It gives me great pleasure to have for the first time on AST, Luke Pena, Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Luke earned his bachelors in PR and business at USC in 2006 and cut his admissions teeth at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication. He subsequently earned a joint MBA/MA in Education at Stanford GSB and joined the GSB’s admissions staff in July 2012 as an Associate Director of MBA Admissions. He rose to Director of MBA Admissions in October 2015 and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire to become Tuck’s Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid in July 2017.
For those listeners who aren’t that familiar with Tuck’s program, can you give an overview of it, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [1:36]
I’d love to start with the mission of the school, which is to educate wise leaders who better the world of business. This emphasis on wisdom is integral to the fabric of Tuck. Wisdom encompasses essential aptitudes of confident humility, empathy, and judgment. These aptitudes align with our core values of being personal, connected, and transformative. Confident humility requires students to bring their full sense of self to the community, empathy requires sharing your breadth and depth with other practitioners of leadership and embracing their perspective, and good judgment is fundamental to transformation.
On a practical level, Tuck builds a distinctly immersive learning community with our scale, focus, and place. Our scale is deliberate, with 285 classmates, all of whom know you, challenge you, and support you. Our focus is the fulltime MBA program – we don’t have other masters or PhD programs. The two-year, fulltime program is it, so the focus is on you, from faculty, alums, and visiting execs. Hanover is the place, which offers the opportunity to wholeheartedly immersion, away from the distractions of a major market, which we think is integral to successful transformation into a wise leader.
Tuck’s mission is to “educate wise leaders to better the world of business.” What are “wise leaders,” what does Tuck mean by “bettering the world of business,” and why limit it to business? [4:32]
“Better” is deliberate and intentional, and it means achieving superior outcomes by practicing the aptitudes of wise leadership. It encompasses not only the what, but the how, leading with an orientation towards both results and values. Within the community here, the “better the world” piece means doing well by doing good. We believe that as our global economy continues to become more dynamic and more diverse, the call for wise, values-driven leaders, the kind Tuck creates, will continue to grow louder. With your specific question about “business,” we are a business school, a management program, and while we believe the business sector is increasingly being called upon to exert leadership in all different kinds of industries and career paths, at the core of what we do is train leaders and managers who impact the world through business.
Any advice for Tuck’s essay questions, specifically #2 about wise leadership? [6:11]
There is a belief that essays all by themselves will swing the admissions decision, and I just don’t find that.
What really makes a good essay to me is one that provides more value to you than it does to us, allowing you to reflect deeply on the direction of your life, and how a Tuck MBA helps you get there. I see it as a tremendous opportunity to state your case to the school and to make sense of what the common thread in your past, present, and future is, which better prepares you to benefit from business school.
What you share in the essays helps us assess how you will contribute to the community. On the margin we will always lean in the direction of the candidate who shows the greatest alignment with our mission and values.
With that context said, the first essay question asks about your short and long term goals and why Tuck, and I’m interested in your response, but also believe it’s table stakes in the application process, and I hope all of you who apply to Tuck find the ability to articulate that without much difficulty. I am much more interested in the second essay you mentioned, the wise leadership one. This essay asks you to draw a connection between your experience and the Tuck mission, which is very powerful to me. My advice for this essay is to focus on confident humility, which requires awareness and acknowledgment of what you know and what you don’t know and where you have room to grow. The best ones also show personal learning — where you turned the corner not just on what to do next time, but also learned about yourself in the process.
What are some of the most exciting developments at Tuck that have occurred since you arrived last summer? [10:59]
The resonance of the mission is exciting and invigorating, not just for those of us here every day, but also for our global alumni, who are giving voice to our mission. The most impactful manifestation of this alumni support is the very generous $15M gift from one of our most active and distinguished alums, Paul Raether. For someone like Paul, who is very discerning, to choose to entrust the school with a gift of this magnitude reaffirms we are taking the right steps to cultivate a world of wise business leaders, and reflects how strongly this orientation is resonating with our community across the world.
In practical terms, what does this gift mean for students and applicants to Tuck? Do you see the money being used for larger scholarships or smaller scholarships for more students? [12:55]
Paul’s gift goes directly to the scholarship budget. Scholarships are key to our ability to attract and enroll students from diverse backgrounds who without funding would not be able to attend Tuck. So we see gifts such as Paul’s helping to make a Tuck education more accessible to more students, and gives us more flexibility to welcome into the community those who possess the greatest potential to lead. In terms of practical impact, our school budget will materially increase in the coming years, so we will have greater resources to minimize financial barriers. No one who wants to be at the Tuck School and aligns with our mission of wise leadership should ever have to decline an offer of admission due to financial constraints. Paul’s gift brings us closer to that day when everyone who wants to attend Tuck can afford to come here.
What distinguishes applicants who get interview invitations from those who don’t, other than stats? [15:39]
You don’t have to be invited to interview with us – you can do so before you even apply. We offer applicant-initiated interviews, which gives you the control of the schedule. That happens largely throughout the year, with the heaviest periods leading up to admissions deadlines, in September/October, December/January and March/April. They are available all year except in the summer. The overwhelming majority of interviews are done by our students, and over the summer they are out completing internships. Applicant-initiated interviews are a reflection of our commitment to being as applicant-friendly as we can, and we like to get you here onto Tuck campus because we see our campus and location as core strengths. We also are realistic, knowing that the likelihood of just passing through Hanover is not exceptionally high, so we like to use the interview as a way to get you here on campus before you apply.
We understand that depending on your circumstances you might find it difficult to travel based on your location, cost, or schedule. We acknowledge that and don’t penalize you for it – we welcome you initiating an interview, but please don’t feel pressured to do so. If you don’t do that, we may elect to offer you an interview. Each individual evaluator is empowered to invite applicants to interview at the time of reading the application. The interview invitation is highly subjective, and is a positive sign – it means your candidacy is competitive and we want to learn more about you in hopes of admitting you. If invited by us, the options are to come to campus or complete an interview via Skype or other technology that is convenient for you. Everyone admitted to the Tuck School is interviewed, but not everyone interviewed is admitted, of course.
For those concerned about Tuck’s location in terms of recruiting, can you address that concern? [20:59]
Recruiting is a core part of the experience here and I understand concerns that people have. We have over 1,000 active recruiting relationships, and our Career Development Office (CDO) has built a team dedicated to sourcing jobs and working with students one on one. Another advantage of the scale of the school with 285 students is the level of attention you get, which I believe is unparalleled. Our career advisors help you choose which firms to look for jobs and put you in touch with recruiters at those firms. We have career coaches, and a robust alumni network, where the default assumed role for alums is to support recruiting efforts. Our CDO also takes students to opportunities. There is a career insights expedition to the west coast before first year classes start, and organized career treks across the US, with students going to Chicago, Boston, and New York for interview forums. We are taking you to where recruiters are located, and students are supporting one another, with over 80 second-year mentors supporting first-year job search. Some see our location as a challenge, others see it as a strength. Some recruiters come here just because they want Tuck students. Because of the nature of our location, they can’t come in for an hour or two and take off to go to another school across town, they are here immersing themselves in the community, hosting dinners with students and job seekers. The level of depth related to the job search with the career office and recruiters is a direct function of being in this immersive community.
What have you observed that applicants just don’t get about Tuck? [24:50]
We really strive to help applicants see the benefits of our location. Of course I am biased, but I truly believe that Tuck is the best business school located outside of a major metropolitan area, which means it is the best business school for an immersive experience. I believe it is very difficult to be transformed if not fully immersed. So if your goal for business school is to spend time in the city outside of school, I would challenge you on whether you really need business school at all. Our location allows students to deeply and meaningfully engage without the distractions and disruptions of a large city.
What can those invited to interview expect during their day at Tuck? [29:16]
Most interviews are conducted by second-year students. Our students are asking behavioral questions, and are looking for answers that are conversational and thoughtful. Students will be assessing how you will contribute to and thrive at Tuck, and we hope to see both in the conversation. My best piece of advice is to have lots and lots of normal human interaction. Our least favorite interviews are when applicants are over-prepared and stiffly recite talking points. Of course it is prudent to have Tuck MBA rationale handy, and professional examples, but it’s so much better to just have a natural conversation. While here you will sit in on a live class, and faculty will call on you to participate, so be prepared! You can attend a Q&A session with an admissions officer, and will have lunch with students. We also hope you will set aside free time to check out the Dartmouth campus and the upper valley surrounding Hanover.
What advice do you have for applicants planning to submit an application for Tuck’s April 4 deadline? [32:33]
It’s similar to my advice for any round – be human in every sense of the word. The students, faculty, and staff that thrive here are the ones that bring their full sense of self to the community – the strengths and deficiencies, highest ideals and aspirations, and our inadequacies and insecurities. If the successful student brings her full self to Tuck, it follows the successful applicant will bring her full self to the application. The application process is stressful, which is especially true in April when schools are constrained. If you are feeling stress and anxiety, accept it, embrace it. We strive to be accessible and transparent and innovate in ways that eliminate stress. When you do feel stress and anxiety in the process, try to reframe it, in that it reflects your investment in the process which will make you a better applicant. I would also say, relieve yourself of the pressure to stand out, which flies in the face of most of what you hear, but the applicant who stands out to me the most is the one who tries to stand out the least. I acknowledge it is natural to want to highlight all of your strengths and downplay the growth areas, but remember if you do, you are only revealing a portion of what will show up here, and we want to see it all. If you only show off your good side, our colleagues will wonder who the rest of you is. It comes back to confident humility.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a Fall 2018 application? [36:41]
Prepare. That sounds incredibly obvious and basic and simple, and yet it is incredible how easy it is to push off the prep for this process in light of everything else going on in your life. This application when done well takes time and effort, which we acknowledge and appreciate. It wasn’t all that many years ago I was going through this process myself, and I would like to think I still maintain empathy for the process. To the extent you feel comfortable planning backwards, build a plan that makes sense for you so you don’t add to the anxiety that already comes in this process.
The other thing is take care of yourself. It is an anxiety and stress-filled process, so make sure you are approaching this with a healthy mentality, and stay connected with friends/family/loved ones – don’t let it block out everything else, approach it with a sense of balance. Also, do the work of how you are aligned up front. Understand how b-school communities are different and how they will position you to acquire different skills and networks. It saddens me a great deal when people apply to multiple schools and it’s obvious there was no thought put into why this school is the right one. It behooves you to get a sense of the value proposition. If you do that upfront you can save a lot of undue work by eliminating some schools that might not be a good fit for you.
Can you touch on Tuck’s Early Decision program? [43:01]
Our first round as it currently exists is really an early action program. Ours isn’t binding, and candidates are not required to accept our admission offer. This year the likelihood of admission was higher than in our other rounds. That fact gives me some pause – your admission to the Tuck School should depend on your ability to contribute and thrive at Tuck, and not be unduly impacted by the date which you happen to submit your application. I expect our admissions committee will actively strive to reduce the disparity across the admission rounds. Why would we do this? There are two arguments for the disparity which I don’t agree with. The first argument is that applicants have a stronger desire to attend Tuck in an early round. As I’ve already mentioned, we go beyond that in our evaluation of candidates. The second argument states that applicants who apply earlier are better qualified, and I don’t find that, either. I am stating here that I expect the disparity between the rounds will be reduced in the coming years.
What’s an example of something entrepreneurial and really cool that a Tuck student or alum is doing? [46:32]
Zippity Cars provides a subscription car care service, and was founded when two of our 2017 alums realized they had the exact same idea. A couple 2014 alums started a food truck called The Box modeled off of the student-run retail store, which means management for the food truck is handed down from class to class. The third one is Poshmark, founded by a 2005 graduate, and is the largest social marketplace for fashion, where anyone can buy or sell their wares via social application. The company was among the first to go mobile, so a true trailblazer. The founder credits Tuck for developing a healthy dose of delusion and reason which I think all entrepreneurs listening would agree is necessary. Immersion is a great setting for entrepreneurship. Prospective students often ask how it works at a place like Tuck, and I believe there is no better setting because the full immersion in the community and direct access to resources gives you an opportunity to refine your business model before getting ahead of yourself with fundraising.
What are your plans for Tuck admissions going forward? Do you know if you are planning to change the essay questions for 2018-19? [50:21]
Just eight months in, my current priority is still listening and more listening. I am still in the midst of my first evaluation cycle, so part of my journey is practicing confident humility, and acknowledging I bring great talents to the team but there’s a lot I don’t know yet. The Tuck School has existed for 118 years, so I must be confident enough to introduce my energy and spirit, and humble enough to know this place is bigger than me and anyone who sits in this chair. I will continue to listen to stakeholders and hear more and more about how this place is personal, connected, and transformative. That said, my vision is clear – it’s scale. What do I mean by that? We are not changing the size – 285 stays – but scaling the opportunity to share the personal, connected, and transformative experience all over the earth, and doing so without compromising the high touch applicant-friendly experience that defines our team and the Tuck School by extension. There are two strategic initiatives I’m focusing on:
• Animate and empower our alumni and student ambassadors in new and exciting ways, so expect the Tuck School to offer more opportunities to directly engage with alums and students in major markets all over the world.
• Innovate on the experience of applying to Tuck itself. I want applicants to receive their admission decision, and regardless of the outcome, I want them to say the Tuck application was the most enjoyable, most transparent, and least stressful b-school application around. Some of that has to do with what materials are being collected, and some with how and when we collect it. I think it is crazy that the b-school application process really hasn’t changed a whole lot in decades – we’ve just gone from paper to computer. You still are sending a fairly large portfolio of materials and then waiting and waiting, so I want us to think about how we can modernize and act as the rest of the world treats decision-making. We are in the early stages of exploration, but I am invigorated by the opportunity. We haven’t determined if essays will change, but if they do, I am certain they will continue assessing how applicants align with the mission and how they will contribute to and thrive at Tuck – these elements will increasingly be part of our assessment profile.