Tuck School Changes Admission Criteria to Give ‘Nice’ a Chance

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/4/2018 11:09:24 PM
Modified: 8/4/2018 11:09:34 PM

Hanover — Can a Master of the Universe be nice?

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business thinks so.

In fact, Tuck will insist on it: The ability to play well with others will henceforth be a factor in winning admission into Tuck.

The elite Ivy League business school, long a training ground for corporate chieftains, Wall Street sharks and hard-charging entrepreneurs, will now be evaluating applications for admission based upon candidates who demonstrate that they posses the four virtues of “smart, nice, accomplished and aware.”

In the first revision of its admission criteria in more than 15 years, Tuck is taking into account “emotional intelligence, empathy and respect for others” when it evaluates the more than 2,500 applications it receives annually for the coveted 290 or so slots in its first-year class.

Business schools in recent years have been putting a greater weight on interpersonal skills — known as “EQ” — among applicants, adding it to the list of qualifications they see as critical in educating business leaders.

The leader who can build consensus in a cooperative environment has supplanted the previous model of the imperious CEO who barks orders from the corner office without regard to how it is being received down the line, according to business school admissions counselors. That’s especially true in the collaborative-oriented tech and service sectors,

Tuck’s new admissions criteria is “part of a broader trend in business schools putting a much greater emphasis on interpersonal skills,” said Karen Marks, former associate director of admissions at Tuck who now runs her own Hanover-based firm advising students seeking admission to business school. The emphasis on EQ is “not unique to Tuck, but Tuck was one of the pioneers — it’s really what they’ve been looking for all along. They just didn’t have a manifesto on it.”

The revised criteria for applicants are part of several changes Tuck undertook in its admissions process, which also include shortening the number of days — in some cases by 50 percent — applicants must wait before being notified if they have been accepted.

The review occurred after Tuck’s new executive director of admissions and financial aid, Luke Anthony Pena, joined the school last summer from Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he was director of admissions.

Pena, in a phone interview while between flights in Chicago during a global hopscotch promoting Tuck, said that the new criteria do not signal any diminution in Tuck’s rigorous academic requirements — incoming students typically boast GMAT scores of 722 (out of a possible 800) and a more than 3.5 GPA along with all having prior work experience — but rather express “a cleaner, crisper articulation” of the values embraced by the world’s oldest graduate MBA school.

Although the word “nice” can be indistinct and suggest different things to different people, Pena said that Tuck defines it as a gracious willingness to work for the success of others and toward positive outcomes, be it for an enterprise or within a social community.

New essay questions and reference statements in Tuck’s application are designed to reveal “demonstrated patterns of behavior” that “confirm actions that candidates practice on a regular basis,” he said.

For example, in addition to answering the standard questions such as defining one’s goals and the reason for choosing Tuck, the application points out that “Tuck students are nice, and invest generously in one another’s success” and requires applicants (in 500 words) to “share an example of how you helped someone else succeed.”

The question, Tuck’s website explains, “aligns perfectly with the program’s long-held belief in teamwork and community spirit,” and the written essay will show “that you have a natural interest in helping others reach their goals and have successfully done so (and) demonstrate for the admissions committee that you possess the qualities it is seeking in its next class of students.”

Jessica Seymour, who was the associate director of admissions at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management before she enrolled and graduated from Tuck in 2014, said that a good handle on an applicant’s non-quantitative interpersonal skills can emerge through her or his answers to the essay questions, recommendations and interviews. (Tuck is one of the few business schools to assure that every applicant who is willing to make the trip to Hanover to visit the school will be interviewed.)

“These elements allow (and encourage) students to be reflective about their past, present and future, which is a great opportunity to highlight EQ,” said Seymour, a Minneapolis-based senior admissions consultant with The MBA Exchange, which advises students on their business school applications.

So, given that she spent two years in Hanover, what special advice does Seymour have for clients who say Tuck is their top choice?

After telling them she “loved my experience” at Tuck, Seymour said via email, “I then usually recommend they go and visit the campus so that they can get a better sense for the school’s culture and its location, which is not for everyone and that’s okay!”

Although Tuck’s “nice” criteria elicited snickers and derision in some corners — the conservative opinion magazine National Review asked, “(W)ouldn’t jerks just lie and make up stories that make them seem like decent people?” — Pena said, “I stand behind the word. I think it’s a bold declaration of the values that have long defined Tuck in the business school landscape.”

Nor does he think applicants will be able to fake it.

“Anybody and everybody can claim to be nice but only those who practice the habit of kindness and investing in others will have robust examples that will shine in ways that candidates who merely provide lip service to being nice will not shine,” Pena said.

Tuck has always been atypical among the top business schools, according to John Byrne, founder and editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, a San Francisco-based news website devoted to the coverage of business schools. Because the school is small and located in a rural setting, it has always tended to attract students who don’t exhibit the stereotypical “sharp elbow” characteristics.

“What Tuck is implementing (with the new admissions criteria) is a reaffirmation of what the school has been all along,” he said. “People go there because it’s a very small and intimate program, residential, and it’s in a location where you basically can’t do anything else” but work collaboratively.

Besides, Byrne noted, “if someone came to Tuck who was a real wiseguy and who was there to outdo everybody and show them up, the system would reject them like a foreign body.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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