Yale SOM Application Essay Tips, 2023-2024
The Yale School of Management (SOM) has made some changes to its application this year. For one, rather than sticking to just one essay prompt, the school now gives you a choice of three prompts:
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. Why is this commitment meaningful to you and what actions have you taken to support it?
Describe the community that has been most meaningful to you. What is the most valuable thing you have gained from being a part of this community and what is the most important thing you have contributed to this community?
Describe the most significant challenge you have faced. How have you confronted this challenge and how has it shaped you as a person?
The SOM invites you to choose the prompt that speaks most to you, so pick the one that you think will allow you to best communicate your profile and values There is no “right” prompt, so be honest with yourself about which option gives you the greatest opportunity to demonstrate your fit with the SOM and its values.
As the instructions for the essays suggest, the adcom is truly trying to get to know you and what matters to you, so be honest and as open as possible, and be sure to tell stories. Your essay should not read as a dry, academic account of one aspect of your life, so make sure to come alive in your writing!
For prompts 1 and 2, the information you’ll provide in your essay response will not likely overlap with any other information about you that the admissions committee will be able to glean from the rest of your application. They therefore offer a great chance to show the school who you are beyond your resume and transcripts, what makes you tick, and what you are passionate about. Although some information about your most significant challenge might be gleaned from your résumé, there will be a lot of gaps for you to fill in, so take advantage of this opportunity. Lets take each prompt one by one:
Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. Why is this commitment meaningful to you and what actions have you taken to support it? (500 words maximum)
Eagle-eyed readers will note that even for this returning essay prompt about commitment, there have been some tweaks made — the second sentence is new. Really, those elements were always inherently part of what you should have described in your answer, but it appears that the Yale SOM adcom now feels the need to be explicit about them.
Another way of framing this essay is that the admissions committee wants to know what commitment means to you. So, it is not enough just to state your commitment — you have to demonstrate how you followed through with it.
We encourage you to not think too narrowly in defining “commitment.” You might immediately think of committing to a person or a goal, of course, but you could also commit to a value, a cause, a lifestyle, a project… you get the idea. Really run through all the possible options from both your personal life and your career to find the one thing that has captured your devotion above all else. Consider what excites you and what your passion is. If you choose something finite, such as a goal or project, you’ll likely end up sharing a single anecdote in your essay, but if you want to illustrate your commitment to a cause, ideal, or the like, your essay will be more effective if you describe multiple events or situations that underscore your allegiance. That said, given that you are allowed only 500 words, you will have to be judicious in how you approach describing various examples.
Ask yourself why you made this commitment, and convey your motivation in your essay. Also consider any challenges you’ve faced. How has your commitment evolved over time? What parts of your life does it affect (especially if this might not be immediately obvious to an outsider)? You can treat this as a “hero’s journey,” taking the reader along a narrative that exemplifies your perseverance. Often, a good structure begins with the “Aha!” moment that started you on the path toward the commitment, followed by the trials that nearly took you off the path. But don’t fall for the trap of making this a laundry list of challenges; you need to leave room for describing what actions you took to overcome the challenges and what outcomes resulted from your efforts.
Finally, share any lessons you have learned as a result of your dedication. How have you grown personally since making the commitment?
Describe the community that has been most meaningful to you. What is the most valuable thing you have gained from being a part of this community and what is the most important thing you have contributed to this community? (500 words maximum)
There are no limitations on what the adcom is looking for in terms of “community,” so do not feel the need to discuss strictly a professional community or a clichéd/narrow definition of where you grew up. We all touch and become part of many different communities in our lives, so consider which one has had the most significant impact on who you are today.
Of your three prompt choices, this one is perhaps the most likely to elicit a story regarding race or ethnicity. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, this might cause you pause. However, as we explain in How Does the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action Affect Your Application?, applicants are allowed to discuss how race or ethnicity has affected their lives, so do not feel that you have to shy away from writing about a community that is based on ethnicity. The SOM wants to know how you have become the person you are today, so if a race-based community is the one that has been the most meaningful to you, then discuss this authentically.
Ask yourself why you feel so connected to this community, and express why you have been driven to remain a contributing part of this group. Structurally, this essay will not likely follow a “hero’s journey” format as described for essay option 1, but beginning with a specific story about how you became connected to and empowered by the community would be a great place to start your essay. From there, you can demonstrate why this community is important, what lessons you have learned from it, and the contributions you have made to the community.
Describe the most significant challenge you have faced. How have you confronted this challenge and how has it shaped you as a person? (500 words maximum)
This throwback question is the most “classic essay” of the three choices. As such, it is pretty straightforward in that you will discuss the challenge pretty directly. However, while it is relatively clear-cut, that does not mean your answer has to be boring! As with the other choices, you should tell this as a story so that the admissions reader feels engaged.
It is quite possible that your most significant challenge is not at all work related, and that’s perfectly fine! It is fair game to discuss something from your personal or academic life as long as it is, in fact, the most meaningful story to you.
Ask yourself what made this challenge so significant to you and how you developed the plan to address it. The CAR (Challenge, Action, Result) outline format would be the most appropriate choice for this essay. You’ll start by briefly describing the Challenge, then use the bulk of your answer to describe the Actions you took to address the challenge (with any relevant twists and turns along the way), and wrap your answer up with the Result of your efforts. When discussing the result, be sure to include the lessons you learned through the process and how you’ll take those lessons with you going forward.
All three questions (and therefore, all your potential answers) really are as wide open as they seem. In other words, there is no one “right” answer that the admissions committee wants to hear. So, you must be completely genuine. Your essay will not ring true to the admissions reader if you claim dedication to something (commitment prompt), a deep connection to a specific population (community prompt), or a huge turnaround (challenge prompt) but then have only shallow evidence to support your claim. Whatever you choose to discuss, you need to have a sincere and meaningful connection with it. Maybe your biggest commitment is playing the piano, improving your spoken English, or helping your parents as they age. Perhaps your most meaningful community is your city, your neighborhood, your place of worship, or your ethnicity. It might be that your most significant challenge is learning your study skills in school, dealing with a family member’s health issues, or attacking a particularly difficult project at work. Don’t be afraid to share these kinds of stories if they are truly central to who you are and how you live your life.
Whichever prompt you choose to answer, it is not necessary to try to add an explanation of “Why Yale?” at the end. The admissions committee would rather you tell a complete story than shoehorn in a tie to the SOM. So, only refer to Yale if doing so is relevant and you have the space to do so appropriately. If you believe that such a discussion is appropriate, then share how your commitment, community, or challenge sets you up to contribute to the Yale community in a meaningful way. Alternatively, if your commitment, community, or challenge is related to your career aspirations, share what you plan to do at Yale to continue to engage with your interest or passion.
Yale has also made some changes to its short-answer questions, which combine to form a kind of mini essay prompt, in its application:
Briefly describe your career interests and how you arrived at them. What have you already done to pursue these interests? What do you need to do going forward? (150 words maximum)
Which industry best aligns with your short-term, post-MBA career interests? (Drop-down)
Which industry best aligns with your long-term, post-MBA career interests? (Drop-down)
Do the interests above involve being an entrepreneur within the first 3 years post-MBA? (Yes/No)
Are you being financially sponsored for your MBA by an employer or another organization? (Yes/No/Application in Progress)
The two biggest changes here are (1) the actual wording of the career interests prompt and (2) the word limit (down to 150 words from 250). The drop-down questions remain the same, but the Yes/No questions are new.
To respond to these questions, you must identify the position you’d like to have immediately upon graduation from Yale’s MBA program and where you want to be ten to 15 years later. Your goals should be ambitious, yet attainable. If you plan to use the MBA to pivot or change careers, be sure to explain what motivates this interest. Your desire to change careers might be motivated by wanting to leverage the skills and knowledge you have developed through your professional experience in a role that would allow you to pursue a passion and make a more meaningful impact through your work.
Yale also asks how your professional interests have developed, so you’ll need to provide some context for your choices. The admissions committee will of course already have your resume, which will offer some of this information, but you’ll need to fill in the gaps from a more subjective angle. Explain what has inspired you to pursue your stated goals and what keeps you motivated to reach them.
In discussing what you have already done to pursue your interests, be as straightforward as the school’s wording suggests. If you’re planning to stay on your current path post-MBA, then your answer will likely focus on your career path to date. However, if you plan to pivot, then you might have needed to take a class, shadow a leader in your intended field, or do something outside the box to gain pre-MBA exposure to your intended field.
The last part of the core question here (“What do you need to do going forward?”) is a sneaky “Why Yale?” question, so be clear about what you expect to learn at the Yale SOM that will set you up to be a strong candidate for your desired post-MBA position. Your immediate post-MBA role might allow you to develop additional exposure that will accelerate your career toward your longer-term career aspiration. With respect to your long-term goal, you can be a little less specific, but you still need to show a clear trajectory to which you are dedicated. And it’s important that your long-term goal is actually achievable via your short-term goal. Building that bridge for the admissions committee will show that you have educated yourself about what’s required to achieve your objectives, how the SOM fits into that plan, and how you are ready to take the steps necessary to get there. Consider how your aspirations intersect between business and society to demonstrate that the Yale SOM is the best program to put you on a path to reach your goals.
Keep in mind that the SOM adcom understands that you might not have your career path completely figured out and that your goals could change while you’re in the program. So, don’t feel like you have to be hyper specific in your descriptions if you’re not quite solid in your goals. However, you do need to demonstrate the ability to make a logical plan for yourself and your abilities and that the SOM will help you to address your needs to reach your goals.
Because you have only 150 words, it will be difficult (but not impossible!) to hit on all of these elements. You will have to be direct and concise, without a lot of flowery language.
Optional Information: If any aspect of your application requires additional explanation, you can address it in the Optional Information section below. Please note, you should use the specific prompts provided in the Work Experience section to address gaps in work experience or choice of recommender. The Optional Information section is truly optional – if no aspect of your application requires further explanation, you should leave this section blank. (200 words maximum)
The optional essay is just that: optional. As such, it should always be approached judiciously. If you feel that your application already conveys a complete, accurate picture of who you are as a candidate, then you should probably refrain from submitting an optional essay. You have little to gain from adding to the admissions committee’s workload by asking them to read another essay that doesn’t add anything significant or compelling to your profile. But if you have something truly unique to share that you believe would make you stand out, or if you have an issue of some sort in your candidacy that could benefit from additional explanation (such as those listed in the prompt), then this is your chance to share or clarify it.
In the Stratus Admissions’ Guide to Getting into Yale School of Management, you will find information on a variety of the MBA program’s offerings, such as Closing Bell, the raw case method, Global Study, and Global Network Weeks. This free guide also includes class profile statistics. Download our guide to learn more about Yale SOM!