Today, it brings me immense pleasure to share the first part of our three-part interview with Sudershan Tirumala (Suds) – the dynamic Associate Director of Admissions and Regional Director for India & South East Asia at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
A 2010 graduate of Tuck, Suds’ background is in the VC/PE industry. He heads the Tuck Club of India, is a member of the Tuck Admissions team, and represents the Admissions Committee on the ground in India. He has taken up a number of initiatives to bring Tuck closer to applicants in India and South East Asia and help them understand what makes the Tuck School occupy such a special place in the Pantheon of top business schools.
In an effort to share information that could be relevant for our Indian readers applying to Tuck School, we sat down with Suds to discuss the school, the program, the community, and the application process.
We will be publishing the interview in three parts as follows:
Here’s Part 1 of the interview with Suds.
CTM: There is a perception that Indian GMAT averages are higher than the overall average by 20 to 30 points. Is that something you see at Tuck School?
Suds: First and foremost, I can tell you from my own experience that there is no GMAT cut-off when we’re reviewing applications. We have a truly ‘holistic application review process’ where each component of your application such as Academics, Work Experience, Community Initiatives and Extra-Curricular Activities gets considered to provide a full picture.
We don’t screen applications based simply on a number (GMAT) and every single application gets read in its entirety at least twice. As such, every candidate is given a fair chance to make an impression on the reader(s), irrespective of his/her GMAT.
My personal view is that if you have an above average GMAT, focus on other areas of your application to make it the strongest application you can submit. Ultimately, what swings things in your favor is when you have a well-rounded application that speaks to your strengths and makes a compelling case for why you’re the best candidate to be granted admission to the Tuck School.
CTM: What is the most important advice you have for candidates attending information events? How can they set themselves apart from tens and hundreds of candidates?
Suds: The receptions and coffee chats are a perfect platform for candidates to dig deeper and get insights into the program and the community that go beyond what’s available on the website. So do your homework before coming into the information session and make the most of the opportunity to interact with the Admissions Officers and alumni in attendance.
It’s kind of common sense but be courteous and not keep checking your phone or chatting with the other attendees while a discussion is going on. A handful of alumni are present at these events. Interact with Tuck graduates. Get a sense for why they are so passionate about Tuck School. What is it about those two years at Tuck that someone who graduated quite a while back is happy to interact with applicants and share their nostalgia?
You can then channel the passion that’s on display into your essays to strengthen your application.
CTM: If an international candidate is unable to visit Tuck or attend local events, because of say work-related travel, would they be at a disadvantage?
Suds: We provide myriad opportunities for candidates to connect with us one way or another. Given our close-knit community, it is important that we get to know candidates and they get to know us. As such, all events are geared towards making it a two-way interaction – we want to get to know you while also sharing whatever information possible so you can get as close to a personal experience of Tuck as possible while still being in India.
The Admissions Committee fully understands that international applicants might be unable to visit campus for an applicant-initiated interview as it is not always a viable option for any number of reasons. We certainly do not impose this on applicants based overseas.
We really want every interested applicant to have every opportunity to get to know Tuck, the program, and Tuckies. With this in mind, we organize more than 100 events across the world, through which applicants can get a first-hand insight into Tuck. We go to great lengths to try and get to know each candidate. That defines our approach.
In India, for example, we have 9 events across five cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata & Chennai). These events are a mix of coffee chats, admission receptions, MBA tours, and will be spread over a couple of months. Our hope is that if candidates are unable to make it to one city, they try and make it to a different city. For example, if you’re located in Bangalore but not able to make it to the event, you can try and visit Chennai. We hope that, across all of these events, any candidate who is serious about Tuck, can make it to at least one event. The next event coming up is this weekend in Mumbai on Saturday, August 27. See all upcoming events at Tuck’s website here.
In case the schedule doesn’t work for someone, she can also connect directly with me. My contact details are publicly available (link).
In addition to outreach events, we also have a program called “Tuck Connections” (link) that applicants can use to reach out to Tuckies from specific backgrounds that they may like more information on.
Finally, I want to reinforce that we try to be very accessible to our applicant pool and are confident that any serious applicant can leverage these opportunities to get to know about the program, the Tuck community, and life at Tuck.
CTM: What percent of the seats are filled in the Early Action and November rounds combined? I ask because the traditional R2 candidates sometimes hesitate in applying in January (thinking of that as the dreaded “R3”).
Suds: I want to stress that we don’t have round-wise quotas.
A complete, and well-thought-through application is most likely to get a favorable review, and so, instead of focusing on which round you apply in, focus on when your application is most likely to be the strongest. The caliber of applications received in a round will determine how many seats we will fill in that particular round.
I do not recommend that candidates rush their application in Early Action for the sake of applying early even if they are not ready. Early Action does not mean you would get in with a half-baked application. A strong application is the most important factor. Do not try to beat the deadline with a suboptimal application.
Of course, if someone is resolute about Tuck being the place where they want to pursue their MBA and they are ready to put their best foot forward, it makes sense for them to apply early.
CTM: Re-applicants often fret that, “If they didn’t take us in last year, why would they take us now?” Are their concerns well founded?
Suds: We view re-applicants favorably. We appreciate the fact that someone has applied earlier and is willing to take the time to improve their candidacy and wait for one full year to re-apply.
CTM: How can re-applicants better prepare themselves to strengthen their re-application to Tuck?
Suds: I advise re-applicants to seek feedback from us to strengthen their application. For candidates interested in re-applying, we give specific feedback about what went wrong. Many times, we volunteer feedback to promising applicants so they’re better informed. We do not intend for the application process to be a black box. We appreciate every word that a candidate has written. We are transparent about the admissions process and take time and effort to give pointed feedback.
CTM: Could you share the interview process for candidates from India? For instance, how long after submitting an application can they expect a call? Who conducts the interview? Is the interview based on resume only? And typically, how long do interviews last?
Suds: Tuck Admissions interviews, which usually last between thirty and forty-five minutes, are almost always blind, i.e., conducted solely based on resume. It is most often the case that the interviewer wouldn’t have read a candidate’s application, especially so, if it’s a second year student interviewing the applicant since students only give input based on the interview and do not have access to the application.
This may seem like common sense, but please make sure all contact information given on the resume and in the application is current. And if anything changes, you should make sure you let us know so we can reach you.
I try to interview as many applicants from India as possible. I would rather have the interviews in person, but that’s not always feasible, so Skype is an equally viable option. The medium through which the interview is conducted has no bearing on the outcome. Similarly, it’s of no consequence whether someone is interviewed by a second year student or by someone from the Admissions Committee.
There is no timeframe for when to expect an invitation to interview, once the application is submitted. Invitations can be sent out all the way to the date of the decision deadline itself. I have seen endless speculation on part of applicants regarding the order in which interview invitations are extended i.e. alphabetical, geographical, etc. In reality, there is no formula to determine the order in which we invite applicants to interview. Everyone in the admissions committee is busy reading files. Whenever a file gets read and is marked for interview, the candidate receives an invitation, so please don’t worry about the timing of the interview. The fact that an interview has been scheduled speaks volumes about the quality of the application you’ve put together, and there’s no correlation between the timing of the interview and the desirability of the candidate in the eyes of the Admissions Committee. In other words, I’ve seen candidates wondering that somehow, they’re at a disadvantage if they receive an interview call closer to the decision deadline. That assumption is completely incorrect. An interview invitation must be viewed positively irrespective of its timing in relation to the decision deadline.
CTM: Apart from committee-initiated interviews, Tuck also has applicant-initiated interviews. Could you explain what an applicant-initiated interview is?
Suds: Tuck offers this unique opportunity for applicants to initiate an interview. Anyone who wants to visit the campus can register and schedule an interview, attend classes and also interact with current students. We try our best to get to know candidates and we like applicants to get to know about us as well, in as much detail as possible. Whether that’s accomplished by coming to Tuck or by connecting with the school when the admissions team is on the road, we want applicants to get a feel for the school, the program, and the community, and engage in conversations with students and alumni. And then there’s the interview itself which is an opportunity for the candidate to put the best foot forward, ask engaging questions, and demonstrate passion for Tuck.
CTM: Is there a way for candidates in India to schedule an applicant-initiated interview remotely (on Skype or phone)?
Suds: Applicant-initiated interviews are available for applicants who are able to visit us in Hanover.
Candidates in India (or anywhere else) who are unable to visit campus can connect with Tuck through our outreach events, Tuck Connections, online events and interactions with members of the Tuck community. Interviews in this case are by invitation.
CTM: Among the candidates that do not initiate an interview themselves, what percent are invited to interview by the admissions committee?
Suds: Suffice it to say we interview a vast majority of applicants because getting to know the candidate well is the hallmark of our approach in evaluating who is the best fit.
CTM: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates making in an interview?
Suds: If I am meeting someone in person, I look for good body language. Treat a Tuck interview as you would any other job interview. I expect candidates to be dressed formally. I understand nerves play up, but rest assured Tuck interviews are very conversational and we want to get to know you, the candidate. It never pays if the applicant is projecting a personality that is not her/his natural self, and it defeats the purpose. Do not try to be someone you’re not. Be natural, communicate effectively and be yourself.
Financing: Scholarships, Loans
CTM: Could you share the percent of Indian candidates receiving scholarships? What is the average award amount?
Suds: Without getting into specific numbers, I can share that there are some scholarship funds, including for Indian candidates.
I also want to advise candidates to not to predicate their decision of which school to attend based solely on scholarships. If scholarship is the reason that someone wants to or does not want to go to a school, I think they’re looking at the wrong metric.
Here, I’d like to share my favorite example. Imagine there’s a manufacturing company that is manufacturing Product X, which is running pretty well. They are able to build Product X using working capital and make reasonable revenue and profits. Then, they realize there’s a Product Y out there and if they manufacture it, the company will become, say, 10 times more valuable. In order to come out with Product Y, they first need a new plant. Imagine what would happen if they were to use a short-term source of funds (such as working capital) to build a long-term asset? They’ll very quickly find themselves unable to run their existing business and neither will they be able to get Product Y off-the-ground. They’ll get into a cash crunch and likely be staring at bankruptcy before too long. This is Corporate Finance 101. Short-term funds should never be used to build long-term assets.
What’s the point of all this? Think of the MBA and the post-MBA career as Product Y. Think of the scholarship as that short-term funding that won’t have any impact on the quality of the MBA program you choose and the career it will result in, all said and done. You are the company. That being the case, why would you give so much importance to scholarship, which is not really significant if you were to consider your long-term earning potential? By focusing excessively on scholarships, candidates are using short-term funds to build a long-term asset, and that may not be a rational decision in the long-term.
CTM: What percent of their cost of attendance can candidates hope to finance through a loan?
Suds: By virtue of getting admitted to Tuck School, every single student will get financing and we don’t require a US co-signor. You work hard enough to get into Tuck. We don’t want to make the process of matriculation complicated. If you’re good enough to get into Tuck, you become part of a community that truly cares about you, and appreciates the perspectives, and experiences you bring to the table.
Final Advice for Applicants
CTM: Is there anything else you’d want to share with applicants?
Suds: Yes. I would like to recommend applicants to focus on trying to figure out what they really want to do, as opposed to saying something for the sake of sounding good.
Think of your application as a jigsaw puzzle. Your GMAT score, essays, recommendations, work experience, extracurricular activities, academic performance, etc. are all different pieces of the puzzle. If the pieces connect and, when put together, form a coherent story that demonstrates a certain level of introspection, the candidate would have put herself in a good position. If there are large gaps in that picture, in that the pieces don’t really come together too well,, it might be that the candidate has not been able to represent herself well.
I recommend that candidates remain true to themselves and their story. At Tuck, we try to get to know the applicants deeply. We have discussions not only about why someone is getting in but also about why someone is not getting in. We go multiple times through a candidate’s profile and ask ourselves, “Is this right? Are we taking the right call?” Given the rigor that is put behind the process, if an applicant has tried to second-guess the admissions committee, we will uncover it during this process. A better approach is to be candid about yourself and what you want to accomplish through the MBA.
Figure out what it is that you love to do. This may be a long and iterative process. The answers won’t come to you magically. You may need to introspect a lot. You may have to debate ideas with your friends and family. You may need to mull over this for a day, five days, five weeks or longer. But when you know what you love, hang on to it for dear life. Don’t let anything get in the way of your doing what you love to do. Make sure your application demonstrates your passion. At that point, you’ve done your job. Now, let the Admissions Committee do its job!
This brings us to the end of Part I of our three-part interview with Suds. Next, look out for Part II of the interview, which will go on to cover Tuck, initiatives such as TuckGO and more.
Readers in Mumbai, do not miss Tuck’s upcoming Mumbai Reception on Saturday, August 27 from 7:00-9:00 PM IST. More details available here.