Yale: Admissions Q&A

The MBA program at the Yale School of Management (Yale Full-Time MBA Profile) was founded in 1974 and now educates nearly 400 full-time MBA students each year. Since 2006 it's been doing so with a redesigned curriculum. The revamped core, comprised of nine team-taught multidisciplinary courses and extensive elective offerings, challenges students to tackle complex problems the way they'll encounter them in the business world.

Bruce DelMonico, the director of admissions, says the redesigned curriculum allows students to individually tailor their studies to their desired career paths in a way they really couldn't before.

DelMonico, who received a Master's in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a JD from the University of Virginia law school, says that Yale is looking for students who are extremely versatile with strong leadership skills and a desire to learn. He also believes, the economy notwithstanding, there will continue to be a strong demand for MBA graduates, especially those with the kind of skills that Yale's new curriculum imparts.

In an interview with BusinessWeek's Lauren Glover, DelMonico explains how Yale differs from other MBA programs, how the application is getting a small makeover, and why Yale isn't as stuffy as many seem to think it is. An edited portion of the interview follows.

Tell me a little bit about the SOM program and structure.

We have a full-time, two-year MBA program. Three years ago, we actually completely revamped the curriculum and re-imagined what an MBA education is about. We replaced the traditional functionally discrete silo courses with a more multidisciplinary integrated MBA curriculum. That's been one of the main features of the program in the last few years.

Can you explain the purpose of the new curriculum and describe the benefits of this approach?

The benefits are that students are learning the material in a much more contextual, real-world way. They are learning it in a much more multidisciplinary way that allows students to really look at the big picture and think more broadly rather than if they were learning each individual subject matter by themselves. The way the curriculum was developed was with feedback from recruiters, alumni, and others who repeatedly pointed out that when current MBA students graduate and enter the real world, they aren't working their way up through a single function in an organization like they might have done 50 years ago. Today students will be jumping from function to function and into different sectors, so having a broad background and education is valuable. Drawing different stakeholders together and understanding where they're coming from through engaging them is crucial.

The response has been really positive from recruiters in that they value our students because they have a broader mindset and are able to think more strategically. Judges in competitions have said that where other teams approached the problem from just an energy or finance perspective, our teams bridged those two fields and really saw the problem more holistically and as a result were able to find the more satisfying solution. I think those are some anecdotal indications that the curriculum is succeeding.

How is the Yale SOM structure and curriculum different from other MBA programs?

Beyond the top-level course work, our new curriculum revamps the way in which the classes are traditionally taught. So instead of finance, you're learning about the investor, which includes a lot of finance material but it's taught with psychology and economics concepts mixed it. Our customer class, for example, takes the place of a traditional marketing class and goes far beyond what a traditional marketing class would look at and really looks at all of the aspects a manager needs to engage to satisfy the customer. We have cases and a case-development team at SOM. In contrast to traditional MBA schools, our cases are raw cases that rely a lot more on primary source materials, interviews, SEC documents, and other things that graduates will encounter in the world. We try to replicate the real-world environment rather than trying to present this nice, neat case to students that they then have to read through.

What resources and opportunities are available to SOM students?

The core curriculum that students take here at SOM is pretty structured, but our students have access to other professional schools and can take electives anywhere within the university, which allows students to tailor their education to suit their specific needs, making them better equipped as managers after graduation. They start taking their electives in the spring semester in their first year and their entire second year. I haven't run across a student who hasn't taken advantage of that.

Can you describe SOM's culture?

One of the neat things about Yale SOM and the university as a whole is that they're both very prestigious, but the school itself is quite small. It's got a very collegial and collaborative culture. When people hear Yale, they associate it with a bit of stuffiness, but that's not the way the school operates. The faculty and administrators are very accessible to students, and there's a lot of collaboration within the school at all levels from the dean down. Although the university as a whole is big, all of the professional schools are very small. So unlike some of the larger schools where the model is to have large professional schools that are self-sustaining, the professional schools at Yale really interact with each other a lot. It's really nice to have that collaborative culture throughout the Yale community.

How would you describe your faculty and professors at SOM?

I think that is one of the greatest things about SOM. There are some schools where faculty are really great teachers and some schools where they are great researchers. I think one of the hallmarks of SOM is that our faculty does really fantastic research, but they also really love to teach and do fantastic work in the classroom, so it becomes a hybrid. Being able to bring some cutting-edge ideas and theories into the classroom and to present them to students is really great. I think the fact that our faculty bridges both worlds really results in a very enriching environment for our students.

What type of experience do you most value on a candidate's application?

One of the hallmarks of SOM is that it's a very diverse school. We have students coming from a whole range of backgrounds. We don't necessarily value any one particular background over another. It's not as though we have a hierarchy where one work experience is at the top and another is at the bottom. We have students coming from finance and consulting, nonprofit, the public sector, marketing, health care, and the environment. We value all of those backgrounds. Beyond the sector or industry that someone is coming from, we're really looking for people who have done well in what they've been doing and have a passion for what they do. They must really have demonstrated a commitment to excellence and that's beyond any type of experience. That's really what we're focused on.

Can you tell me about your on-campus interviews? Are they required for all students?

Yes, an interview is required for all applicants who are admitted to the program. We don't interview every applicant; it's usually about 35% to 40% of the applicant pool. Interviews are by invitation of the admissions committee after we've had a chance to review a candidate's application. The vast majority are conducted here on campus, although we do conduct a few off-site interviews as availability allows. Most interviews are done by trained second-year students, and the admissions staff does a few as well. They tend to be pretty straightforward behavioral interviews. We're trying to get a sense of a candidate's background, motivations, and goals. We don't try to trick people or throw curveballs at them, but we do dig into an applicant's résumé and try to get pretty fine-grained, so it's important to be prepared to ""go deep" if you're invited to interview.

Most of your accepted students are around the age of 27 or 28. How much work experience do you look for in an applicant?

It's not a matter of just counting numbers. The sweet spot is about 2 to 7 years of work experience. We have a silver scholars program for students directly out of undergrad—we accept a small percentage of the class from undergrad experience—and we have some students who have 10-plus years of experience. The range is broad, but I would say the majority of the class is somewhere in the 2 to 7 range or more narrowly focused in the 3- to 5-year range. With that said, it's not just a matter of the number of years. We look at the quality and nature of the work experience, not just the amount of it.

In 2008, 34% of the entering class was made up of female students and 28% international students. Over half of your incoming class was composed of white (non-Hispanic) students. What is the current diversity like at Yale?

Our students are diverse among a whole range of dimensions. Internationally, somewhere between 25% to 30% are non-U.S. citizens. We're a little over a third women, approximately 34%. We've worked hard to make ourselves an inviting place for women. We worked with different foundations and try to develop good partner relationships. We're currently trying to increase diversity in American business and graduate management education. We've been really pleased with the results and our relationships with these organizations.

Can students maintain a balanced lifestyle and be employed outside of school while receiving their MBA?

We don't recommend that students try to work and study at the same time. A full-time MBA program is just that: full-time. There's so much to do and so many ways to be engaged that we find students who try to supplement their academic experience by working on the side often see their business school experience suffer as a result. And there are already so many things to do through the school, not just classes and clubs, but conferences, competitions, pro-bono consulting, travel, board service, and other opportunities. There are really more than enough things to do without piling more work on top of it.

At Yale SOM, international experience is required for graduation. First-year MBA students gain international experience through studying in various countries across the world such as Africa, China, and Costa Rica. What are the benefits of this international experience?

We are the first top program that requires a mandatory international component. Again, this was rolled out with our new curriculum. This year, students will be going to one of 10 different destinations around the world. They go in groups of 20 with faculty and explore the local business environments. In the 21st century, you have to have an international perspective and understand the social and business context of how businesses interact around the world. Making that a mandatory part of our curriculum was a way to make sure our students had gained an international perspective, which is critical for managers.

All Yale students are required to take the Leadership Development Program. What do you hope that students gain from this class?

The Leadership Development Program is a co-curricular program of the first year. It's a part of the new curriculum. The idea behind the LDP is something that was implemented with the core curriculum that was rolled out 3 years ago. The idea is that working in teams of about 20 with colleagues and faculty, the first-year students will undergo a series of meetings and exercises that will allow them to think about and talk about their leadership style. Students will be able to explore their leadership goals, values, and what's important to them. It's an important component because they have so much coursework that they have to undertake, that they don't often have the time to think long term and the space to consider what they want to do with their careers. Having this part of the curriculum allows them to carve out that space and set it to the side because it's a valuable thing.

How has the economy affected application volume?

It's interesting. At the beginning of the season, many people were predicting that this year we would see a sharp increase in applications because of the economy, and in the first round I think that's what a lot of programs did see. But things definitely calmed down as the season progressed to the point that we actually ended up not seeing an increase this season. We're still up roughly 50% over the past five years. But it feels like the economy hit an inflection point at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 that created somewhat of an inversion in the application trend. More specifically, we actually saw an interesting dichotomy in the applicant pool. It seems that the same economic forces that caused the domestic applicant pool to be strong this season also caused the international pool to be soft, which had the functional effect of pretty much canceling each other out. I think many other schools experienced something similar as well.

How is the economic crisis affecting job placement of Yale grads?

I see the career numbers routinely, and actually there hasn't really been a drop-off that you might expect given the economic situation. I think there is still a strong demand for business students. The numbers have held up pretty well. They might be off by a few percentage points, but [the decline is] in the single digits. There hasn't been much of a change from past years. I think it gets back to the strength of the alumni network and the career development office, which works incredibly hard to make sure our students have as many opportunities as possible available to them.

What is Yale doing to help graduates land jobs?

With a lot of the firms that recruit here, the person who manages those relationships is a Yale alumnus. Alumni also serve an important networking function. Even if they don't have a [hiring] position at their organization, they help our students find information and connect them to other alumni who may have opportunities available. They are very active and engaged. Certainly our alumni have helped [our placement] numbers stay firm during the economic downturn. They have been in touch starting in the fall, making students aware of opportunities and resources available in their job search, which is quite valuable to students.

There are over 5,500 living SOM alumni. How would you describe your alumni relations at SOM?

I think our alumni support is very cohesive. I routinely hear from students who are amazed at how accessible the alumni are, how willing they are to help, and how they've never had alumni not respond to their outreach and follow-up and do whatever they can to help out students.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the admissions department right now?

The last few years have actually been a good time at SOM to be in admissions. Our applicant pool has gotten larger, and the quality has increased. We've been lucky to have a great pool of applicants which we can select from. It's a good problem to have, but sometimes we wish we could accept more students.

Have there been any changes to your application process?

The application will be roughly the same as last year, although we've updated the essays somewhat. In particular, in addition to updating some of the essay topics, we also converted one of the essays to short-answer questions in the hopes that this might actually liberate people to provide more focused, directed responses without having to worry about filling space.

And what about the curriculum?

In terms of the curriculum, the school is always looking to refine and perfect the integrated core curriculum that we rolled out three years ago. The meat of the curriculum will stay the same, but there will be some tweaking. This year we're adding a new course, "The Global Macroeconomy," to the core, and have also moved the international experience trip from winter break to spring break where it will fit much better into the curriculum and conflict less with investment banking and consulting interviews. There's also a new "Orientation to Management" class on decision-making with spreadsheets. It's nothing major, but an ongoing process of refining the curriculum, with lots of active students' input and feedback, which is really nice.

Are there any misconceptions about Yale that you would like to dispel?

I think historically many people think that Yale is a nonprofit school or a finance school. We are strong in both areas, but I think people don't realize we are a strong general management school. We have students coming from a broad diversity of sectors and those who go into a broad range of industries. They get a strong general management background here at SOM.

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