This year, the Yale School of Management (SOM) is as sparing as ever with its application essays… or shall we say essay. Yet again, the school poses just one prompt, and with a 500-word limit, you do not have a lot of room to make an impression on the admissions committee. Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico noted in a Yale SOM blog post that “much thought went into this seemingly simple and straightforward question” and that it was composed with assistance from one of the business school’s organizational behavior professors. To us, this implies that the admissions committee has invested some truly purposeful effort into constructing an essay query that will reveal something specific from and about its applicants. Let us explore how you can maximize your opportunity to shine with this new prompt…
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
You may be thinking that this prompt is rather narrow in scope, allowing you space to share the story of just a single professional or community project and nothing more. Well, you can certainly discuss your dedication to a particular project or cause, but you are definitely not restricted to this approach. Consider this: you can also be committed to an idea (e.g., personal liberty) or a value (e.g., creating opportunity for others), and approaching your essay from this angle instead could enable you to share much more of and about yourself with the SOM admissions committee. For example, you might relate a few anecdotes that on the surface seem unrelated—drawing from different parts of your life—but that all support and illustrate how you are guided by a particular value. Or, to return to the example of personal liberty as a theme, you could show how you take control of your academic and professional paths, eschewing any advice that is inconsistent with your vision. Whatever you choose to feature as the focus of your commitment, your actions and decisions, manifest via a variety of experiences, must allow you to own it as a genuine part of who you are as an individual. Identifying a theme that you think no one else will ever use is not your goal here; presenting authentic anecdotes that powerfully support your selected theme is what is important.
However, if you prefer to focus on a single anecdote, the commitment you claim must be truly inordinate. Being particularly proud of an accomplishment is not enough to make it an effective topic for this essay. You need to demonstrate your constancy and dedication in the face of challenges or resistance, revealing that your connection to the experience was hard won. Strive to show that you have been resolute in following a sometimes difficult path and have doggedly stayed on course, citing clear examples to illustrate your steadfastness. Nothing commonplace will work here—you must make your reader truly understand your journey and leave him/her more impressed by your effort than the outcome.