An Interview With Yale SOM’s Admissions Gatekeeper

Yale SOM students

Yale SOM MBA students in class

Byrne: I know another invention that was created not long ago was a new master’s program that brings global students to Yale for a Master’s in Advanced Management. These students already have MBAs from other global network schools, and you’re bringing more talent into the classroom with your full-time MBA students to give a more global perspective on class discussions.

DelMonico: That’s correct. These MAM students, as we call them, have their MBAs from one or the other global network schools. They come to Yale for one year to be in electives with our MBA students, so they get the benefit of taking the Yale classes for the year. Our MBA students get the benefit of their knowledge, their insights, their experience, their perspective, so it really does help make the classroom experience even that much more global.

We also engage very much with Yale University. Roughly 10% to 15% of each MBA class is pursuing a joint degree with another Yale School. And so they bring their experiences into the classroom as well. So we have people steeped in law, medicine, forestry, drama, architecture, and divinity in our business classes I think it does make the classroom experience that much more rich and that much more fulfilling for our students, for all the students really.

Byrne: And that’s a key point I want to draw out a little bit more because most business schools grew up on the periphery of a university campus. They were pretty much isolated from their parent universities. Many other academic departments frankly wanted it that way, but business schools wanted it that way too. One of the things that happened at Yale is you’ve really taken advantage of the great university brand that you have. And you’ve done that also by opening your doors not only to dual degree candidates but to students from other departments and schools to come and take your courses, and those departments and schools have opened their doors to your MBA students. So, can you give us a little flavor of that in some examples?

DelMonico: Happy to do that. Very few business schools have that opportunity. And then we’re also lucky in the fact that Yale is a very porous place. There’s a lot of exchange across the different graduate schools and even with the Yale College undergraduates, so we get to take advantage of that. I think there are a number of ways in which that’s the case. Obviously, the number of joint degree students is one, but even students who are not pursuing a joint degree.

We’re obviously a two-year full-time MBA program. The first year is mostly the core curriculum, but you start to take electives in the spring of the first year and then the second year is entirely electives. And at Yale, you can take those anywhere at the university you want. You could actually take all your electives outside of the school of management and still graduate. I think that’s unparalleled. Some schools will allow a couple of courses here or there. At SOM, you could take all your courses anywhere at the university.

If you wanted to go into real estate development, obviously we have courses at the School of Management. But you could take courses at the forestry school in sustainable development, you could take courses at the law school on real estate law, you could take courses at the architecture school and really put together a curriculum that is very tailored to your interests and to your professional goals. I think that’s really powerful.

Byrne: It’s kind of inside baseball, but it’s really true. You can go to other business schools and they’ll say the same thing, but the difference at Yale is that, by and large, the academic calendar of the other schools and departments are aligned with the School of Management so that it does not become a major hurdle for a student to take electives in other places at Yale.

DelMonico: That’s right. It’s also the case that faculty reserve seats in each class for students from outside their school, so it’s not as though you have to fight with students from the law school or public health or anywhere else for those seats. There’s some slack in there. And I don’t know if other schools actually say that you can take every elective course outside of the business school.

Byrne: I have never heard that anywhere. And that’s a major difference. It’s often overlooked, particularly by international students who consider European schools that are more likely to be standalone business schools, with no opportunity to take courses at a university because there’s no parent university. And that’s a big difference.

The other big difference at Yale is something you mentioned earlier Bruce, and it’s the integrated curriculum in the core that was passed through by the previous dean, Sharon Oster. Talk about what an integrated curriculum is and why it’s better than a more traditional, siloed, discipline curriculum.

DelMonico: I think the curriculum, our connections to Yale, and our global approach are all in place for a reason. It’s not as though we’re wanting to be different for the sake of being different. But we think to be a successful leader in the 21st century, you need to have that global perspective. You need to have a broader perspective. You need to think not just about the business disciplines but understand the legal framework within which business is operating. You need to understand medicine, you need to understand the environment, you need to understand political science, psychology, sociology. All these disciplines are relevant to be a successful leader, and so that’s how our curriculum is structured.

So instead of teaching along functional silos, which is how most traditional MBA curriculum are structured, we actually cut across the silos and teach based on what we call organizational perspectives. So we look not at marketing as a class or function, but we look at the customer as a stakeholder and what parts of an organization relate to the customer or affect the customer experience. So it can include marketing, but also operations, technology, and accounting.

These are all disciplines that you need to understand but you also should understand how they’re interconnected to be a successful leader and to satisfy the customer experience. And so we have a host of organizational perspectives that we teach in the core. So we teach it much differently, not by function but across functions.

Byrne: And that has implications for how you organize the faculty and how they collaborate with each other. It also has investment implications for the school because it’s a lot more costly to deliver an integrated core curriculum than it would be to have siloed accounting, finance, statistics, marketing and strategy courses.

DelMonico: Yep. I think that’s exactly right. This is not an easy thing to put together. Faculty like to work in their own disciplines. They don’t like to work across disciplines. So to create this kind of interdisciplinary approach is challenging. But we have faculty who are very open to that, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. There’s a lot of team teaching in the core curriculum, a lot of faculty from different parts of SOM, and even from different parts of Yale who are teaching in the core, so you’ll have multiple faculty in there. It is also an expensive thing to do, much more expensive than other teaching approaches. And I think that we are fortunate enough to be at Yale to have the resources to be able to put together this kind of curriculum.

Early on, when the integrated curriculum was first introduced, a lot of schools came to see what we were doing, to see how we were doing it. They realized it takes a very special combination of small size, large resources, and a willing faculty to put this kind of curriculum together. And really no other schools were interested in doing it, but they couldn’t really. They didn’t have the right combination of factors to be able to do that.

And I would say that in addition to the team teaching, to that integrated approach, one unique aspect of the core especially is our case method. We teach about 50% to 60% using cases, but we actually have our own case writing team. We have what we call raw cases which we contrast to traditional cooked MBA cases where the case writing team takes all the relevant facts and kind of boils it down in a 12-page document that gives you all the facts you need to know. It kind of eliminates everything you don’t need to know, and the insight that our faculty had is that’s not how you interact with data and information in the real world.

In the real world, you’re not given a case. There’s no case writing team. You’re given a problem, you’re given a challenge, and you’re told to figure it out. So our cases are comprised of the primary source materials you’ll experience in the real world, the 10-Ks, 10-Qs, other regulatory filings, interviews with key stakeholders, media reports, all the things that you would actually interact within the real world.

The case writing team does not tell you what’s relevant and what’s not. You have to figure that out for yourself. So even in the core curriculum, even when you’re sitting in a class, you’re developing the skills that will make you successful after you graduate.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.