Politics & Policy

Dartmouth Business School to Evaluate Applicants Based on ‘Niceness’

But wouldn’t jerks just lie and make up stories that make them seem like decent people?

Dartmouth’s business school has announced that it will judge its applicants partially on their “niceness.”

The Tuck School of Business will decide whether to admit applicants based on four criteria: smartness, accomplishment, niceness, and awareness, according to a post on Tuck’s official website.

A subsection on the school’s “Admissions Criteria” we page, titled “Tuck Students Are Nice,” states:

This is quintessential Tuck, where you cultivate a habit of kindness. You actively encourage, celebrate, and support others. But being nice does not mean you’re a pushover who always agrees and defers. Nice Tuck candidates exhibit emotional intelligence. You layer compassion onto courage, and challenge others tactfully and thoughtfully. You display both strength and vulnerability. You ask for help, and you help others. You’re positive and principled. You act with respect and integrity, even when it’s not convenient or easy. You show empathy for the diverse experiences of others, while also sharing your own. You recognize that your success and others’ success are interdependent, and generously invest in both. Being nice at Tuck means building trust through deep, genuine connections that endure for life.

In an effort to evaluate a student’s level of niceness, the list of essay questions on the school’s webpage includes this one: “Tuck students are nice, and invest generously in one another’s success. Share an example of how you helped someone else succeed. (500 words)” According to an article in The College Fix, the school is now also asking references about the applicants’ niceness.

“Tuck students are nice,” states one question for references. “Please comment on how the candidate interacts with others including when the interaction is difficult or challenging.”

Now, I’m certainly not anti-nice. Like most people, I would much rather spend time around a nice person than a mean person, and I also like when I see good things — like business-school acceptance — happening to nice people. Still, I really don’t think that this is the best way for Tuck to be deciding which students it will and will not admit.

You see, “niceness” is not exactly an easy quality to identify in a person. There are plenty of fake people out there who may seem nice because they’re smiley and friendly but who are actually not good people. Conversely, there are also people out there who might seem stuck-up because they’re not smiley and friendly, but who are just shy and actually very nice at the core. I have a hard time believing that the admissions people are going to be able to tell how “nice” someone is — especially through something as cursory as reading an answer to an essay prompt.

Think about it: That “niceness” essay question would make it very easy for the applicant to lie. In fact, someone who is not a good person would probably see it as an excellent opportunity to make up some kind of grand story that really isn’t true, just to make herself look better. As a result, the students who would lie and make up amazing stories might end up looking “nicer” than the ones who told the truth with some less impressive stories.

The fact that Tuck is also consulting references about an applicant’s “niceness” does help a little bit — but only a little. The truth is, no matter how much of a jerk someone is, he can usually find one or two people he has fooled into thinking that he’s a nice, decent person. Even many serial killers have had spouses. I’m not suggesting that the school is going to get a wave of applications from serial killers, but the principle is the same.

It’s admirable for the administration at Tuck to want the “nicest” people to attend their school, but it isn’t going to be all that easy for them to figure out who these people are. They would be much better off using more traditional methods to evaluate students for acceptance — and letting karma sort out the rest.

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