Posted on July 31, 2012

Tuck Essay Questions Analysis: 2012-2013

Tuck has dropped one full essay from last year and is now down to three required essays. Tuck no longer requires you to write a 'Background’ essay but has retained the other three required essays with the same essay prompt and the same expected average word limit of 500 words as last year. The first one is about career goals and Tuck, the second one is about leadership, and the third one is about failure. Please take the time to brainstorm ideas/ stories for each of these essays in order to showcase different aspects of your unique personality.

From Tuck Website: Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. Compose each of your answers offline in separate document files and upload them individually in the appropriate spaces. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. There are no right or wrong answers.

Essay #1. 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 a typical ‘goals’ question that requires you to make a realistic connection between your past (past experience and skills), present (your need of an MBA), and future (your future plans leading to your goals). In other words, you need to demonstrate how your professional accomplishments have enabled you to set your goals and how an MBA is the logical next step towards the realization of those goals/ objectives. Remember, earning an MBA is just one piece of your career puzzle, and you want to prove to the admissions committee that you understand where it fits in the grand scheme of things. Be specific about why you feel now is the time for you to learn the required skills with an MBA in order to move ahead on your career path. Also, please make sure that there is a convincing connection between your short-term and long-term goals.


"In my work experiences, I never had the opportunity to look into acquisitions, which is one of the most interesting aspects of my current job. (Why MBA?) After gaining insight into the area and getting first-hand experience from start to finish, becoming the Finance leader within Corporate Strategy and Development is where I see myself in the next few years (Long term and short-term goals). To reach these goals, I believe, I must supplement my current education and work experience with a top-notch graduate business education".

After answering the first part of the question (Why MBA?) it is important to answer the second part of the question i.e. 'Why Tuck'? Please research thoroughly Tucks resources (academic programs, classes, professors, statistics, social life, and clubs, etc.) for you to explain effectively which offerings of Tuck would match your specific needs and help you achieve your goals.

Essay #2. Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

Like many other MBA programs, Tuck also places great importance on leadership. When brainstorming ideas/ experiences for this essay, keep in mind the keywords "meaningful leadership experience’. This means your story may not have yielded amazing quantifiable results, but it should have challenged you enough to put in your best efforts. You should choose an experience that was an enormous learning experience for you –an experience that made you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Don't hesitate in sharing your weakness that came out of that experience. Make sure the details of your experience/ story reflect the positive as well as negative facets of your character or abilities. However, be careful not to dwell too much on the weaknesses. The key here is to prove that you have learned useful lessons from that experience which you applied later in your life and career.

Your story should have a four-part structure- the challenge, the action, the outcome, and the significance. Remember, Tuck expects you to emphasize more on the last part, that is, why that experience is meaningful to you. The following example indicates how the candidate recognized his mistakes and learned from them and why he thinks that his leadership experience is meaningful to him.


"This experience is meaningful to me because it revealed to me my strength in communicating my vision to the team and keeping them focused on our objective. Indeed, a shared vision is essential to motivate a volunteer team to take a risk and perform beyond expectations. I, however, recognize that I need to develop a confident and assertive leadership style."

For more details on ‘leadership essay’ please refer to my article “How to show leadership when you don’t have reporting responsibilities?”

Essay #3: Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?

Like many business schools this year (Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Michigan Ross, UC-Berkeley Haas, Cornell, etc.) Tuck also wants to know about a time when you experienced adversity, failure, or a setback. Why? The schools want their prospective candidates to be real people, with both weaknesses and strengths who have the ability to deal with the challenges of life and grow from them.

When choosing your setbacks/ failure story, please keep in mind that you should discuss challenges that were not necessarily of your doing. For example, getting laid off from your company because of the crumbling economy is your setback, not your fault. You may also choose an experience when the success seemed to be guaranteed, but suddenly things started getting worse, and you had to face failure despite sincerest efforts on your part. Still, the experience taught you important lessons which you later used in your professional/ personal life. The most important part of your story should be to explain how the experience impacted you, what you learned from it, and how you applied that lesson later to improve yourself


"This experience was a huge blow to my self-confidence, but it taught me two great lessons: being assertive when required and allocating responsibilities to all. Later, when I faced a similar situation, I did not hesitate to escalate it, and this time the overall result was much positive. Thus, this setback taught me valuable team-working skills that I am now practicing successfully."

Like the leadership story, your setback story should also have four-part structure- the challenge, the action, the outcome, and the significance, the significance being the most important component.

Essay #4: 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. (Optional)

The phrasing of most schools’ optional essay question goes like this: “Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know?” However, Tuck’s optional essay question provides you specific guidelines on how you can address certain weak areas in your profile (e.g. unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.).

Whatever your problem area is, make sure you provide a genuine reason to convince them that this weakness (low grades, job gaps, etc.) occurred due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. Also, keep in mind that your story should not only explain that weakness in your profile but also showcase your other strong personality traits that came through during that period. In other words, your response should be positive and should not sound like you are making excuses for a weakness in your profile.


“Continuing this strenuous tutoring job for the entire four years of my undergraduate studies resulted in pulling down my grades to 70%. However, the tutoring experience benefitted me in two ways. It not only reinforced my  passion for teaching (I still find  10 hours/ week to teach my home maid’s children) but also provided me the satisfaction of being a dutiful son."

The second part of the essay prompt says, “Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.” This implies that you may also use this question as an opportunity to cover those important themes that you did not get a chance to do in other essays. For example, if you have significant extracurricular accomplishments (sports, music, writing, painting, etc.) or a community welfare activity that you initiated or led, you should share those stories.

Secondly, if you feel you have covered all aspects of your personality in other essays but would like to elaborate/re-emphasize the most significant of them in detail, here is your opportunity to do that. For example, if you have an amazing example of your ability to take initiative or to think outside the box or exceptional work ethic, but could not describe it in detail in other essays because you had a lot of other ground to cover in a limited space, it is a good idea to provide details of that particular story here.

Lastly, make sure that your response to this question should tie back to your overall story, so it does not look like a patchwork. For example, if you are telling a story of your passion/ interest in sports and there is absolutely no clue about this passion of yours in your other essays, it may not be a convincing and persuasive read for the Ad Com.

For my article on Optional Essay, click here.

For a sample Optional Essay, click here.

Most importantly, please make sure that all four essays should read like four different chapters of your unique story rather than solitary pieces.

Essay #5: How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally. (To be completed by all reapplicants)

Re-applicants need to focus on the areas they have improved upon since they applied last. Whether you have improved your academic record by taking extra classes, received a promotion, led a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on a personal challenge, the key here is to demonstrate that you are now a better and stronger candidate. Tuck wants to know that you have been actively making efforts to strengthen your profile and that you have rigorously worked on your weak areas during the previous year because you believe that an MBA from Tuck is important for your success. You need to introspect why you were rejected last time. For example, if you think your goals were unrealistic, you may want to change to more realistic but ambitious goals.

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.