June 27th, 2012
The Yale School of Management (SOM) joins the brigade of MBA programs that are reducing the word count for their application essays this year— likely making things more difficult for candidates who strive to differentiate themselves. Last year, Yale gave candidates 1,600 words with which to impart qualitative information—that number is now just 1,350. This is not a huge difference, but every word counts. To ensure that you make the most of the school’s essay prompts, our analysis follows…
This year’s application contains four essay questions. The first question has a maximum response length of 150 words; the other three have maximum response lengths of 300 words. Applicants must respond to all four questions. The questions are:
1. What prompted your decision to get an MBA? When did you realize that this was a step you wanted – or needed – to take? (150 words maximum)
Yale makes a fair request here: explain why you want/need this degree. Do not let the 150-word limit intimidate you, though—you can successfully describe the development of that need in a brief essay. But take care not to write something like “I have reached a ceiling, and an MBA is the next step. I need more training in marketing/finance/etc.” This kind of answer is too generic. To be effective, you will need to own your response. Consider launching into a narrative instead—make your essay personal. The school needs to “see” you in action to fully understand you as an individual and for you to stand out.
Although you might want to connect some of Yale’s resources to specific elements of your need for an MBA, this is not mandatory—otherwise, the school would have asked, “Why Yale?” Still, you can tactfully identify some relevant offerings in your response.
(By the way, note that our write-up for Essay 1 is exactly 150 words.)
2. Describe a difficult professional decision you had to make. What were the consequences, and what, if anything, did you learn? Would you make the same decision again? (300 words maximum)
We usually tell candidates not to second-guess the admissions committee, but you can definitely disregard the “if anything” portion of this essay question, because you must show that you did indeed learn something from this difficult decision. In only 300 words, you will need to establish a very clear narrative that leads up to that tough decision—and make sure that the decision you describe was in fact a tough one to make. The reader must understand that you had an indisputable problem on your hands and had to weigh your options carefully. In your essay, take the reader through the decision-making process, discuss the possible outcomes and explicitly analyze the decision you ultimately made. Do not omit your analysis of the results and make sure to address whether you would choose today to pursue a different path. The admissions committee makes a point of asking this question specifically, so be sure to take it on and answer it directly.
3. The Yale School of Management provides a leadership education characterized by broad-minded and intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds, a distinctive integrated curriculum, connections to one of the great research universities in the world, and the broad reach of an innovative and expanding global network of top business schools. What will you contribute to the Yale SOM community, and how will being part of it help you extend your professional vision? (300 words maximum)
The extended lead-up to this question is mostly irrelevant. You do not need to connect your intended contribution to the Yale community to intellectual curiosity, diversity, the integrated curriculum or any other facet of the MBA program mentioned in the question. Think of the first sentence here as a kind of mini commercial for the school and focus your energy instead on identifying what you have to offer in return—though, if you can make it work, you can certainly connect your contribution to any or all of these aspects.
The core question here is “What will you contribute?” The school is not expecting anything specific from you, so do not try to figure out what it “wants” to hear. There is no “right” answer to this question. Think carefully about your distinctiveness, and keep in mind that what makes you distinct does not need to be personified by a singular standout achievement. In other words, do not worry that what you have to offer will not be “good enough” if you have not founded Facebook or won an Olympic medal.
Ask yourself, “In what instances and in what ways have I contributed in the past?” This surprisingly simple question should unlock a few possible answers. Also, think about how you contribute through specific character traits, such as your sense of humor, your honesty, your dependability and so on. The key is showing not only that you understand your own abilities and strengths, but also that you know how you would apply them in the Yale SOM environment. You therefore need to be very clear and reveal knowledge of the Yale experience. Writing that you will apply your skills in the classroom or socially is not enough. You must explain that you can make unique contributions in specific classes, clubs, etc. Avoid just listing the names of several classes (or clubs, etc.) and instead demonstrate that you truly understand what each one offers and what you could bring to it to make it better. Doing so successfully requires research of—and hopefully some a priori experience with—the school and its students, so this will be an important first step in writing this essay.
4. What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment? Why? (300 words maximum)
In addition to creating a compelling narrative for this essay, you will need to choose the central story very carefully. Start by asking yourself what exactly you have already shared with the admissions committee through your other essays and the rest of your application materials. Make sure that you are offering the school something new about yourself in each essay—not a new physical location or event, but a new skill, talent, personality trait, etc. A well-diversified package of essays will keep your admissions reader engaged by keeping him/her learning about you throughout your application.
As you start writing this essay in particular, be careful not to brag. The school is less interested in the accomplishment itself and more interested in how you accomplished it and why you consider it your most significant one. Successfully conveying this information requires that you write a narrative about your experience, revealing any and all bumps and bruises you sustained along the way—after all, no great accomplishment is truly easy to reach. As you tell your story, emphasize your actions and let the story do the work for you. Finally, make sure to reflect on the experience. Yale asks you specifically “why” this accomplishment is so important to you, so dedicate a portion of your essay to the reasons behind your choice.
If you are a reapplicant, you must answer three essay questions: Question 1., Question 4., and then a response to the question “What steps have you taken to improve your candidacy since your last application? (300 words maximum).”
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement or taken on a personal challenge of sorts, the key to success with this additional essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Yale wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Yale MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.