Yale SOM Essay Analysis, 2009–2010


Please answer each of the four questions below with a short paragraph of no more than 150 words. This is an opportunity to distill your core ideas, values, goals and motivations into a set of snapshots that help tell us who you are, where you are headed, and why. (600 words maximum)

Taken together, the first four short-answer questions on Yale’s MBA application encompass what is usually covered in a standard Personal Statement question. Breaking these elements down into separate questions and disengaging them from each other minimizes the opportunity for applicants to get bogged down in generalizations and indicates that the school wants direct, clear responses and analysis. Yale even introduces the suite of questions by stating specifically that it expects candidates to “distill” their thoughts into “short paragraphs” and “snapshots,” further driving home the point that the Admissions Committee wants targeted, personalized and no-frills answers.

1. What are your professional goals immediately after you receive your MBA?
2. What are your long-term career aspirations?
3. Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now? (If you plan to use your MBA experience to make a significant change in the field or nature of your career, please tell us what you have done to prepare for this transition.)

As mentioned, these questions involve primary elements of a typical Personal Statement essay question—short-term goals, long-term goals, why an MBA and why now—so we encourage candidates to consult our “mbaMission Personal Statement Guide,” which we offer free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

Of note in question 3 is the parenthetical statement, which shows that Yale expects candidates to take some ownership of their career transition and not anticipate that the MBA degree will be a “magic bullet” of sorts in taking them successfully from one career path to another. Being able to show that you have proactively taken steps to learn more about or begin developing skills appropriate for your new function or industry will in turn illustrate your passion, commitment and motivation—which, of course, all candidates should strive to convey in their essays, not just career changers, and not just for this question.

4. What attracts you specifically to the Yale School of Management’s MBA program?

For this question, you must thoroughly do your research so as to best be able to indicate direct ties between what Yale offers and your professional goals, personal beliefs, study style, etc. The more in depth your knowledge of the school, the more easy pinpointing specific resources and offerings will be in the context of your future success, both as a business school student and in your career after graduation, and the more effective you will be able to be in the mere 150 words allotted for your response. To attain this level of understanding of the school, you will need to go beyond the school’s view book and Web site and reach out to current students, alumni and faculty members, and, if at all possible, visit the school and sit in on a class or two.

Though this question does not call, or even allow, for a recounting of your past accomplishments and experience, there should be some reference to where you are coming from and thus what you need from an MBA program to help you reach the goals stated in questions 1 and 2. From there, the central issue is obviously to explain what Yale offers that will help you attain those needs. As always, avoid telling the school what it already knows about itself—especially given the restrictive word limit—and instead strive to show a direct link between specific, ideally unique, resources at Yale and you and your aspirations.


Describe an accomplishment that exhibits your leadership style. The description should include evidence of your leadership skills, the actions you took, and the impact you had on your organization. (500 words maximum)

This question has been held over from Yale’s 2008–2009 application. For this essay, resist the temptation to select an accomplishment primarily because of its size, monetary value, the number of people involved or other such quantifiable factor. Although Yale is interested in hearing about situations in which you were successful, it particularly wants to know who you are as an individual and what kind of leader you are and can be. The Admissions Committee wants to see you in action, so to speak—the key word here being “you.” It is especially important to relate the story of a time when you excelled specifically because you acted in a leadership role in a way that felt natural and “right” for you, in other words, an instance in which you followed your personal leadership instincts and ideals.

Given the wording of this question, we believe a successful essay here would be one that tells a story. Take care to not just recount the basic facts of the event but also to illustrate how you guided the process from beginning to end, showing cause and effect, and thereby demonstrating the impact of your leadership style and decision making. Note also that the question asks specifically about the resulting impact, so this element should not be overlooked.


Choose one of the following topics and answer it in essay form. Please indicate the topic number at the beginning of your essay. (500 words maximum)

All the topic options under the Personal Statement 2 heading (with exception of the question for reapplicants) are clearly meant to reveal more about the applicant as a unique individual than to serve as an opportunity for candidates to merely recount their professional accomplishments.

1. A central premise of our teaching about leadership at the Yale School of Management is that true leadership—leadership that helps to address a significant problem in a new way—is necessarily personal. It is only when personal passion aligns with meaningful aspirations that individuals are able to inspire others to act in support of an important goal or cause. What are you most passionate about, and how have you demonstrated a commitment to this passion?

Another question held over from last year’s application, this query requires candidates to illustrate their motivation and ambition, what drives them. Obviously, the underlying message is that one’s passion for something is more valuable when it is put into action. And “passion” here is not to be confused with “interest.” As we noted in last year’s essay analysis, an individual who enjoys cooking regularly would not be considered “passionate” about the culinary arts, whereas someone who spends an entire day combing through multiple farmers’ markets in search of a unique vegetable for a dish would be. Truly conveying the depth and intensity you feel for an industry, function or cause is key here, as is showing how this passion has inspired you to take action.

2. What achievement are you most proud of and why?

Also a repeat from the 2009–2009 application, this question could be considered conceptually similar to question 1 above. So, if you are deciding between the two queries, take care to choose the one that will better allow you to showcase the story you plan to tell. Again, candidates are expected to relate a narrative of an outstanding accomplishment, but the “and why” portion of the query demands that applicants tie the achievement to their personality and/or ambitions.

To better set your self apart from other candidates, consider choosing an accomplishment for which the reason for feeling proud may not be immediately apparent. Anyone would be proud of growing revenues by a large percentage or landing a prestigious account, for example, so these options would not reveal as much about you as a unique individual with your own style. Or, pick an instance in which anyone would be proud of having accomplished what you accomplished, but the reason you were proud was different from what someone might expect. For example, if you used your great-grandmother’s cookie recipe to win a baking contest, you may be proud of having beat out numerous competitors for the top prize, but you might also be proud of the win because it gave you a greater appreciation for family and ancestors, or it imbued you with confidence that then inspired you to start a small bake shop, etc. 

3. What is the most difficult feedback you have received from another person or the most significant weakness you have perceived in yourself? What steps have you taken to address it and how will business school contribute to this process?

This question is another holdover from last year’s application, but it has been altered slightly. Whereas before, the school asked “Looking forward, what skills are you most eager to build or improve upon in business school?” this year, the Admissions Committee wants to know what you have already done on your own in response and how this will continue at business school. In addition to learning how candidates respond to shortcomings, the school wants to see a willingness on the part of the applicant to take responsibility and to act on, not just learn from, such experiences—to use them as a trigger for active personal or professional growth.

In addition, responding well to negative feedback or weaknesses shows maturity, flexibility, a willingness to learn from others, etc.—all good leadership and teamwork qualities. With regard to which instance of feedback or which weakness you discuss, make sure to not select one that is inconsistent with Yale’s values or atmosphere. For example, saying, “My boss criticized me for being lazy” would not be advised, in light of the school’s preference for highly motivated and proactive candidates. Likewise, avoid “empty” criticisms, such as, “My supervisor insisted that I work too hard and do too much.” Trying to disguise a strength as a weakness will not impress—and may likely annoy—the Admissions Committee and do not indicate an appropriate level of self-awareness and honesty.

4. Describe a situation in which you devised and implemented a creative or unique solution to a difficult problem. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

This question has been shortened from what appeared on the 2008–2009 application and no longer includes the “How will you create your own SOM Story?” element. Note that the phrasing of the request places the emphasis on a description of the solution and of the devising of that solution rather than simply of the problem that was solved. Thus, as for the Personal Statement 1 question, resist the urge to present a situation based on or because of its size, financial value, etc. Focus instead on the “creative” and “unique” aspects of your response to and resolution of the problem. In business speak, the school is asking for an instance in which you thought “outside the box,” so you should demonstrate what this means to you and how you actually do it. This represents another opportunity for candidates to not just offer accomplishments but also reveal who they are as individuals and what they can contribute to the MBA program.

5. Required for reapplicants: What steps have you taken to improve your candidacy since your last application?

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 this 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 you feel a Yale MBA is vital to your future success. This essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, as each person’s needs and experiences will differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that the above requirements are met.

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