- The Yale School of Management (SOM) has earned a solid spot among the best US and global business schools.
- Business Insider spoke with current students, recent graduates, a former admissions officer, and MBA consultants for an insider's perspective on the process and strategies to stand out.
- Demonstrate your understanding of and appreciation for Yale SOM's mission and culture, which is community-driven and socially-minded.
- Make sure you have a strong example of your "biggest commitment" for your essay, whether personal or professional — "I wrote about how marriage developed resilience and perseverance, built personal responsibility, and most importantly required teamwork," said Dan Kurber, class of 2021.
- Many students have success reapplying if at first they don't get in: "Not all candidates may realize that Yale SOM offers feedback to candidates … This can be a great starting point for understanding where to focus for your next application," said Laurel Grodman, managing director of admissions.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The Yale School of Management (SOM) in New Haven, Connecticut, is solidly ranked among the best business schools. It's No. 9 on US News and World Report's "Best Business Schools" ranking and has earned a spot in the top 15 on The Financial Times' "Global MBA Ranking" for the past three years.
Like many campuses, Yale University has currently suspended its campus visit program until further notice, in compliance with the school's guidelines for meetings and events. Many Yale SOM admissions events — including Admissions Q&A, Virtual Summer Social, and the Yale SOM Online Reception — will take place online rather than in person.
Dan Kurber, Yale SOM class of 2021, told Business Insider that the school pushed the start date for first-year students to late August and moved to a virtual orientation. The school plans this fall to combine in-person learning with remote and hybrid approaches, Kurber added.
Despite the change, many aspects of the MBA application process for Yale SOM remain the same.
"I don't foresee any big changes aside from a movement for the time being to Zoom interviews in lieu of any in-person interviews and increased opportunities to engage with us online as you get to know more about the school," said Laurel Grodman, Yale SOM's managing director of admissions.
Grodman, as well as current and former students and consultants who've successfully coached applicants into this prestigious program, shared their tips for standing out.
Study up on what makes Yale unique
Yale SOM's mission, to "educate leaders for business and society," is not to be taken lightly, said Esmeralda Cardenal, an MBA admissions consultant at Accepted who spent three years as the associate director of admissions at Yale SOM.
"The 'and' is key," added Barbara Coward, founder of MBA 360 Admissions. "When you are applying to Yale, you need to demonstrate your commitment to both."
The school has traditionally been known for its strength in nonprofit management, but it's expanded to incorporate much more than that today.
"[C]andidates sometimes believe they need force-fit a passion for nonprofit management, or civic engagement, or another 'socially minded' endeavor into their applications," Grodman said. "This most often manifests itself when a response to our question asking for a brief statement on career interests seems unsupported by any of the candidate's activities or experiences to date."
Cardenal added that while a large portion of its students work in the typical industries of finance and consulting, Yale SOM attracts a very diverse population with unique career goals.
As an example, Kurber's first-year learning team included a bank examiner, a research project manager, a teacher/education consultant, a governmental consultant, a strategy analyst for a major airline, an engineer, a project manager for a public school district, a business development manager at a family-owned business, and a military officer.
"Each of us brought unique strengths, experiences, and perspectives that provided value to the team," Kurber said.
Yale SOM's other unique characteristics, which include the raw-case method approach, a strong teamwork setting, and global study opportunities, are just some of the many advantages that come with getting an MBA from the program, Cardinal said — so you should think through whether these appeal to you before submitting an application.
Compared to other MBA programs, Yale SOM also tends to admit a smaller group into its ranks. Total enrollment for the class of 2021 is only 345 students, while Harvard Business School's class of 2021 is almost triple that size at 938 students.
Kurber said that the SOM's smaller class size promotes a more collaborative setting and facilitates getting to know a greater percentage of your classmates.
"I think it sends a positive message to the admissions team when applicants highlight that they desire the smaller class size in their applications," Kurber said.
Kurber mentioned in his interview that he was from a small town in Alaska and graduated from a high school class of 72 students, where they all knew each other and were close.
"While my graduating class at West Point was around 1,200, I was very tight with the 40 or so other seniors that I lived around," Kurber said. "To me, the smaller class size at SOM was something I was drawn to because I had benefited from it in the past."
Come up with a strong 'biggest commitment' that ties into the school's culture
Yale SOM requires a single essay with only one choice of topic: a description of the biggest commitment you've ever made. Grodman explained that the school developed this question in collaboration with Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational behavior at Yale SOM, and that it gives the committee "a valuable glimpse" into how candidates approach something of great meaning in their life.
"Because it's a unique question among business school applications, it can be very obvious when an applicant tries to repurpose an essay that was crafted with another topic in mind," Grodman said. "You're best off writing this essay starting with a blank slate.'"
Grodman added that if you're coming up with a list of 10 things (or coming up empty), then you're probably overthinking it.
"Ask yourself to which pursuits you've given the most of your time and talents, which will hopefully help identify some good starting points," the admissions director said.
While you do need to stick to this subject, the vague prompt allows you to approach the question in whatever way works best for you.
"It doesn't matter if your examples are professional or of personal nature," Cardenal said. "The SOM admissions committee will be more interested in how you have acted on that commitment and what areas of your life have been impacted by that commitment."
To tie into the community-driven nature of the program, Justine Chan, who graduated from Yale SOM in 2014 and is now the founder of Live With Plum, an educational site for women to build wealth through real estate, wrote in her essay about her leadership experience with The New York Singapore Association. Instead of presenting a perfect picture, she was reflective about mistakes made and lessons learned while tackling her journey as the youngest president in the association's history.
"I learned the importance of delegating and steering a vision instead of overextending yourself trying to control everything," Chan said.
Kurber, meanwhile, wrote his essay about his wife.
"I wrote about how marriage developed resilience and perseverance, built personal responsibility, and most importantly required teamwork," Kurber said. "I thought about discussing the commitment I made to the Army when I joined as a young adult, which would have also been fine I think, but I thought the commitment to another person would mean more at Yale, where people really matter."
Practice speaking in front of a camera
Yale SOM asks applicants to complete video questions that are separate from your in-person interview and designed to help the admissions committee assess your communication skills.
Abhishek Agarwal, class of 2021, prepared for this task by finding sample interview questions, writing down his answers, and recording himself responding to them.
"English was a second language to me, so I needed to do extra practice in front of the camera to sound very clear and well reasoned," he said. Gathering feedback from others on how he presented himself helped him improve his body language as well as calm his nerves.
Boost your GPA with strong test scores
Yale SOM's class of 2021 had a median undergraduate GPA of 3.66, a median GMAT score of 720, and a median GRE of 330.
"There is a reason why Yale SOM has one of the highest average GPAs and GMAT/GREs of the top MBA programs," Cardenal said. "They clearly look for outstanding academic achievement."
She added that if you don't have a stellar GPA, you should make sure to compensate for that with a strong test score.
Helen Knight, class of 2020, put extra emphasis into performing well on the GMAT since she hadn't taken traditional business or quantitative courses beyond economics in undergrad.
"I wanted to make sure the admissions committee wouldn't be concerned about my ability to do well academically at SOM, which has a rigorous quantitative core curriculum," Knight said.
To prepare, Knight took a business calculus class through UCLA Extension and made an effort to take on more analytical work at the job she held prior to attending SOM.
"I would recommend taking additional quantitative courses to anyone who finds themselves in this position," she said. "It can both strengthen your application and your confidence with quantitative material ahead of your MBA."
Don't sweat the behavioral assessment
Last year, Yale SOM formally introduced a unique component of their application known as the behavioral assessment, which measures a set of interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies associated with business school success.
"It takes about 20 minutes to complete and doesn't require any preparation or specialized knowledge," Grodman said. She added that admissions uses it specifically to predict classroom performance.
"[I]t allows us to take more chances on candidates without the strongest academic or testing profiles, but who nonetheless have what it takes to succeed in the classroom," Grodman said.
MBA admissions consultant Candy Lee LaBalle, who heads LaBalle Admissions, added that "there is no tweak, no right answer, no way to 'game' the system" when taking the assessment.
"[T]here really is nothing to do but to do it," she said.
Explain how you would take advantage of outside electives
Yale University, Coward said, is proud that it can offer students the opportunity to take as many electives as they want outside the SOM. "It would be a mistake to apply to Yale SOM and not mention how you would make the most of this close connection," she said.
She recommended spending time researching other schools on campus and, if relevant, mentioning specific classes outside of Yale's business school that would help you achieve your career goals.
"Often, a multidisciplinary approach to a learning path can set you apart from other candidates who are applying just for the business basics," she said.
If at first you don't get in, try again
Grodman told Business Insider that the school often gets questions about whether it's worth the time and effort to reapply to Yale SOM. The short answer, the admissions director said, is yes.
"We have many successful reapplicants that have either been waitlisted or denied admission in a prior year," Grodman said. These candidates, she added, did some self-reflection on what could be improved in their application and took meaningful steps to present a stronger application the next time around.
"Not all candidates may realize that Yale SOM offers feedback to candidates both during the application cycle if you are on the waitlist and the summer after the application cycle if you have not been admitted," Grodman said. "This can be a great starting point for understanding where to focus for your next application."
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