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Tuesday Tips – Wharton Business School Essay Tips

Wharton has substantially changed its essay questions for this year’s application. This week we provide tips to help you tackle this set of questions and create a strong application.

Wharton Business School consistently seeks well rounded and community minded applicants that can demonstrate innovative thinking, a record of accomplishment, and very solid career goals. The essays this year are consistent with the admissions goals, though very different from the previous years’ essays. The required essay asks for career objectives, and telling a cohesive story is key to success with this set of Wharton Business School questions.

When contemplating the optional essays, it will be important to choose topics that will allow you to demonstrate both achievements at work and your extracurricular or personal activities. In addition, refer back to your application strategy and strengths and weaknesses to determine which personal qualities you can highlight in these essays.

Required Question:
What are your professional objectives? (300 words)

The career goals essay is a standard MBA prompt. While in past years Wharton Business School provided plenty of space to explain your background and goals, this year’s essay asks you to keep your career aspirations brief and focused. With only 300 words, you will want to focus mainly on the future and what you are planning to pursue with your MBA degree, using your background information where it is most relevant to your goals.

Because you have limited space, you will likely want to briefly cover why Wharton Business School in this essay, and use one of the optional essays to delve deeper into your interest in the Wharton Business School and fit with the community.

Respond to 3 of the following 4 questions:
1. Student and alumni engagement has at times led to the creation of innovative classes. For example, through extraordinary efforts, a small group of current students partnered with faculty to create a timely course entitled, “Disaster Response: Haiti and Beyond,” empowering students to leverage the talented Wharton Business School community to improve the lives of the Haiti earthquake victims. Similarly, Wharton Business School students and alumni helped to create the “Innovation and the Indian Healthcare Industry” which took students to India where they studied the full range of healthcare issues in India. If you were able to create a Wharton Business School course on any topic, what would it be? (700 words)

This essay is a great way to demonstrate your capacity for creativity and innovative thought. In addition, this essay can be an opportunity for you to highlight experiences in your professional life that may not have been covered in the previous essay due to limited space. Think about the areas where you are an expert, and how you could share your knowledge with the Wharton Business School community. If your professional experience doesn’t demonstrate the innovation you would like to highlight in this essay, perhaps your extracurricular or academic pursuits offer ideas.

Along with describing the course you would create, this question can provide the opportunity to delve into why Wharton Business School is the right place for you to pursue your MBA. You can discuss faculty you would like to collaborate with, clubs and activities that demonstrate an interest within the community that you also share, or existing classes that are an example of the type of class you would design.

2. Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity. What was the thought process behind your decision? Would you make the same decision today? (600 words)

This Wharton Business School essay asks about the path not taken. The opportunity could have been professional, either a job or a project you decided not to pursue, or perhaps personal. Think about the areas you have already covered in other essays and decide what situation would be best for this question. Whatever situation you describe, make sure you spend equal time on the second and third part of the question.

Be clear about exactly how you decided to turn down the opportunity and the factors you considered. Are you the kind of person who weighs pros and cons or goes with your intuition? What criteria did you consider? Why did you ultimately decide not to take the opportunity presented?

The final question is whether you would make the same decision today. Think about the outcome of turning down the opportunity ”“ did it ultimately lead to a better job or project? Did you ultimately reach your goals, or do you think the opportunity may have led you down an interesting path? Either way, clearly articulate how you consider the decision today, and why.

3. Describe a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself? How did this experience help to create your definition of failure? (600 words)

While this essay question has appeared in prior Wharton Business School applications, the final question takes a new twist on the question. When thinking about a situation you would like to discuss in this essay, you might want to consider situations that were pivotal in your development and that led to your point of view on what success and failure mean to you.

Many Wharton Business School candidates dislike the “mistake” or failure essay because of the misconception that adcomm is seeking to find your deep personal flaws through such an inquiry. Far from looking for your weaknesses, the mistake or failure essay is an opportunity to demonstrate your own confidence and ability to learn from challenging situations.

The failure can be a situation at work, your personal life or an extracurricular project. Far more important than the failure will be your response to the situation. What did you do and say? Be specific about the events and your contribution to the failure. The last prompt in the question is perhaps the most important. Explain what you learned from the situation, and especially why this lesson has been important to you. Perhaps it has helped you to avoid similar situations in the future, or taught you something important about yourself and your working style that has helped your impact in future situations.

4. Discuss a time when you navigated a challenging experience in either a personal or professional relationship. (600 words)

Behavioral questions like this one are meant to illustrate how you have acted in situations in the past, as a predictor of future behavior. Your answer should be concise but detailed, and clearly lay out both the situation and what you did and thought as you navigated the outcome.

Often a tough experience is an excellent learning opportunity and contributes to your growth and development. Think about the type of person who will be successful in an MBA program, and as a manager and a leader. What skills do you share with a strong leader, and were any formed during a challenging interpersonal situation like this?

The challenge could range from a difficult boss or coworker, to a relationship with a friend or family member. The key to a successful essay is to demonstrate how, specifically, you navigated the experience. A lesson learned or beneficial outcome to the experience would end the Wharton Business School essay well and allow you to illustrate your leadership, teamwork or social skills.

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Tuesday Tips – Michigan MBA Essay Tips

Tuesday Tips addresses the consistent Ross Michigan full time MBA essay questions for the class of 2012.

Unlike many of the top programs, the Michigan MBA program remains consistent with its 2010 essay questions. This year the Michigan MBA program has kept a cornerstone career goals essay and an accomplishments and challenge essay with a few short answers. One of the short answer questions is a fairly creative question asking for your “Plan B” if you were not pursuing an MBA.

Key to answering the first question is a strong understanding of the program at the Michigan Ross Business School. Action-based learning is “an essential element of leadership” for Ross. Contemplating your fit with the program that emphasizes inquiry, critical thinking and leadership will be important to your strategy when answering this set of questions. Think about the key strengths you have identified that you want to communicate to the admissions committee, and how you will utilize each question to reach that goal. The Michigan MBA has two questions (Short Essays 3 & 4) that will allow you to express your personal attributes, and several opportunities to discuss your professional and leadership skills.

Long Essays (500 word max)
1. Briefly describe your short-term and long-term career goals. Why is an MBA the best choice at this point in your career? What and/or who influenced your decision to apply to Ross?

This is Michigan MBA’s version of the fairly standard career goals essay. Make sure to answer all of the questions posed by this essay by describing what your career goals are both in the short- and long-term, why an MBA is a logical next step and why the Michigan MBA is the right choice for you.

In discussing your goals, focus on the future. Craft a concrete plan that will bridge your MBA, your short-term idea for immediately after graduation and your long-term career dream. The story should fit together logically and naturally, and also arise clearly from the career progress to date you will articulate in the next part of the question.

This question offers flexibility when discussing your career thus far. By not asking specifically what you have been doing, you have the choice to select the highlights that relate specifically to your plans for an MBA and your future career goals. When discussing past career experiences, think about the important pivot points in your story such as promotions, job changes or high profile projects that also fit in solidly with your career goals and MBA plans. Laser focus on a few vivid examples will help your application stand out from the crowd. There are many valid reasons to apply for MBA programs at this point in your career. Perhaps you have reached a plateau, are ready for a career change, or realize that you need the specialized skills of an MBA to reach the next level on your current path.

In addressing part three of this question, why the Michigan MBA program, make sure to highlight the people and experiences you have had. Specific information gathered from school visits, the website and course curriculum will help you answer the “what” part of the question, while networking (at a Ross Reception for instance) with current students and alumni will help you understand the culture at Ross and give you personal examples to highlight your fit with the Michigan MBA.

2. Describe your most significant professional accomplishment. Elaborate on the leadership skills you displayed, the actions you took and the impact you had on your organization.

This essay is the perfect opportunity to both address a significant accomplishment and to provide a solid example of your leadership qualities. The example must be from work or another professional arena.
A key part of this question is bringing the example alive through describing the actions you took and the result of your accomplishment for both you and the organization. The STAR framework is a great way to approach this question. First briefly explain the situation, then the tasks that the situation required, the actions you took and the result. Solid (and preferably quantifiable) results are a satisfying way to end any situational essay.

Self-reflection is a great aspect to contribute to this essay as you elaborate upon your leadership skills. What type of leader are you? Do you mentor and teach others? Direct your team towards results? Or ask questions to achieve buy-in? Whatever your own personal style is, this is an opportunity to reveal how you operate and why.

Short Essays (300 word max)
3. If you were not pursuing the career goals you described in Question 1, what profession would you pursue instead? (For example, teacher, musician athlete, architect, etc.) How will this alternate interest contribute to your effectiveness in solving multidisciplinary problems?

Have fun with this one. This Michigan MBA essay is an opportunity for you to discuss some of your extracurricular activities and hobbies, while illuminating the influence they have had on your life. Think about the activities you most enjoy outside of work, preferably an activity you have been involved in over time, and reflect on the ways this activity has affected your approach and thinking over your life.

While explaining your alternate career path, think about the professional applications of your passion. You may have once dreamed of being a rock star, and can you take that influence and creativity and apply it to your work in marketing? If you were a history major in college, how has that contributed to your problem-solving as an investment banking analyst? Demonstrating that you are more than one dimensional will be a great asset to your application.

4. Describe your experience during a challenging time in your life. Explain how you grew personally, either despite this challenge or because of it.

Challenges can be the catalyst for change, and this essay asks you to describe a key point in your life that may have been a personal development moment for you. This is a great opportunity to highlight your resilience and ability to learn from even the most difficult circumstances.

The question allows the flexibility to pick a self-created challenge (a mistake or misstep) or to address an external challenge like an illness, being laid off, or family issues. In describing the situation, explain what happened briefly. Then focus primarily on your response to the situation and how the experience has changed your approach and attitude since the event.

Our tips on the HBS mistake essay may help with your approach to this one as well.

Optional Question: Is there anything else you think the Admissions Committee should know about you to evaluate your candidacy?

Use the optional Michigan MBA essay if you have an issue that needs to be addressed through a short essay, such as low GPA, gap in work history or unconventional recommenders. Explain the situation clearly and succinctly, and provide explanations rather than excuses.


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Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School Essay Questions

Essay Tips for the Harvard full time MBA class of 2012.

The essay questions for the Harvard Business School class of 2012 are posted, along with the questions for your recommenders.

Harvard Business School has remained fairly consistent this year. Most of the questions from the previous year’s application are repeated again, with a few differences in the choices for the final two essays. Whereas last year’s essay questions had the option to choose a part of the world you were curious about, this year’s questions added two additional options, describing a difficult decision or writing a cover letter.

The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned. When choosing Harvard Business School topics, start with the two required questions and then pick the remaining two questions by referring back to your application strategy and the attributes and experiences you want to highlight.

Essay 1 (required ”“ 600 word limit): What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?
This is a great Harvard Business School question to highlight a few important areas of your life, and the accomplishments should draw from your well-rounded life rather than just work. Try approaching this question from the “why do you view them as such?” and then working back to the accomplishment. While an incredibly impressive accomplishment is exciting, it’s most important to show the moments where you grew, changed or realized something crucial about yourself. If you were an Olympic gold medalist and didn’t explain why this accomplishment was meaningful, the question was not fully answered. Even a seemingly humble accomplishment can be illuminated with your own reflection. That being said, this is also an opportunity to share your own key achievements.

Essay 2 (required ”“ 400 word limit): What have you learned from a mistake?
For this Harvard Business School essay question, don’t be afraid to admit you make mistakes because the key part of this question is describing what you learned. The mistake itself is less important, though choosing a real mistake that is honest in nature (not morally ambiguous) is preferable. When thinking about a mistake you might discuss, refer back to your strategic plan and the key information you want to communicate to the admissions committee. Is there a learning that has impacted your life or carried a thread through your character, goals or accomplishments?

Essays 3 and 4: Choose two of the four following questions (400 word limit each)
1. What would you like the Harvard Business School MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

If you are younger applicant or had a particularly strong academic experience, this may be a smart choice for one of the two remaining essays. When choosing a topic, think about an academic experience that may have shaped your future career plans, or solidified a personal passion. If you studied a topic in college that relates closely to your long-term goals it may be a great way to discuss your plans in a different light than essay 5 would suggest. Make sure your focus is academic in nature, this question does not ask about sports or community service activities, which would be more appropriate for question 2.

2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

The topic of this question is fairly open ”“ the community could be either work or extracurricular in nature. Think about the areas of your life you have covered well in previous essays and choose a different angle for this one. As you write this Harvard Business School essay focus on what you did to engage with the community or organization and what the results were. This is an opportunity to demonstrate clear leadership or teamwork through a specific example.

3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
This question is new to the Harvard Business School application this year. The topic is open ended and will allow you to take an example from your career, your extracurricular activities or your personal life. Ideally the decision was a turning point in your life that reveals how you determine life choices and your world-view.

4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
This is a new question for the Harvard Business School application, though a standard question from the MIT Sloan application. Overall, it’s an opportunity to highlight your key selling points for entry into the MBA class. Similar to a job hunting cover letter, focus the letter on your fit with the MBA program, what you bring to the class, and what the MBA will help you achieve in the next stage of your life.

5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
Though this question appears to be a standard career goals question, it is more long-term in nature. When writing this essay, focus on the big picture vision of your future career. What do you want to be doing in twenty or thirty years? Why does this vision appeal to you, and what led you to decide it was your goal? Introspection about your life goals and purpose will go a long way in this essay.


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Tuesday Tips – INSEAD Essay Tips

INSEAD is a highly regarded international program located in both France and Singapore that has the added benefit of opportunities to study at some of the top US MBA programs as an exchange student. While …

INSEAD is a highly regarded international program located in both France and Singapore that has the added benefit of opportunities to study at some of the top US MBA programs as an exchange student.

While INSEAD has a diverse, international focus it also has the name recognition in the US to translate to interesting career opportunities. If you are an international student interested in the shorter length of an international program, yet interested in recruiting at US firms, INSEAD may be the ideal program for you.

To learn more about INSEAD, there are opportunities to attend one of the many admissions events.

Each essay topic listed below and in the subsequent pages must be answered.

Essay 1: 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 approx.)

This essay asks for a self-aware and candid exploration of your strengths and weaknesses. Ideally you can use one concise example that will highlight both a few strengths and at least one weakness. Think about an example where you were able to interact with others and exhibit leadership and teamwork. When you discuss your weakness, make sure that your weakness is genuine and that you are able to provide evidence that you were self-aware enough to both recognize the weakness and work on it to improve your effectiveness.

While you can use non-work examples in this essay if they exhibit the key characteristics you would like to explore, it is probably most effective to focus on a great professional example to start the set of essays in the right tone.

Essay 2: Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words approx.)

This is a fairly similar essay to the HBS three accomplishments essay. Similarly, you will want to choose two examples that highlight different sides of yourself. If you chose a professional example for Essay 1, you may want to choose extracurricular and personal examples for Essay 2, and if you choose another professional example make sure it is materially different from the example in Essay 1.

Because you only have about 200 words per accomplishment you will need to focus on providing a concise and specific situation, a clear result that demonstrates the significance of the example, and a bit of space for self-reflection upon the accomplishment.

Essay 3: 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 approx.)

This is a classic mistake essay. While some questions ask you to focus specifically on a mistake, this one allows the room for a situation that may have been objectively successful, yet did not meet your personal objectives.

You will want to demonstrate the pivotal nature of this event in your life, and due the leeway in topic areas, you will have the ability to delve into areas of your life that you may not have previously discussed and that may be fairly far in the past. Think about the moments in your life where you have changed direction, defined your goals more clearly, or had an epiphany about yourself or your purpose. Most importantly, you want to demonstrate that you have the ability to reflect upon the imperfect nature of your past and retain lessons that continue to serve your future.

Essay 4: 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 approx.)

This is a classic careers goals essay, yet similarly to HBS asks only the future oriented question of your career goals. You will certainly need to discuss your past a little in order to demonstrate how you have arrived at your goals, but you want to devote most of the space to explaining what your goals are, and how you expect the INSEAD MBA program to assist you in reaching them.

Essay 5: Please choose one of the following two essay topics:

a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you? (250 words approx.), or

b) What would you say to a foreigner moving to your home country? (250 words approx.)

You can choose either question, and should pick a) if you have a clear and vivid example of culture shock. If you are struggling to recognize and communicate such an example, you will want to choose essay b) which is more oriented towards those who may not have a clear international background.

When answering either question you will want to demonstrate your interest in and sensitivity towards different cultures, and discuss some of the international or multicultural experiences in your own life.

Due to the very short word count, choose a vivid and concise example and reflect upon its meaning in the context of your life and goals thus far.

Essay 6: Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (200 words approx.) This essay is optional.

This optional essay is the ideal place to write about any aspect that was not covered in the previous five essays, and/or explain any weaknesses in your application. In either case, keep the essay brief, to the point, and make sure you are describing a new aspect of yourself that fits in with your overall application strategy and assists your case for admission.


Essay 7: In case of reapplication, please use this page. Your essay should state any new aspects of professional, international, academic, or personal development since your last application. We would also like you to explain your motivation for re-applying to INSEAD. This essay should not exceed 400 words.

Reapplication essays should focus entirely on why you are a better candidate this year than you were last year. Describe any promotions, new extracurricular activities, awards or academic achievements. Keep the descriptions brief and topical, and use the rest of the essay to reiterate your interest in the INSEAD program and your desire to attend if admitted.


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Tuesday Tips – UVA MBA Essay Tips

UVA MBA’s admission essays for the class of 2011 are a departure from the themes of the last two years. Due to a relatively small set of questions and brief word limits, you will need …

UVA MBA’s admission essays for the class of 2011 are a departure from the themes of the last two years. Due to a relatively small set of questions and brief word limits, you will need to focus clearly on your application strategy. Think strategically about how to demonstrate several key aspects of your background and goals.

1. What pivotal choice(s) have you made in your life that have influenced your decision to pursue an MBA?  (500 words)

Focusing specifically on pivotal moments in your life, this question is still a classic “why MBA” inquiry. Your choice of an MBA program will certainly be related to your career goals, and the narrative will likely follow that of a classic career goals essay. The prompt to discuss your pivotal choices is an invitation to be introspective and demonstrate your unique path.

While the focus is career goals and your decision to pursue an MBA, there is room in this essay to illuminate some of your personal attributes and motivations. Last year the UVA MBA program asked applicants to reflect upon what matters most, and there is certainly room in this essay to communicate a similar level of depth.

When describing your pivotal choice or choices, focus on explaining the situation clearly and specifically and explaining your thoughts and reactions. If you learned something about yourself or changed your path, demonstrate the thought process that led you there.

2. From the following categories, describe the one that has taught you the most: a creative challenge, an ethical dilemma or an experience of failure.  Why?  (250 words)

With only 250 words, you will want to choose your example carefully. Think about demonstrating a new aspect of yourself with the example, and be sure you can reflect upon what you learned from the situation.

A creative challenge could be an excellent opportunity to show your ability to lead and innovate, or a situation in which you transformed a challenge into a success. If you choose an ethical dilemma, an example that provides some grey area to reflect upon is more interesting than a clear cut situation and can demonstrate specific information about your character. An experience of failure can be one of the more revealing aspects of your life and an opportunity to show your ability to learn and grow when faced with personal challenges.

Whichever example you use, state the situation clearly, and describe what you did along with your thoughts and feelings. Reflect upon why this situation was particularly important to you and how the lessons have influenced decisions since. If you have the space, you may have the opportunity to bring in subsequent situations where you practiced what you learned.

3. Describe how you are a fit with the case study method.  (250 words)

The case study method is a cornerstone of the close knit UVA MBA experience and there are several angles you can take with this essay. You can focus why you will learn best through inquiry and interaction with your fellow MBA students, or how the case method will prepare you for your post-MBA career goals. Whatever your reasons for preferring the case method, you will want to demonstrate that you are familiar with the Darden academic approach and that it works well for you.


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Tuesday Tips – Dartmouth Tuck School of Business Essay Tips

Tuck Business School is a close knit community that prides itself on diversity and international perspective. Despite the rural backdrop, Tuck is progressive and innovative with a focus on leadership and team work. When approaching this …

Tuck Business School is a close knit community that prides itself on diversity and international perspective. Despite the rural backdrop, Tuck is progressive and innovative with a focus on leadership and team work.

When approaching this set of application questions it will be important to clearly assess your own fit with the Tuck Business School program, and to set your application strategy clearly. What are the areas you want to communicate to the Tuck admissions committee? Which essays work best for a work example or a community service example? Be sure to provide specific examples for each essay. Specific examples provide the best evidence of your leadership qualities, team work skills and management potential.

While the Tuck School of Business does not require a certain word limit, the 500 word guidance should be adhered to. Generally 10% plus or minus the word limit suggestion is reasonable when there is no formal limit.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck Business School 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 similar “career goals” question as the one posed by Kellogg and Wharton. Similar to the advice for Columbia, the Tuck Business School career goals essay should clearly define why Tuck is the right place for you to take the next step in your career progress. Given the short space, explaining your short- and long-term career goals succinctly will be important. It is crucial to explain why an MBA is necessary, and of course incorporate your research into Tuck Business School’s unique program.

2. Tuck Business School defines leadership as “inspiring others to strive and enabling them to accomplish great things.” We believe great things and great leadership can be accomplished in pursuit of business and societal goals. Describe a time when you exercised such leadership. Discuss the challenges you faced and the results you achieved. What characteristics helped you to be effective, and what areas do you feel you need to develop in order to be a better leader?

This question is ideally answered with an example that can show you are a strong leader who also has an interest in societal goals. You can use either a work or community service example, though a community service example might be particularly apt given the focus of the question. Be sure to answer each component of the question as you briefly explain the situation, explore the challenges and describe the results. As you reflect upon the situation, you can demonstrate self awareness by evaluating your own strengths and weaknesses in this leadership opportunity.

3. Discuss the most difficult constructive criticism or feedback you have received. How did you address it? What have you learned from it?

This is similar to a mistake essay, yet focuses specifically on a time that you received feedback. Annual reviews and other feedback opportunities from your supervisor are generally a good source of material for this question, though you can certainly use an applicable example from outside of work if you are able to demonstrate reflection and learning. The crux if this question is to explain your reaction to the feedback. This will allow you to demonstrate your maturity, interest in feedback as a learning tool and your ability to change and learn.

4. Tuck Business School 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 the Tuck School of Business?

This question is similar to Kellogg’s question about your background, values and life experiences. Similar to Kellogg, this is the perfect opportunity to differentiate yourself from those applicants who may have a similar educational or work profile. Think about the threads of your personal life that have made you the person you are. How will you take your personal interests and values and contribute to Tuck Business School? This is another opportunity to reveal your depth of knowledge of the culture. How will you contribute to organizations that already exist, or fill a need?

5. (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.

This is your opportunity to discuss any perceived weaknesses in your application such as low GPA or gaps in your work experience. When approaching a question of this nature, focus on explanations rather than excuses and explain why you are a different person now. In the instance of work gaps, you may have been the innocent bystander to economic realities, in which case you may simply explain the facts. If you do not have a weakness to explain, this may be an opportunity to address any additional facet of your application strategy you have not been able to illuminate in previous questions.

For an insider perspective on the Tuck Business School, check out the many MBA themed blogs on the internet.


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