Yale School of Management Essay Analysis, 2010–2011

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.

Short Answers
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. (150 words maximum per question)

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

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 helps applicants address these topics in their essay(s) for any school. We offer this guide to candidates 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 that will take them smoothly and 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.

With respect to question 4, 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 deeper 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 its students, alumni and faculty members. Even better, visit the school and sit in on a class or two as well.

Though this question does not call, or even allow, for a recounting of your past accomplishments and experience, you should include some explanation as to where you are coming from and thus what you need from an MBA program to help you reach the goals you will state in response to 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 strive instead to show a direct link between specific—ideally unique—resources at Yale and you and your aspirations.

Personal Statements
Choose two (2) of the following topics and answer them in essay form. Please indicate the topic numbers at the beginning of your essays. (500 words maximum per essay)

All the topic options under the Personal Statements heading (except the question for reapplicants) are clearly meant to reveal applicants as unique individuals rather than to allow candidates to merely recount their professional accomplishments.

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

A repeat from the past two application seasons, this straightforward question offers the opportunity for you to relate the narrative of an outstanding accomplishment. We emphasize “narrative” here, because you must truly describe the full nature and story of your experience—not just bluntly state the accomplishment itself. Many candidates will start their essay with a sentence that gives away their entire story, such as: “My greatest accomplishment occurred when I overcame opposition and convinced my boss to implement a new retirement savings plan for all firm employees.” Where do you go from there? Once the story’s most important revelations have been presented, no mystery exists, so maintaining the reader’s attention becomes very difficult—as does writing the remainder of the essay!

To better set yourself apart from other candidates, consider choosing an accomplishment for which your reason for feeling proud may not be immediately apparent. For example, anyone would be proud of growing revenues by a large percentage or landing a prestigious account, 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. As a simplified 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.

And remember, the “and why” portion of the query is important and demands your attention. It cannot be skipped or given short shrift. To fully answer this question, you will need to tie the achievement you describe to your personality and/or ambitions.

2. 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 the past. Although explaining the feedback you received or soul searching you underwent is certainly important, the admissions committee is particularly interested in hearing about what you have done in response and how this process of improvement will continue when you are at business school. In addition to learning how candidates respond to shortcomings, the school wants to see that applicants are willing 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 a weakness 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 claims that I always work too hard and do too much.” Trying to disguise a strength as a weakness will definitely not impress—and may even annoy—the admissions committee and does not indicate an appropriate level of self-awareness and honesty. In short, your feedback or weakness should leave you exposed—it should be honest, and thus admitting it should hurt a bit. The admissions committee wants to know you are human, so do not try to find a way around revealing yourself as such.

3. 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.

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. Describing 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—is especially important.

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. Ideally, you can point to an impact that endures to this day.

4. An effective leader for business and society is one who is able to hear, understand and communicate with people from all segments of society. In order to educate such leaders, Yale SOM is committed to promoting diversity and creating a community that cultivates a wealth of perspectives. In this spirit, describe an instance when, as part of a team, you played a role in bringing together individuals with different values or viewpoints to achieve a common goal.

Are you a synthesizer of ideas and a diplomat in achieving team goals? If so, this question is for you. Yale challenges the stereotypical perception of the MBA as a goal-oriented leader who simply finds a way to execute under any circumstances, stating instead that it wants leaders who listen carefully and maximize others’ talents on the way to achieving team victories.

Although this question includes the word “diversity,” the admissions committee is not exclusively asking about a time when you managed nationally or ethnically diverse peoples. Instead, the committee is interested in an instance in which you engaged people with “different values or viewpoints” and expects that you will key in on how you managed these people, not whom you managed. An effective essay could start by introducing a goal conflict and then reveal how the goal became imperiled or may never have been appropriate from the beginning. As always, the “how” element, as exemplified by your actions, is crucial, so you will need to take the reader through your process of building consensus in detail. If the reader does not understand the substance of your actions and recognize your importance in reaching the goal, this essay simply will not work. We want to note that in this essay, you cannot discuss a failure, no matter how much you shined during the experience; you must show that you achieved your goals and, ideally, had an enduring impact.

5. For reapplicants (answer this topic plus one [1] of the other topics): 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 success with 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, 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.

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