In the pursuit of scale, growth and profits, when the business education industry may seem to have no qualms about converting the MBA degree into a commodity, it’s heartening to see a top ranking Ivy League MBA that’s continued to buck the trend. Compared to many of its peers in the super-elite MBA category, the Tuck class is surprisingly small (281 students). That allows it to provide a unique, personalized and high quality experience to every admitted student.
It also allows the program to introduce innovative practices that may not even be worth contemplating in the bigger programs. Consider this – as a Tuck MBA student, you’d have the power to self-invite yourself to interview with any of the top recruiters (like McKinsey) during campus placements.
The average GMAT for the Tuck MBA is 716 (range: 670 – 750). The average age at the start of the program is 28 years (the range is 23-35 with 32% having partners).
In a tête-à-tête with Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala, from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, we got several interesting insights into the Tuck MBA admissions process, the importance of GMAT / GRE scores, MBA essays, interviews, jobs – and of course, the intriguing self-nomination process for placements.
MBA Crystal Ball: Congrats on the new role at Tuck, Suds! Can you share a little more about yourself and your journey from being a Tuck MBA student not so long back to being on the other side of the table now?
Sudershan Tirumala: Thanks Sameer. I graduated from Tuck in 2010. Prior to Tuck, I was working in the Venture Capital / Private Equity (VC / PE) space in the U.S.
While at Tuck, I got involved in numerous initiatives – as a founding blogger for the school, as leader of the News Hour program, as co-chair of the Tuck PE Club, as a Host Fellow at the Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship, and as an MBA Fellow at the Center for International Business, to name a few.
Post-Tuck, I moved to India to be a part of the VC/PE sector in the emerging markets. While here, I continued to seek avenues to engage with the school, brought Tuckies in the country under the umbrella of the Tuck Club of India, and connected with alumni club leaders of all the Ivy League schools to organize networking events.
As the Key Country Representative in India and South East Asia, I continued spreading awareness of the Tuck brand by leading Tuck Admissions receptions, engaging with applicants on forums such as Pagalguy, and organizing events to coincide with Tuck faculty visits to the country.
The scope of my responsibilities has now been increased and I now serve as the Associate Director, Admissions and Regional Director, India and South East Asia for Tuck, and am a member of the Admissions Committee.
MBA Crystal Ball: Can you explain the process after an applicant submits an application to Tuck?
Suds: There are no student readers at Tuck. Each applicant’s file, once complete, is read by at least two Admissions Committee members. The readers can either both agree that the candidate is a great fit, or both agree that a candidate is a not a good fit, or one reader may feel strongly about a candidate while the other may be a bit more tepid. That’s part one.
Part two. Tuck has an open interview policy – which means anyone interested in applying to Tuck can visit the campus and schedule an interview. Interviews can be conducted by either second year students or by a member of the Admissions Committee (this is the only area in which students help out in the admissions process). All interviews are treated equally and there’s no additional preference given to a candidate simply because she/he may be interviewed by an Admissions Committee member.
Part three. The Admissions Committee completely understands it may not be feasible for applicants located outside of the US to visit the campus and initiate an admissions interview. Rest assured, this, in no way, counts against the candidate. Yes, if you’re living in the US and do not take the effort to visit the campus, that might actually show your lack of interest in the school, but if you’re based outside of the US and are unable to visit, it has no bearing on the outcome.
Part four. The Admissions Committee is very pro-candidate. For overseas-based applicants who are unable to visit the campus, if at least one reader feels positive about an application and recommends that the candidate be interviewed, the candidate will most certainly receive an interview invitation.
Part five. Based on the comments from the readers and based on the interview, deliberate conversations take place about each candidate in the Admissions Committee. Out of these intense debates evolve the contours of each class at Tuck.
MBA Crystal Ball: In P&Q’s recent ranking of the most transparent admissions process, Tuck was rated as the best. That’s a great feather to have in the cap. What is it that Tuck does as part of the admissions process that most business schools don’t?
Suds: It’s simply about making the applicant the center of the admissions process. The Admissions Committee really works very hard to ensure that people who are well-rounded individuals get in – people who are leaders in their own right with good interpersonal skills, obviously have excellent recommendations, good academic record, extra-curricular activities, etc.
The Admissions Committee fully understands that there are more well-qualified people that apply than we can ever admit. Here’s where the candidate getting to know the school and interacting with current students and alumni becomes very important. That’s the reason we have a number of outreach activities where we invite applicants to visit the school and we go out and meet applicants.
It’s the latter part that I’m trying to enable for applicants in India. Just this past year, Tuck held a combination of admissions receptions with alumni, intimate coffee chats with current students, participated in MBA Tour business school fairs, organized lectures for the benefit of applicants in an effort to showcase some of the world’s leading thinkers and teachers who are part of Tuck’s faculty.
My goal is to make the school more approachable to everyone in India while also enabling the school to learn more about candidates.
MBA Crystal Ball: How do you compare applicants who submit GMAT scores vs GRE scores?
Suds: Tuck started accepting GRE scores only a couple of years ago so there isn’t that much in terms of history to go with. A vast majority of the applicants submit GMAT scores. I’d like to clarify something to the Indian applicants.
There’s more to a candidate than simply GMAT/GRE scores and it’s the well-rounded candidate that we’re focused on.
Suffice it to say we’re looking for applicants that are not a one-dimensional personality. An 800 on GMAT doesn’t guarantee you an admission, and a low score doesn’t automatically place you on the deny list.
MBA Crystal Ball: What is it that compels the admissions team to admit folks despite extremely low test scores?
Suds: As mentioned earlier, Tuck is very pro-candidate in its admission process. It’s possible when someone is giving GMAT/GRE, in spite of all their preparation, they may not put up their best performance on the day of the test.
The reasons could be many – being unwell, other work-related priorities that may have come up, personal and family reasons, etc. We want to give the candidate the opportunity to put their best foot forward in their application.
To judge a candidate solely based on a score that may have been the result of an off-day is, in our view, a disservice to the candidate. This is the reason the Admissions Committee considers best sectional scores if a candidate has given the test multiple times.
MBA Crystal Ball: Tuck admitted someone with a 530 in the current class. What was the student’s background?
Suds: I can’t go into specifics. Suffice it to say that we’re looking at the overall profile of every candidate.
If the candidate demonstrates passion and commitment to the school, brings a perspective to the table that enriches the experience of the other 270+ classmates, that’s more important to us than simply a great test score.
MBA Crystal Ball: While most business schools say that the deadlines don’t matter to them and it’s best to apply when the applicant is ready, many applicants believe that the timing does matter. What’s your take on this?
Suds: Every candidate should really apply when they feel the application is ready. Having said that, the Admissions Committee has no way to predict the quality of applicants in a future round. So it does what anyone in the position would typically do – admit candidates who the Admissions Committee is fully convinced about in the current round.
As seats fill up, progressive rounds become a bit more challenging – but not by a whole lot more. Which is why it makes sense to have the applicants get their application ready sooner than later.
But let me say this: if a candidate is good enough for Tuck, and puts up a really strong application, that candidate will get in irrespective of which round she/he applies in.
Check out the deadlines for this year’s application here.
MBA Crystal Ball: Unlike some bschools that throw curve-balls at applicants, the Tuck MBA essay topics are quite straight-forward.
Suds: Tuck is a very human place. You simply cannot be anonymous in the community. It’s the way the program is structured. The Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know a candidate’s motivations and her/his ability to function effectively in a diverse team since that’s essentially how the Tuck study group is formed. And Tuck essays are aimed at understanding an applicant’s ability to be an integral part of such a tight-knit community.
MBA Crystal Ball: How do you react to applicant essays that are simple and honest, but bordering on being boring? Would a more flamboyant response grab your attention and help in differentiation?
Suds: Whether an essay is flamboyant or not, our approach is to get to know the candidate really well. Ultimately, we’re focused on finding the candidate who is going to be really successful being at Tuck, on both personal and professional levels.
And it’ll be someone who is honest about what she/he has accomplished, someone who has done a level of introspection on what she/he plans to do in the future, and someone who has thought through how she/he would like to contribute to the school. Here are this year’s essay questions.
Let’s think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. Each aspect of the application – essays, CSQs (confidential statement of qualifications), GMAT/GRE, professional experience, extra-curricular activities, academic performance, interview etc. – is a piece of that puzzle.
When the Admissions Committee is trying to put together these various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, is a coherent picture emerging of the candidate? Are there holes in that picture that can’t be explained?
You might guess that the candidate that is able to create a holistic picture through the jigsaw puzzle might have a better opportunity to convince the Admissions Committee of her/his candidacy. And you’re quite accurate in your guess.
MBA Crystal Ball: What’s the best way for an applicant to impress you?
Suds: The best way someone can impress me is to demonstrate that she/he has really taken the effort to get to know about Tuck. That doesn’t mean spending time and money visiting the campus while being based in India and South East Asia.
It means getting a sense of the school’s culture by interacting with as many students and alumni as possible. It means attending at least one of the many different events that are being conducted across India. It means communicating honestly and with sincerity. It means being a considerate, thoughtful future leader with humility, since that’s what sets Tuckies apart.
Tuckies, while being independently successful, are invested in the success of their fellow classmates. It’s not about cut-throat competition, but about being supremely collaborative. It’s things like these that I, and by extension, everyone in the Admissions Committee is looking for in a candidate.
MBA Crystal Ball: How are the MBA scholarship decisions taken by the Tuck MBA admissions team?
Suds: The admissions policy is itself need-blind. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re able to afford a Tuck education or not. If you have what it takes to succeed at Tuck and beyond, you will get admitted. All applicants are considered for scholarship and there’s no additional application that needs to be filled to qualify for one.
You’re pursuing an MBA as a long-term enabler of growth in your career. To decide on the school based on who is going to give you a scholarship is myopic in my view. In finance-speak, it’s like a company using short-term funds to develop long-term assets, which is inherently crippling to its operations.
Instead, look at the outcomes. Look at which school really enables you to transform yourself into a leader during the two years of the MBA.
Evaluate which school’s graduating class is sad to leave the campus (meaning how much they have truly enjoyed being in the midst of each other for the past couple of years) and at the same time, absolutely thrilled and confident about what they’re about to embark on (meaning they have really used these two years to hone their leadership abilities and are on the threshold of pursuing their dream career).
Make this analysis the cornerstone of your decision when figuring out which school to attend.
MBA Crystal Ball: Unlike the big programs like Harvard & Wharton, I assume it’s more challenging for smaller MBA programs to maintain the class diversity. How do you evaluate applicants from highly represented industry / geographic pools (like technology / India)?
Suds: At Tuck, generally speaking, a third of the class is international, better than a third of the class is women, and a fifth of the class is under-represented minorities.
My goal as Tuck’s point person in India and South East Asia is to make Tuck more accessible to Indian applicants, to demystify the perceptions that applicants have created for themselves or through hearsay, to really put a human face to the school which has had such a transformative effect on me, and share my enthusiasm for the phenomenal community that is Tuck.
In other words, not only bring Tuck to India but also bring India to Tuck.
When people speak of applicants from India, the stereotype is technology, male, high GMAT, etc. I’m actually finding that that’s not really the case. There are current and admitted students that are from various backgrounds including consulting, oil & gas, manufacturing and engineering, non-profit, sales, and of course, technology.
When I’m interacting with candidates, I have no pre-conceived notions regarding their accomplishments, aptitude, personality, etc. I’m fairly informal in my approach and enjoy interacting with candidates in a casual setting.
MBA Crystal Ball: Are there any specific personality traits that turn you off?
Suds: I guess someone who is obsequious, trying to desperately sell their story without having introspected enough – I guess you could say such candidates are really playing against themselves.
MBA Crystal Ball: According to statistics, 2 in 3 international students go back to their home countries after the MBA. How many international Tuck MBA grads get U.S. jobs? Can you share some placement statistics for international students?
Suds: These are the latest statistics for our 2014 class. At the time of graduation number 90% of our students with a non-permanent work authorization status had job offers. In the 3 months after graduation, 97% of our international students were placed.
The Career Development Office (CDO) at Tuck is extremely sensitive to students’ needs and aspirations. They get to know you personally and understand your motivations and your career plans. And then they get to work on figuring out how you can get there. So it’s a very personalized process.
There are about 280 students in a given class and almost 900 companies look to recruit from Tuck. That should set to rest any questions about the how highly sought after, Tuckies are in general.
One question I’ve been asked time and again is “Tuck is in the middle of nowhere. How does that impact recruiting?”
My answer is a resounding “It’s fantastic for recruiting!”
How so? When recruiters come to Tuck, they’re coming to spend time in Hanover which is a couple of hours north of Boston. They do this for good reason.
Tuckies have been time and again cited by recruiters as employees who are well-rounded, down-to-earth, easy to work with, committed to the team, having a great work ethic, readiness to go the extra mile to get things done, humble and hard working without a sense of elitism or entitlement, people who set themselves apart through their leadership skills.
Upon arriving in Hanover, the recruiters don’t have the distractions of a typical large city (such as a branch office they have to visit, meetings they’re trying to juggle, etc.) They’re at Tuck because they have set aside the time to really engage with the students. And it’s not a one day trip either. They’re there for a couple of days, for company presentations, networking events, office hours, interviews, lunches, and dinners.
It not only gives them an opportunity to get to know students really well, it also affords the students unparalleled access to recruiters in different settings, and gives them a way to evaluate whether this company is a good fit for their future endeavors. Tuck’s location is a huge advantage for the students from a recruiting perspective.
There’s a myth that has been perpetuating out there – at least among the Indian applicants – that Tuck is an out and out consulting school. Yes, a decent number of Tuck first and second year students do go for consulting as a career. But to assume that that’s predominantly what Tuckies do after graduating, is a misnomer by all means. There is a comparable number of students who choose to go into finance-related career – be it investment banking, corporate finance, insurance, commercial and retail banking, etc.
There’s a good number of students who pursue general management careers – corporate strategy, marketing, and leadership rotational programs in diverse industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, technology, and so on. Then there are those who either want to work for a Silicon Valley-based start-up, or work on entrepreneurial ideas of their own, or get into venture capital and private equity.
During the first year, you take core courses and in the second year, you enroll in courses that interest you personally, and explore areas that you want to focus on in your career. And this is what enables Tuckies to pursue all of the career avenues that have been outlined above.
MBA Crystal Ball: Tuck has an innovative self-nomination process that allows students to get a crack at the best companies even if they haven’t been short-listed by the company. Can you explain how it works?
Suds: Tuck has this unique policy that when a company comes to recruit on campus and they want to conduct, say 20 interviews, they can only shortlist candidates for 50% of the slots (10 in this case).
The remaining 50% of the slots are available for students to self-invite themselves to the interviews.
This policy allows the students to get in front of companies they are really keen on interviewing with. Each student is given 1000 points to spend bidding on companies they’re interested in.
The most important point to note is that the company does not distinguish between students it has shortlisted and students who have self-selected into the interview slots. Once the interview slots are filled, there is no bias for or against any candidate and it totally depends on how well the candidate performs in the interview.
MBA Crystal Ball: With the dependency on H1B visas, what do Tuck students do differently in order to increase their chances of getting a job in the U.S.?
Most international students pursue their MBA in the US intending to work in the US for a few years at least, and that’s true of Indian students as well. There really haven’t been many cases of Indian students not being able to secure H-1B visas.
First, it needs to be noted that the H-1B visa issue is a systemic one and not specific to any one school. Having said that, Indian students from Tuck have fared really well in getting into companies of their choice and in the visa process.
MBA Crystal Ball: Are there any lesser known facts about Tuck that you wish more candidates knew?
Suds: I had the most fulfilling MBA experience at Tuck in terms of the number of things I was involved in, how transformational the two years were for me, and the fantastically supportive network I was able to leverage. I really can’t think of too many things I’d like to change about the program.
Starting from the class of 2017, developing a global mindset is a prerequisite for graduation. Students have to have international experience as part of their MBA program at Tuck and I think that’s a must-have in today’s business setting.
With Matt Slaughter taking over as the tenth Dean of Tuck starting on July 1 2015, there’s a lot of excitement around the campus. He brings lots of energy and thought leadership in the field of international policies and frameworks, economics, and global business. Under him, I expect Tuck to become more internationally focused while preserving the core that has helped Tuck create a niche for itself in the Pantheon of world’s best business schools.
A T’16 Indian student (who is currently pursuing his internship with McKinsey in Houston) had this to say. This about sums up the experience of pretty much every student that has ever walked the halls of Tuck:
“Suds, I just can’t tell you how lucky I am to get into Tuck. It’s only after I got here have I understood the power of the Tuck network. Everyone I met here is cheering me on, the community is incredibly supportive, and it’s so easy to make a personal connection with recruiters. I was able to interview with McKinsey, Bain, BCG, and got so much support from the CDO and the second year students. In terms of percentages, since the class size is small, students have so much more going for them with regard to recruiting outcomes compared to some of the other large schools.”
MBA Crystal Ball: What can applicants do to increase their chances of getting an admit from Tuck?
Suds: First and foremost, as soon as they read this blog post, they should go ahead and create a profile on the Tuck website. This will allow the school to contact them as and when events are scheduled around India.
They should also check out the Tuck events page from time to time to make sure they’re not missing out on registering for events.
I look forward to interacting with all the candidates during these events and beyond. In the meantime, if they have any questions, they should not hesitate to reach me. My details can be found here.
Check out this podcast for an Indian perspective of Tuck.
Feel free to post your questions below and get the interaction going.
All the best to all the prospective applicants and I look forward to meeting the applicants from India in person soon enough!
If you have queries for Suds about the Tuck MBA program, please post them below in the comments section.
Read the interviews with the Admission Committee officers of many other top bschools.