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Yale Taps OB Prof To Create New Essay

Yale University's School of Management

Yale University’s School of Management

On the surface, it seems like a remarkably simple question to ask MBA applicants.

Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made.

That prompt, requiring a tight essay of not more than 500 words, is what Yale University’s School of Management is asking its forthcoming crop of applicants to address in their application to the school’s full-time MBA program.

Unlike most admissions officials who dream up questions around the admissions table, SOM developed the query in collaboration with Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational behavior who is one of the lead faculty members in the core leadership courses. “Much thought went into this seemingly simple and straightforward question,” concedes Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean for admissions at SOM.


Yale SOM's Amy Wrzesniewski

Yale SOM’s Amy Wrzesniewski

Wrzesniewsk’s research focus is on how people make meaning of their work in difficult contexts from being in stigmatized occupations to doing virtual work, as well as the experience of work as a job, career, or calling. Her current research involves studying how employees shape their interactions and relationships with others in the workplace to change both their work identity and the meaning of the job.

This is the first time Wrzesniewsk, who has been on the faculty at SOM for ten years, has collaborated with admissions to formulate an essay prompt. “Though I research questions related to the meaning of work, this for me is just trying to help Bruce and his team,” she explains. “In this first year out, part of it is geting a sense for where applicants take the question. One of the things that becomes apparent is that this has always been a place where people interested in tackling big problems come. I don’t want to say the question is about the size or scope of the commitment so much as what people deem worthy enough to invest a huge amount of time and energy over a sustained period. Post-MBA, our hope is that they will be taking on the big issues in the world. what it is they have chosen to spend that commitment on is informative.”

DelMonico also tapped her advice in rethinking some of the video questions required of SOM applications. “The key with those questions is that you get a very different sense of the applicant in a non-rehearsed way,” adds Wrzesniewsk. “So you need to be careful not to use the set of 20 questions that might be rolling around in someone’s head. The trick there is to come up with questions that are really thoughtful. It’s not just going to be, ‘Oh, terrific. I have been getting ready for this question all season’ and then the student pulls out a scripted answer.”

After a whopping 25% increase in MBA applications last year, SOM reported an additional 6% rise to 3,652 applications for the 325 seats in this fall’s new class. That will boost its applicant-per-seat ratio to 11.2, behind only Stanford and UC-Berkeley.


The new essay question replaces one that SOM has used for the past two years: “The Yale School of Management educates individuals who will have deep and lasting impact on the organizations they lead. Describe how you have positively influenced an organization as an employee, a member, or an outside constituent.”

Yale has already announced its application deadlines: Sept. 14, 2016, for Round 1; January 10, 2017, for Round 2; and April 19, 2017, for Round 3.

And SOM also retained its unusual sliding-scale application fee. It ties a candidate’s application fee to the person’s total annual compensation for the upcoming year. “The sliding-scale fee helps us attract diverse applicants from all over the world, including those from countries where pay scales are different from the United States and from industries where compensation varies,” wrote DelMonico in a blog post. “We will continue to offer fee waivers for current or former Peace Corps volunteers and current staff or alumni of Teach for All programs (such as Teach for America, Teach for China, and Teach for India). The application fee is automatically waived for active U.S. military or U.S. veterans, current Yale graduate students, and Yale undergraduate students applying to the Silver Scholars Program.”


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.