Yale School of Management Essay Analysis, 2017-2018
How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough analysis, our friends atmbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.
The Yale School of Management (SOM) is staying the course this year with its single application essay, joining both Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School in using the same essay queries as last season. The school has made no modifications to its one prompt, whose 500-word limit does not offer a lot of room to make an impression on the admissions committee. Having commented last year in a Yale SOM blog post that the “seemingly simple and straightforward question” was composed with assistance from one of the school’s organizational behavior professors, Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico added in a more recent post that the admissions committee “is interested not just in the commitment itself but also in how you [applicants] approach the commitment and the behaviors that support it.” Clearly, the Yale SOM has invested some truly purposeful effort into constructing a query that will reveal something specific from and about the individuals targeting its MBA program. In our Yale School of Management essay analysis, we explore how you can maximize your opportunity to shine with this forthright prompt…
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
You may initially think that this prompt is rather narrow in scope, allowing you the space to share 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 Yale School of Management 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, 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.
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 or her more impressed by your effort than the outcome.
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Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
Yale keeps doubling down on its brand: social responsibility. If you want to help people, if you want to save the world through business… Yale’s the place for you. The same way that Kellogg has (for better and for worse) become the school for marketing, Yale SOM is the social responsibility mecca. (Make no mistake: if you want to end up in finance or consulting or most other traditional B-School destinations, Yale, like Kellogg, and like every other elite school, is as good a choice as any.)
They, like many others, are asking one question. Let’s unpack this sucker. What does it mean to make a commitment? What makes one commitment cooler or more meaningful or more impressive or more important than another?
Let’s look at a few sample commitments:
- To my wife/husband, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever.
- To my child, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever.
- To Nonprofit Organization X, I commit $1M of my personal dollars toward your organization and cause.
The first two are kinda obvious, no? We’re not inclined to be impressed. “Wow, what a commitment! That person just committed to loving his child forever. Inspired!”
The last one seems pretty legit. Contributing $1M toward a cause? That’s unarguably a MAJOR commitment from anyone. (Right?)
What if, to that list, we added some… stuff:
- To my wife/husband, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever, even if YOU were to hurt or betray ME. Because my commitment to you and what that commitment is serves a greater purpose; to our children, to society, and is more important than my own emotions.
- To my child, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever, even if your sexual preferences fundamentally violate everything I believe, that our religion allows; even if your political views and your morality unravels sacrifices my parents made for me, and sacrifices I have made for you; because my commitment to you is more important than my own beliefs.
- To Nonprofit Organization X, I commit $1M of my personal dollars toward your organization and cause. My net worth is $3 billion.
How does that change things? A lot.
Now all of a sudden those first two carry a little more weight. And that third one, not so much. Yes, $1M is a giant number to most, but to put it in context, it’s .03% of $3B. To someone whose net worth is $500,000, .03% would amount to $166. When you put it in those terms, $1M feels… less… something, doesn’t it? On the one hand it is the exact same “dollar commitment” but in a different sense it feels like LESS of a “commitment.”
What then is commitment really all about?
True commitment seems to require some amount of self-sacrifice, or putting of oneself at risk in some capacity. Someone who pursues an action or takes up a cause or embraces a responsibility, despite its being inconvenient in some way, has made a real commitment (or more of a commitment) compared to when those inconveniences are fewer or far between. This is not an absolute. Commitment, to be sure, lies on a spectrum. But, the measure of commitment maintains an inverse relationship with what we’re calling convenience. The more convenient the commitment, the less impressive. And the opposite is true: the more INconvenient, the more impressive the commitment.
Phew. Back to Earth and back to the practical task at hand: The Yale SOM application essay for 2017-2018. First things first. Dig into your personal and professional history and generate a list of things you’ve committed to. Aim for five for the first attempt. Five commitments you’ve made. Don’t overthink this first pass, just list them as you can recall them. Try not to go back too far to your early childhood (although based on the openness of the prompt, everything seems to be on the table). Now that you have your initial list, go through each one and try to quantify somehow which ones put you at risk the most. Or those items where you stood to lose the most. The ones where the stakes were somehow highest. Rank that list most to least. Now look at it. The top item, or the second item will probably be your best candidates to explore…
Once you have it, let’s consider an outline to get you on the right track:
- Set up the commitment – Part 1. Bring us back to whatever the circumstances were PRIOR to the moment you made your commitment. And one of our favorite tricks to keep in mind, don’t write about it using the past tense (i.e., using your modern day brain). Instead, travel back in time and imagine how the world looked in real-time, and write in the present tense. Explain what was happening, and who needed what. (Roughly 100-125 words).
- Set up the commitment – Part 2. Establish the stakes (explain what you were putting at risk, what you stood to lose, why it wasn’t an easy commitment to make), and then reveal the commitment you made. (75-100 words).
- How was your commitment tested? – Part 3. Explain the ways in which your commitment was put to the test over time. Explain the times it was difficult to remain committed. Or whatever your version is that made it not EASY to remain committed and consistent. And walk us through your resolve throughout. Or, how your resolve wavered, or disintegrated, and how you regained it, whatever your version is. Remember, if your story doesn’t include this element, it’s probably not a great commitment for this (100-200 words, possibly two paragraphs).
- Why is this meaningful? – Part 4.What’s the relevance of this to your future as an MBA? Finally, draw a link between this story and your prospects for succeeding in business school or in the future, or better yet, both. What were the lessons learned that have strengthened you in ways that are applicable to your business goals? (Roughly 100 words).