What are the best things an applicant can do when applying?
Sometimes people feel as though they have a sense of what they think the school cares about, what we’re looking for. They might have a sense of what the school’s culture is, what the school’s strengths are, and they try to align themselves with those strengths. That can be counterproductive. Applicants maybe don’t appreciate fully that we at Yale and I think all business schools are trying to put together a range of applicants. You don’t have to conform to a certain . . . profile you may think that we’re looking for. To be yourself, that’s probably the most important thing I can tell an applicant, regardless of your background, your profile, your strengths and weaknesses.
Beyond that . . . answering the questions that the school asks. We ask a lot of somewhat similar questions but not necessarily the same. Another way in which applicants might get into trouble or have gotten into trouble is trying to repurpose responses from one school or another without thinking what’s truly appropriate.
As admissions officers we’re always looking to make sense of a candidate – understand your background, understand your history, understand your profession. Sometimes there may be little gaps or little wrinkles in there. Applicants who are more successful are those that explain those wrinkles to us. An applicant can get into trouble by ignoring those wrinkles or not explaining them.
It’s usually around work history. It can also be academically, if someone took more than four years to graduate. We do look at the transcripts quite closely. Often it’s perfectly explainable and very innocuous. Helping walk us through that is usually very valuable. If we don’t see all the semesters contiguous that might raise a question. If there’s one semester that seems like an outlier in terms of grades, an explanation can help.
What are the worst mistakes an applicant can make?
There are lots of different ways to err in terms of an application. Probably the most basic and maybe the most obvious is just proofreading your application. It sounds so simple and most of the time people do it and their application is nice and pristine, but because of that when people don’t do that those applications jump out that much more. It’s not necessarily an errant comma or a period. On a resume we’ll have a start date and an end date that don’t make sense. Putting the wrong school in your essays, that’s a simple thing that is very easy to correct. I tend to tell people when they’re reviewing essays and even resumes (to) start at the end and read backwards. If you’re just proofing for . . . typos, reading backwards helps you catch them.
What matters most to you about an application?
There’s really no single element of the application that matters most. We don’t have any particular weight for each element. It really is the overall profile that a candidate presents. For different candidates certain elements may have more weight depending on the profile of the candidate. People generally tend to focus a lot on test scores. We get applicants for example who have questions about how high a GMAT you should have, and especially the quantitative section. Someone who was a mathematics major in college and is working in finance, that gives us enough information that we might focus less on the quantitative portion of the GMAT than we would on someone who is, like I was, an English major in college – because we have fewer data points (for an English major) we might lean a little more heavily on the GMAT quant because that’s the main way we can evaluate the quantitative preparation or quantitative profile.
What do you and your team like to hear from applicants about their reasons for wanting to attend Yale SOM?
People, I think, they come to business school, Yale and others, for lots of different reasons. We don’t judge someone’s reasons for wanting to come to Yale, and determine who’s coming for the right reasons and who’s coming for the wrong reasons. We assume that if you have applied to us that you’re interested in being part of our community. We take your word for that. It’s not as though we’re looking for any sort of magic reasons that will give you a leg up in the process: ‘I am coming because I like the mission of the school, I like the culture and the community.’ There are a lot of different things people point to and I think they can all be valid. We are a very mission based organization. Our mission is to educate leaders for business and society, and we do feel as though the people who I think are most at home here are those who have that mission-oriented approach and for whom the mission of the school resonates.