admissions office really does want to get to know the real you. Stern’s admissions officers are almost begging you to stand out here, which is a reminder about how you can make their job easier by helping them remember the real you. One other note: Just because this question allows you to use any medium, that doesn’t mean that you need to submit something other than the written word. If that’s your best medium, use it. “Being memorable” means more than just sending them something outrageous; the most effective submissions really are the ones that leave admissions officers feeling like they know you better.
For more news and advice on getting into Stern and other top MBA programs, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!
Recently we wrote about the Haas application deadlines for the coming admissions season. Today we’ll dig into the school’s admissions essays. Here they are, followed by our comments in italics:
Berkeley (Haas) Admissions Essays
What are you most passionate about? Why? (250 words)
The key with this essay — which sounds very similar to Stanford’s famous “What matters most to you and why” question — is to write about something that you really, really care about. A good litmus test is this: How knowledgeable are you about the subject? Many applicants will be tempted to go bold and say something like “Fighting income inequality is what I’m most passionate about,” because they feel like that’s just what one is supposed to say here, but then can’t back it up with facts… and passion. Admissions officers will see right through this, so try any stunts here!
Tell us about your most significant accomplishment. (250 words)
This question also carries over from last year. Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.
At Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles -— question the status quo; confidence without attitude; students always; and beyond yourself. Give an example of when you have demonstrated one of these principles. (250 words, Review Berkeley-Haas’ Defining Principles)
This question is new this year, replacing a question that put emphasis on innovation and creativity. The fact that the admissions office directs you to the school’s defining principles sends a very clear message that those ideas/traits matter to Haas A LOT, and that the admissions office will be looking closely for evidence of those throughout your application, not just in this essay. Any of the four should make for a good starting point for a compelling essay, although we have noticed the admissions office frequently bring up the the “confidence without attitude” one in our discussions with them. If you’re unsure of which one to choose, we’d say go with that one.
There are many ways to learn about our program, what steps have you taken to learn about the Berkeley MBA? (250 words)
Haas slightly reworded this essay since last year, although it essentially remains the same. One subtle but importance difference: The addition of “There are many ways to learn about our program,” almost says to us, “Please skip past the obvious ones like our web site and brochures… Show us some real effort, please.” Our stance on essays like this is always the same: You’d better have better reasons for applying than “Because it’s a top-ten program!” The Haas admissions team seeks evidence that you’ve really done your homework on the school.
- Give us an example of a situation in which you displayed leadership. (500 words)
This question has remained the same for the past several years. Haas hits on it directly: The admissions office wants you to show how you are a leader. This should give you a clear idea of how important this trait is to the Haas admissions office when evaluating applicants. You don’t need to have a big job title or have a team of ten people reporting to you. Think about any time when you showed leadership — maybe by overcoming an obstacle, or by helping a colleague or was struggling — regardless of your role or the circumstances.
What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How do your professional experiences relate to these goals? How will an MBA from Berkeley help you achieve these specific career goals? (1000 words)
This question also carries over from last year. Note that last year Haas added the “post-MBA” part to the question, suggesting that some applicant had perhaps been speaking in terms that were too “big picture.” Pretty standard question here: Where do you see yourself in a few years (and beyond that), and why do you need an MBA to get there? Specifically, why do you need a Haas MBA to get there? Even though you will answer another “Why Haas”-type question, clearly it’s very important to the school that you answer this question.
For more news and advice on getting into Haas and other top business schools, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!
Today we take a close look at Chicago Booth’s MBA admissions essays, which have changed quite a bit since last year. It’s interesting to note that, after there was some chatter a few months ago that Booth would drop its “PowerPoint question” this year, the question lives on. We firmly believe that schools like Booth are still looking for new ways to learn more about you, and while that question hasn’t been perfect, they don’t want to give up on it since it’s still Booth’s best bet to get to know the real you before interviewing you.
Here are Chicago Booth’s essays for the Class of 2013, followed by our comments in italics:
Chicago Booth Application Essays
The Admissions Committee is interested in learning more about you on both a personal and professional level. Please answer the following (maximum of 300 words for each section):
a. Why are you pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life?
b. Define your short and long term career goals post MBA.
c. What is it about Chicago Booth that is going to help you reach your goals?
d. RE-APPLICANTS ONLY: Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application?
This question is new this year, although in many ways it’s a direct descendant of last year’s first essay question. This is the fairly standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most schools ask. Note that, as important is it is to make a convincing case about your career goals and your reasons for wanting an MBA, you also really need to take part (c) seriously… What about Booth attracts you to the school? This is where you need to show that you’ve done your homework, and convince the school that you’re not only applying because Booth is highly ranked.
Chicago Booth is a place that challenges its students to stretch and take risks that they might not take elsewhere. Tell us about a time when you took a risk and what you learned from that experience .(750 words)
This question is also new this year. The best response here will come directly from your work experience, provide enough drama to pull the reader in, and give you an opportunity to really answer the second part of the essay prompt: What did you learn from the experience? Last year “reflection” was a big theme in Booth’s essay questions, and while this question doesn’t specifically ask for reflection, this is your chance to show the kind of self-awareness and introspection that Booth admissions officers really want to see.
At Chicago Booth, we teach you HOW to think rather than what to think. With this in mind, we have provided you with “blank pages” in our application. Knowing that there is not a right or even a preferred answer allows you to demonstrate to the committee your ability to navigate ambiguity and provide information that you believe will support your candidacy for Chicago Booth.
We have set forth the following guidelines:
The content is completely up to you. Acceptable file formats are PowerPoint or PDF.
There is a strict maximum of four pages, though you can provide fewer if you choose.
The document will be printed in color and added to your file for review; therefore, flash, hyperlinks, embedded videos, music, etc. will not be viewed by the committee. You are limited to text and static images to convey your points.
The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.
Files need to be less than 9 megabytes in order to upload. If your file is too large you may save your file as a PDF and upload your essay.
This is the famous “PowerPoint question,” although Booth sets it up differently this year, putting much more emphasis on the “Hey, you have a blank slate here!” message than before. Here the school asks you to present yourself creatively and succinctly. Almost nothing is out of bounds, but you really must ensure that these pages add something new to your application — don’t use it to just show off professional achievements that you already cover elsewhere in your application. Be creative! The reason Booth kept this question is because, while it hasn’t worked perfectly for the school so far, it really is the admissions committee’s best chance to tease some personality out of your application. So, give them some!
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The Darden School of Business at UVA has released its application essays for the 2010-2011 admissions season. Darden has one of the shorter sets of admissions essays that you’ll find among top schools. Also, Darden’s essays are pretty different than most other schools’ essays, meaning that you won’t be able to do much copying and pasting. Darden wants you to put original thought into these essays and demonstrate your fit with — and your enthusiasm for — the program.
Here are Darden’s essays for the 2010-2011 admissions season, followed by our comments in italics:
Darden MBA Application Essays
The Darden MBA program expects students to actively participate in learning teams, the classroom, and the broader community. Please share one or two examples from your past experience that best illustrate(s) how you will contribute to this highly engaging and hands-on learning environment. (500 words)
This question is new this year, although it’s loosely descended from last year’s Essay #2, which asked what you will contribute to an MBA program. This new version is actually very focused compared to most MBA admissions essay questions: Darden doesn’t wallflowers, but rather active participants… Give them specific reasons to believe you are one of the latter. Ideally you can spell out at least one really good example using the “Situation-Action-Result” method outlined in Your MBA Game Plan. (One really good example beats two okay ones, hands-down.)
Also, you only have 500 words, but this question is your best chance to demonstrate a measure of fit with Darden… Again, words are precious here, and the majority of your response will need to focus on you, but you need to give the admissions team at least some reasons to believe that you “get” the Darden community and understand what they’re looking for when they talk about valuing active contributors.
Please discuss how a global event that has taken place in the past two years has impacted the way you think about leadership broadly and personally. (500 words)
This question is a revision of last year’s Essay #1, which asked “How have the changes in the global economy over the last 18 months affected you and your plan for the future?” We didn’t particularly like this question, since it tended to steer applicants towards talking about “big picture” issues instead of talking about themselves. Plus, built into the question was the assumption that everyone HAD been affected by the rocky economic climate, while in fact many applicants’ plans hadn’t changes at all. This left many strong applicants scrambling to generate an impressive-sounding story when they didn’t necessarily have one.
So, we’re glad they changed the question, although the risk of an applicant focusing too much on “big picture” global issues — that don’t really shed any light on who they are and what they hope to achieve in life — still remains. The key here is to especially focus on the last few words, which put the emphasis on on YOU. If the global issue you want to discuss is rising energy prices and your alarm over what you think is a lack of a coherent national energy policy for your country, don’t just stop there. Bring it back to a time you witnessed a similar challenge at work, and how you took the steps needed to make sure your team wasn’t only making short-sited decisions. That’s the type of story that can turn a potentially murky response into a winner.
For more news and advice on getting into Darden and other competitive MBA programs, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!
Today we take a close look at Dartmouth’s admissions essay topics for the 2010-2011 application season. You’ll see that some of the questions have changed a bit vs. last year’s essays, although Tuck still hits on the same themes. That suggests that the school still feels that these themes (e.g., leadership and overcoming adversity) work well for the school in terms of finding applicants who are good Tuck material.
Note that Tuck does not have specific word limits for its essays, but the school does provide some rough guidance: “Although there is no restriction on the length of your response, most applicants use, on average, 500 words for each essay.”
Here are Tuck’s essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Dartmouth (Tuck) Application Essays
Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)
This is the common “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most schools ask. Tuck takes the concept of “fit” very seriously when evaluating candidates — maybe more so than any other top school, given its small class size and remote location — so be sure that you can present a compelling argument for why Tuck in particular is the right place for you to earn your MBA. If your answer has everything to do with you and nothing to do with Tuck, then you probably have more work to do in researching the school.
Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?
This question is new this year, and replaces another leadership question. Interestingly, last year’s question was more specific and contained more clues as to what exactly Tuck looks for in its applicants. As we noted last year, the previous question was maybe a bit ambitious in terms of how much an applicant could cover in about 500 words. Still, the advice we gave last year remains mostly the same: Keep your response focused on one single situation, what action you took, and what the results were. Note the last part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. What exactly happened is very important, but so is evidence of self-reflection. Ideally you can show that you learned something about yourself, such as a shortcoming or lack of experience, that you were able to act on and improve. That’s the richest type of response one can give here.
What is the greatest challenge or hurdle you have overcome, either personally or professionally, and how did you manage to do so?
This question is also new, and replaces one about the toughest criticism you ever received. While this question is certainly different, in many respects it addresses the same core attribute that Tuck wants to see in its applicants: The ability to objectively take a challenge and setback and turn it into something positive, coming out better in the end. It’s interesting that Tuck had gotten away from the “toughest feedback” or “biggest failure” questions, since those tend to be very revealing. This question is subtly different, but there are many responses that could work for a “failure” question that could still work well here. In fact, writing a response about overcoming a failure or weakness will usually more powerful than answering with “My biggest challenge was completing a marathon.” While that’s impressive, it’s far less revealing than a story about a time when you had to make a more fundamental change to who you are as a person and as a leader.
Tuck seeks candidates of various backgrounds who can bring new perspectives to our community. How will your unique personal history, values, and/or life experiences contribute to the culture at Tuck?
This is a good chance to specifically highlight any strengths or themes that may need more emphasis in your application. Everything in your background is fair game here: your work experience, your personal life, and your hobbies all make you unique. Don’t just think of “diversity” in terms of race or national origin!
(Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.
As always, only use this essay if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. More generally, if you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it’s okay to skip this essay!
For more news and advice on getting into Tuck and other top-ranked MBA programs, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!