Last month, in a joint mbaMission–Manhattan Prep webinar featuring admissions directors from five top business schools, we were informed that the Yale School of Management (SOM) does not expect to make any changes to its application essay prompts this year. So in hopes of helping any candidates who wish to get started on their essays sooner rather than later (and we always encourage starting as early as your schedule will permit), we are posting our advice on how to approach the school’s questions now. If by chance the admissions committee elects to change the questions after all, we will revisit and update this post accordingly.
The Yale School of Management (SOM), like Harvard Business School, takes a bit of a “go big or go home” approach with its sole application essay prompt in that it gives applicants just one shot to make their desired impression on the admissions committee. The Yale SOM query is less open-ended, however, and requires candidates to focus on a significant past commitment and its underlying reasons and value. The essay is limited to just 500 words, so you will need to be clear, direct, and rather succinct in your response, without much preamble or extraneous text. Read on for our full analysis.
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
In a Yale SOM blog post about the school’s essay prompt when it was originally introduced (in 2016), Assistant Dean for Admissions Bruce DelMonico noted that the “seemingly simple and straightforward question” was composed with assistance from one of the program’s organizational behavior professors. Yale’s admissions committee clearly takes the application essay seriously and is thoughtful about the types of behaviors it wants to see in the school’s students. In an online Q&A session with several leading admissions officers we hosted in 2018, Bruce declared himself “agnostic” about whether applicants should discuss a personal commitment or a professional one, noting that he wants to gauge the level to which candidates commit themselves, rather than the context of the engagement: “We don’t have a preference for professional or personal accomplishments. . . . We are not making value judgments about what that commitment is, but it is more about how you approach that commitment, how you have demonstrated that commitment, and what sorts of behaviors underlie that commitment.”
You may initially think this prompt is rather narrow in scope, allowing you space to relate the story of just a single professional or community project and nothing more. Although you can certainly discuss your dedication to a particular project or cause, 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 admissions committee. For example, you might present 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 use the example of personal liberty as a theme, you could show how you take control of your academic and professional paths, adhering steadfastly to your values and 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.
If you elect 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 them more impressed by your effort than the outcome.
Optional Information: If any aspect of your candidacy needs further explanation (unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, promotions or recognitions, etc.), please provide a brief description here. (200 words maximum)
Yale’s optional information prompt invites you to address any potential problem areas in your profile if you feel you need to. The use of the adjective “brief” clearly conveys that the school wants you to focus on imparting key information rather than offering a detailed and long-winded explanation of the issue in question. This is absolutely not an opportunity to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or a perhaps confusing element of your candidacy, we do not recommend that you submit an option essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
For a thorough exploration of the Yale SOM program, including defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment, and other key features, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Yale School of Management.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Yale SOM Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. To help you on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Guides. Download your free copy of the Yale School of Management Interview Guide today.