Does career management ever play a role in admission decisions at Yale?
They don’t in the sense that we are not making admission decisions based on who is easy to place. We do, however, invite others to sit in on our committee meetings. They sometimes come and find it informative to see how we do our process. They understand the industries and the career progression so they can tell us what their work backgrounds suggest about their career trajectories. What I have done is teamed up every member of our admissions committee with someone at the career development office to have that ongoing discussion because they can’t always be in committee with us.
We also invite faculty to them as well. The faculty tend not to take us up on the offer. In theory, they would like to but they tend to get tied up with other things.
What is your perspective on MBA admissions consulting?
I think the industry has a very schizophrenic relationship with the schools. But I think admission consultants can be very helpful in terms of helping candidates through the process–not just what schools but the format of an MBA program. There is always the question of where does that sort of guidance stop. Schools have pulled back on essays and view recommendations more skeptically now because they are not sure what has been written by the candidate versus others, so there is that wariness.
Do you have any idea what percentage of your applicant pool is currently using consultants?
I don’t have a sense. I have heard numbers up to a half from people. I’m sure it is somewhere in the double digits. My sense is it is probably a quarter to a half based on what I have seen and what I have heard others say. I don’t have any sense of how much it affects the outcome. Earlier this week, I gave a webinar on application tips where I give dos and don’ts and how to position yourself. One of the things I say is to be yourself. But the way I present it is if you are trying to tell us what you think we want to hear and everyone is doing that it could be counterproductive. It’s not the way to differentiate yourself.
Do you have any pet peeves about the admissions process?
One of my pet peeves is when you hear about the so-called admissions mistake. I actually haven’t heard that in a few years which I think is a good sign. But every once and awhile that term comes up and my view is that people think admissions is more of a science than it is. As we get more and better data, it will become more of a science. But as with any predictive exercise, like the NFL draft or any area where you are trying to evaluate talent and predict outcomes, it’s never 100%. We do our best with the information we have available to us. It works out more times than not, but there are times when it doesn’t work out.
This is a very personal process and the candidates take it very seriously. It’s high stakes and it can affect outcomes. For people who don’t get into programs, it’s tough for them not to take it as some rough referendum on them. We try to make this as perfect a process as possible but it is imperfect. The fact that someone doesn’t get into Yale or Harvard or Stanford isn’t an absolute reflection on what they are capable of or what potential they have.
That’s true but it’s hard for someone whose dream is to go to Yale, only to get rejected. What percentage of your applicant pool is fully qualified to attend the School of Management and do well?
I think it could be as high as 80% but it is certainly over half. That is evidenced by the fact that we are able to go from 249 to 291 without breaking a sweat. We could have admitted more people in the past.
To what degree do admissions officers attempt to be risk adverse in their selection? When I see mostly applicants from elite undergraduate institutions who work for brand name companies get into highly selective MBA programs, I’m thinking that at the graduate level, admission decisions can be very risk adverse. You’re relying as much on the screens of elite undergrad schools and elite companies as much as you are screening on your own. Agree?
Yes and no. Look, no one is going to complain about why you took this Yale College, 760, McKinsey person. No one is going to say, “What were you thinking?’
But take a 530 from Wayne State University who worked for an unknown auto parts supplier outside of Detroit, and you have a very tough admissions decision that’s unlikely to go the way of the applicant. Admitting that person would be a risky decision.
That’s right. We have a lot of conversations about this. But it’s also an aspect of diversity. Do we want an entire class of 760 McKinsey Yale people? It could be a very capable class but it would be an uninteresting class because everyone is thinking and doing the same things. So you need to have some diversity.
An example I could think of is actually a rising second year. He was self-educated from seventh grade to college. His parents took him out of school to home school him but then they actually never do it. So he had to teach himself from seventh grade to high school. He got into a lesser undergraduate school, a state school that wasn’t even the main campus. But he had a 4.0 and did really well on the GMAT and started his own computer business consulting. He showed incredible initiative and he is someone who could be a big risk but everything on his application was strong, including his recommendations. We took him to the committee and said, ‘This is someone who on paper is a risk, but we think he is going to be fantastic in the program.’ We admitted him and he’s doing very well academically and very well on the career side. So there is value in taking those sort of risks. But you can’t have a class entirely of Yale, McKinsey people and you can’t have a class entirely of candidates with risks.
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