Here’s EssaySnark’s response to a question left on our recent Tuck post:
Could you share your thoughts on Tuck’s essay about a personal or professional hurdle that one has overcome? In the personal realm, if the applicant does not have a good professional example (not everyone goes through such serious challenges that merit a 500 words essay), how do you suggest that one navigates the issue and ties the lesson learnt with bschool?
Personal topics can work well for Tuck essay 3. However: sometimes a personal story doesn’t come across very well as an “obstacle” because the writer doesn’t show what they did to “overcome” it – they just talk about how awful the thing was. This is really common with parents’ divorce type stories. What we often see is an essay where things got better for the applicant simply because time passed (this also can happen with “my best friend died” type stories). You would need to show how your actions directly affected how things turned out. And, there’s risk of TMI – you don’t want to bog down your application with all this high-drama overly personal stuff. Remember that it’s still an application to a professional school.
We’ve seen people use layoffs for this essay which can be fine – as long as they can show that they DID SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT to fix the problem. And, it should be something over and beyond what anyone else would do. If you get laid off, you’re going to go look for a job. Right? That’s what the standard response is. A layoff story might not show anything unusual about you. You got canned; it sucked; you found a new job. That alone is not really a great story. You would need to show that you did something creative or impressive in some way to find that new job — or maybe that you got re-hired super fast, or that you ended up with a significant promotion or something instead of taking a pay cut, etc. You need to use the essay to demonstrate something about you.
Basically, you need to look back on what you write and ask, what is this tell the adcom about me? If all that you can say about the situation is that you did what anyone else in that position would have done — if there’s nothing overly impressive with the strategy that you developed or the effort you put out to turn it into a win — then maybe the story isn’t helping you much in terms of adding value to your application.
Personal stories definitely can work, and this particular essay can sometimes be a good vehicle to discuss a weakness in the profile and turn it into a strength (e.g., “my grades were lousy in college because all this crap was happening in my personal life”) — in which case, you might not need to use an optional essay as well. Which is always a good thing.
This is not to say that professional stories aren’t a good idea – they definitely can be. Anytime you had a goal, and you came up against a wall, and you had to figure out how to get over it – that can make for a great answer to this question.
Just make sure not to do a ‘save-as’ on your Harvard ‘mistake’ essay and try to use it here – it doesn’t work (We know. We’ve seen lots of people try.) An ‘obstacle’ is totally not the same thing as a ‘mistake’ or a ‘failure.’ This essay probably needs to be written for Tuck from scratch.
Good luck with it!