mbaMission’s Exclusive Interview with Yale School of Management’s Admissions Director Bruce DelMonico

mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald recently spoke one-on-one with Bruce DelMonico, Director of MBA Admissions at the Yale SOM. Here, we offer some highlights from the interview, followed by a full transcript.

  • Yale will be increasing its class size from about 200 to 220 and will be retunring top four cohorts, from three
  • Mr. Delmonico discusses common application errors and how he reads an application
  • Mr. DelMonico discusses the new dean and her role at the SOM, past and future

mbaMission: Thank you for taking the time today to talk with me about admissions at Yale and about the school. My first question for admissions directors is always, what should your program be known for that it’s not currently known for?

Bruce DelMonico: Good question. And as I think about that question, I think of a number of different functional areas. We’re a very strong marketing school, for example, but we’re not as well known in that area,  perhaps. We have a really good health care group, and actually, health care at Yale generally is really strong, which is something that a lot of people maybe don’t realize. Although between the med school and us and nursing and public health,  the University is getting better known for health care. And environmental management is well known, but maybe not as fully recognized as it should be.

So all those different functional areas, I think, would be areas that maybe Yale is not as well known for as it should be. But I think in general—and I think this is part of the curriculum reform that took place a couple years ago—the thing that people are starting to recognize us for but maybe not as much as perhaps they should is as a really strong general management school. And I think that’s what we feel we are and what we’re certainly trying to be, which is, regardless of what field or industry or sector someone wants to go into, that they get a really strong general management grounding here at SOM [School of Management].

mbaMission: Are there any stereotypes about the school that you would like to dispel?

BD: Probably due to the school’s founding mission of educating leaders for business and society, and its traditional strength in nonprofit and public management, people think of us as the nonprofit school. And I think at some level, there is some truth to that. We’re very strong in nonprofit and public management, and we have a lot of fantastic students who come here from these sectors and who go into those sectors. So I don’t want to minimize the fact that that is a strength of ours, but I think that people think of it as a limiter — that we’re the nonprofit school but nothing else — and they don’t recognize our strength in finance and the other areas that I’ve been mentioning: health care and environmental management and marketing and operations and a whole range of other areas. So I think that’s one stereotype.

And actually, more recently, I think a secondary stereotype is that [of Yale] as a finance school. And again, I think it’s true that we’re very strong in finance, and in behavioral finance in particular. We’re one of the top schools in that regard. People know [Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics] Bob Shiller and more recently [Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Corporate Governance and Professor of Finance] Andrew Metrick and [Frederick Frank Class of 1954 Professor of Management and Finance] Gary Gorton as top finance faculty members. But again, I think that’s one piece of the larger puzzle of what SOM is about. And so I think calling the school the nonprofit school or a finance school is not incorrect in that we are strong in those areas, but that also sort of limits the other things that the school is about.

mbaMission: Was strengthening the finance/economics department with a variety of new academic hires a conscious decision on the part of the school or did the opportunity just arise?

BD: Well, I have to preface this by saying I’m obviously not in the faculty-hiring area, so I don’t know the inner workings of how a lot of those decisions are made. I know about the hires as they’re brought on, but I’m not sitting in on the faculty meetings as those things are being discussed. So that’s one huge caveat. My sense, though, is that there is a little bit of both, in terms of strategically trying to grow certain areas but also seizing opportunities as they exist.

Andrew Metrick and Gary Gorton were great hires, and I think they complement our existing strength well. And my sense—again, this is sort of an uninformed opinion, so I have to couch it as that—is that there’s also some bit of serendipity to it or that they happened to be the right people at the right time, and that brought them here. So certainly I don’t think that the school to going to hire someone just for the sake of hiring them and is going to look at the needs of the school, but I think there is some combination of strategic choices and—I’m trying to think of the correct word—also some degree of resonance between the person we’re trying to bring to the school, and the timing can often be a key issue.

mbaMission: I’ve heard that some schools are possibly increasing the size of their incoming classes. Is Yale planning to do this, and if so, is this an economic decision or perhaps an effort to return to a previous baseline?

BD: That’s a good question; thank you for asking. We actually are, as people may know. When our new integrated core curriculum was introduced three years ago, we dropped the class from four cohorts down to three, and we went from about the 220–240 [student] range down below 200. And we did that to increase the faculty slack so that they could actually implement the new curriculum and have the time to put it in place instead of spending all their time in the classroom. So now that the curriculum is a few years old and is up and running and is working well, we’re actually bringing back the fourth cohort and going back up to around 220 students.

Certainly the school doesn’t mind having the extra income, but I think we found that going from the four cohorts to three and going under 200, there were some critical-mass issues that we bumped up against in terms of recruiters, making sure we had enough students to satisfy all the recruiters who come to campus and making sure the people in all the various fields who would be available to the recruiters who want to hire our students. And also, just internally on campus, there are a lot of clubs and activities and making sure there’s, again, a critical mass of students here to take on all those leadership roles and to do all the things that running a school and being a part of a school entail. So I think for a lot of reasons, it made sense, now that the curriculum is three years old and we feel comfortable that it’s running well, to bring the class back up to the previous size of four cohorts and roughly 220 students.

mbaMission: Is the decline in the economy affecting plans for a new SOM building in the near future?

BD: Well, it’s not clear. It might. Let me explain, because the university has said that projects, because of the economy, need to be fully funded before they can go forward with construction. And we’re not at the construction stage yet, and we have funding to do what we’re doing now, which is the construction documents and the planning stage. So that’s the stage we’re in now, and my understanding is that will last roughly the next nine months. If the building becomes fully funded within those nine months, we’ll just plow ahead literally and figuratively with the new building and just go on the existing course, and there won’t be any delay. If that doesn’t happen, then there will likely be some delays, and the amount of the delay will depend on some other funding and other timing issues.

mbaMission: As of now, what is the target date for opening the new facility?

BD: The target date, I believe, is fall of 2012. I think that the university has an incentive to hopefully get us into our new building, because I think that they have plans for our existing building. The university itself is growing and moving, so I think, hopefully, that will move things along at a good pace, but again, I’m not part of these higher-level conversations, so I don’t know all the intricacies of the discussions and the various pressure points.

mbaMission: How are Yale students doing in the job market?

BD: The job market actually has been surprisingly firm here at SOM. The career development office keeps us updated on how things are looking in terms of offers and acceptances. We’re really not that much off from last year and previous years. We’re off by maybe low digits, maybe 1% in terms of internships and a little bit more—but I think less than 5%—in terms of full-time offers and acceptances. So at least so far, knock on wood, we’ve seemed to have weathered things pretty well and are holding pretty firm in terms of the job market.

mbaMission: Great. I think applicants are very concerned about what’s happened in the recent past. I’m curious about what you would say to a candidate who is considering applying to SOM and doesn’t have a job right now.

BD: There are definitely no easy answers. And [it’s] definitely a tough situation. I think, in previous years, it might have raised a big red flag to see someone who’s not working. It’s not to say it wouldn’t raise somewhat of a flag now, but we understand that a lot of these situations are outside of people’s immediate control, and so we’re being more flexible, and we’re trying to dig in to get a closer look at why someone’s unemployed. And more importantly, what they’re doing now.

So I think for someone who hasn’t been working for a few months and maybe who is probably one of the earlier waves, I think the key from our perspective is what are you doing with that time? And we would like to see people who are trying to be active and trying to be involved and still looking. And even if you’re not working in or doing that exact same thing you were doing before, are you able to find something? Or are you volunteering? So I think the question has become not just “So what are you doing now?” but “What are you doing about what your situation is?” and “Are you trying to stay active?”

mbaMission: Has there been any faculty or academic response on campus to the economic crisis?

BD: Yes. I think we were one of the early, or maybe the first school to jump on this. And it was actually [Senior Associate Dean for Executive Programs and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management] Jeff Sonnenfeld, who teaches leadership here, who last fall put together a roundtable that brought together a lot of CEOs and leaders—Stephen Schwartzman from Blackstone and some others who got together to talk about the financial crisis—and it was cosponsored by, I believe, the Wall Street Journal.

So we started very early in the fall trying to talk about the financial crisis and think about what it meant and where do we go from here. We actually have on our Web site what we call our financial crisis page [], where it talks about the ways in which the SOM faculty are addressing and responding to the crisis and some of our thought pieces and articles and Op-Eds and those types of things. But we’re also, even in terms of the curriculum, I think the faculty very much sees this as a teaching moment to understand how the economy got to where it is and what types of things we can do to pull out of the current situation. So I think in the fall semester, even into the spring as well, there was a lot of revising of curricula and actually revising of syllabi to incorporate a lot of the current events, a lot of what was happening now, and bring those into the classroom to make them really teaching moments.

mbaMission: I wonder if you can shed any light on the school’s transition to a new dean and whether Dean Sharon Oster has a new direction or mandate in mind for the school.

BD: Yes, that was definitely an unexpected change for a lot of people here. The good thing is that it has actually been a surprisingly smooth transition. And I think a lot of that is due to the fact that Dean Oster has been at SOM for a long time. And also, she was one of the driving forces behind the curriculum change. And so she was really instrumental in bringing the school to where it was when she took over as dean. So I think it was very easy for her to continue that momentum. And I think initially people were wondering what would happen with Dean [Joel M.] Podolny’s departure, but I think the school has continued moving forward without really missing a beat, and I think a lot of that is to the credit of Dean Oster. She really brought the school together. She knows how we got to where we are, what we’re doing. And she’s been able to carry the school forward.

In talking to her and hearing her speak, She doesn’t have any big changes that she’d like to see, because, as I said, she was instrumental in bringing about the changes that have already happened, but also, I think she’s very much an execution person. I think this is a perfect stage for her to be dean because we’re very much about perfecting the curriculum and perfecting what we’re doing now. This isn’t to say she doesn’t have great ideas and isn’t always thinking about other things we can do, what other programs or initiatives we might want to implement, but I think she’s very good at, also, operationalizing the ideas and executing on them. And I think that’s made her really a great person to be dean at this current time in the school’s history.

mbaMission: A few questions on the application process. Can you take us through the life cycle of an application at Yale? What happens from the reception of an application through the point when decisions are made?

BD: Once someone submits an application, we make sure that it’s complete, because sometimes, some supplementary materials, if they’re not submitted with the application—such as recommendations or sometimes transcripts or other things—come separately, so we wait to make sure the application is complete. Then it’s sent out for two independent reads by different members of the Admissions Committee. By “independent” I mean that neither one of them knows what the other thought of the application. They evaluate them separately.

During that process, either in the first read or the second read, an applicant can be invited for an interview. And if that doesn’t happen during those initial reads, then the applicant will come to committee and can either have a substantive decision or possibly a decision to interview at that time. And then, when someone is invited to interview, the review process is put on hold while they’re interviewed, and then when the interview is complete, the interview report is added to their application and the review process continues. So if they only had one read, then they get the second read and come to committee. If they’ve already been to committee, they come back to committee for a decision with the interview report, and then we, obviously, make a decision then as a group and then notify the applicant.

Our model—different schools do it differently—is a consensus decision-making model, so we sit together as an Admissions Committee, and we all need to agree on an outcome for an applicant. It’s very deliberative. It’s probably somewhat more labor intensive than some other models, but we feel as though it helps make sure that we’re making good decisions and that we’re all calibrated in terms of what we’re looking for and how we’re evaluating candidates.

mbaMission: Can you discuss the interview element of a person’s candidacy—the weight of the interview, how it’s conducted, etc.?

BD: Sure. Interviews last for 30 minutes. People are invited here on campus, in New Haven, to interview. Although, on occasion, if space allows, or if an individual isn’t able to make it here to campus, we do have some off-site interviews that we do. They’re conducted primarily by either trained, second-year students or by Admissions Committee members. And it’s really, I would say, a fairly standard behavioral interview. The purpose is not to trick you or throw curveballs, but really get a sense of the applicant, get a sense of their background, their interests, why they want to get an MBA, what they want to do with their degree. And really get a better sense of their motivations, how they’ve made their transitions, how they got where they are and where they want to go. We will dig into their experiences and try and get a better sense of what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, but we don’t try to make it adversarial or a grilling session. It tends to be a pretty straightforward behavioral interview.

mbaMission: Right. When you read an application, where do you start and how do you evaluate a candidate?

BD: That’s a good question. It’s an interesting question, too, because at times, certainly where you start an application can influence how you view the rest of the application. So if you start with the GMAT score, that might color the rest of application, as opposed to if you start with the undergraduate record or the essays or the recommendations. In general, everyone is somewhat different in terms of how they go through the application. I personally, I tend to start with the undergraduate academic record. I’ll go through, look at the GMAT score and jump into the essays and read through those and then the recommendations. And then we usually, interestingly—you know, everyone will do it differently—look at the interview last, because usually that’s the thing that’s happened most recently.

As we’re reading, we’re building a profile. It all combines together, builds on itself. I think we’ve gotten good about—as I said earlier, what you look at first sort of colors how you look at an application—I think we’ve gotten good about being aware of that and really withholding judgment until we’ve see the whole application and we’ve seen all the data points and we’re able to put it all together and really take a holistic view of the application, which is what we’re trying to do. That’s a little bit how I would work my way through an application.

mbaMission: Can you talk a little bit about some of the common errors you see in applications?

BD: There are some common pitfalls people fall into, and some of them are not that tricky to avoid. One thing, speaking at not too abstract a level or too general a level, but in terms of essays, a lot of times, we get people who don’t answer the essay questions, and they go on and on about things that aren’t really relevant to what we want them to talk about. They have this idea of what they want to talk about or what they think we want them to talk about, and they’re going to make it fit whatever question they’re answering. It certainly detracts from an application and certainly makes it more difficult for us as we’re doing our evaluations.

I think maybe a subset of that is, we ask applicants to tell us what they want to do after they get their MBA, and a lot of times we get applicants who want to do something different than what they’re doing now, and that’s perfectly understandable. A lot of people use an MBA to make a career shift. But one thing, one red flag that will often raise, is if we see someone who wants to make a career shift to an area that they don’t really have any experience in or any exposure to. If you’re making a career shift, you’re necessarily not in that area now, so we don’t expect that someone will have work experience in a certain area—but they should at least have some exposure, whether it’s an activity or some volunteer work, to that area so that they can have some sense of what they’re getting into and have a bit of an idea to get from where they are now to where they want to go. So those are two common pitfalls or common areas that applicants often will have difficulties with.

mbaMission: Is there anything in particular that you would advise applicants to do or think about?

BD: Well, one thing—again, this is on more of a general level—one thing I frequently tell people when asked is, we’re good at reading applications and we know that everybody has weaknesses. Very few candidates are strong across the board in every respect, and I think there’s a tendency for applicants to run away from the weaknesses to try to avoid them and hide from them, which is a natural tendency. But actually, what I find so very refreshing, and actually can be a net positive, is for applicants to actually address their weaknesses. Not dwell on them. You don’t want to lead with the weakness necessarily, but try to explain it and contextualize it, and I think applicants who do that in a good way and can do that successfully—actually, they stand out in a number of regards. It shows self-awareness, it shows interest in self-improvement, and it really can put someone in a much better position in terms of their application.

One of the things I tell people is a lot of the time, if we see a weakness, if we see a gap—for example, you don’t have a recommendation from your current supervisor even though we ask for one—and you don’t explain that, we’ll likely draw a negative interpretation based on that. But if you explain it for us and contextualize it and make us understand why that’s the case, we’ll be much more forgiving.

mbaMission: Great. Can you tell me about any trends you’ve seen in application volumes at Yale in the past few years? Also, how do the various application rounds differ in terms of volume and competitiveness?

BD: Sure. In the last five or so years, going back to 2004, the application numbers generally here at SOM have increased by about 50%. So it’s definitely been a steady uptick in volume, a steady progression. This last year was kind of interesting. It started off strong. I think a lot of schools saw a strong first round, and then it tapered off. So as the effects of the economy hit, I think, interestingly, the number of applicants actually subsided a little bit. So I think schools ultimate volume was less than it seemed maybe in the first round, and I think, for us, we definitely saw a leveling off. So we still had a good year, but it wasn’t quite the year that some people might have been expecting or predicting going into the fall.

Within each round, for the last few years, it’s been pretty steady. The second round is our biggest round. The first round tends to be half the size of the second round. The third round tends to be half the size of the first round, give or take. But those are the general numbers. And people ask, generally, is it better to apply in the first round or the second round or third round? We definitely advise people to avoid the third round if possible, because space can become an issue by the time the third round rolls around. But we do view the first two rounds as roughly equivalent. If you’re going to apply in the first round, we feel it sends a signal to us. And it certainly can be helpful to the applicant, because they’ll obviously get a decision sooner and will know their status sooner.

But we do tell people, you should apply when you have the strongest application ready, and if it’s not by the first round, then the second’s fine. And we do try to calibrate ourselves to the pools so that the same quality applicant will stand a chance of being admitted in the first round as in the second round. So there’s not necessarily any strategic advantage or strong strategic advantage in applying in one round versus the other. It’s really when you’re able to submit your best application.

mbaMission: You mentioned that applying in the first round indicates to you that a candidate is serious about the school. Is there any temptation to have an early decision round?

BD: “Early decision” meaning that you have to be bound by the decision if you get in, you have to go?  I know that some schools do have early decision and other schools don’t, and I don’t have a full sense of whether that’s becoming more of a common thing in the last few years. But I feel like more schools have adopted that. We take it as somewhat of a signal that if you apply in the first round, that you’re likely to be a little more interested, but we don’t bind our applicants to commit to the school should they be admitted in the first round.

mbaMission: Can you give us an update on student loans for internationals?

BD: Sure. I know this has been a challenging year for international applicants because a lot has been in flux in terms of the international loan options, and a lot of lenders have been pulling their loan products, and there’s been a bit of scrambling among schools. We’ve actually been in a pretty nice position in the sense that for the last several years, we’ve had a self-funded loan product that the school has put together and have not relied on any outside lenders. And so we kept that in place this year, and that’s the option for international students. We played around with the caps a bit in light of the market, but we wanted to make sure it had favorable terms: no cosigner, you could defer payments while in school, all the typical terms that students would look for. So we’ve been pleased with the response. Our yield among international students remains strong, and I imagine the fact that we had a stable and attractive international loan program in place throughout the year hopefully was somewhat of a help in that regard.

mbaMission: Last question: Is there anything else you want people to know about the SOM that we haven’t already covered?

BD: That’s a type of summing-up question we ask sometimes ask in interviews. That’s tough to answer now that I’m on the other end of it. I think your questions were good and fair and hopefully gave a good sense of the school and where things are. The main takeaway is, I think, that there is a real sense of momentum and excitement at the school with the advent of the new curriculum and carrying that forward.

mbaMission: Thank you. You’ve been very generous with your time.

BD: Thanks so much.

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