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Admissions Q&A: Yale

Change and momentum are in the air at the (Yale Full-Time MBA Profile), just a few days before the arrival of a new dean, Ted Snyder. Construction has begun on a business school building scheduled to open in 2013. Admissions to the school have gone entirely online and applicants who prefer not to take the GMAT can now submit GRE scores.

Some things at top-ranked Yale remain the same. The school remains committed to the public and nonprofit sectors, with financial aid earmarked for graduates planning to take jobs in them. Yale School of Management is as selective as ever, offering about 18 percent of its 2011 applicants a spot. And the institution continues to forge ties with other Yale graduate schools to benefit students and alumni, according to Admissions Director Bruce DelMonico.

One of the challenges DelMonico says he faces is explaining to potential recruits that an MBA isn’t just for business types. Students often see law as the default graduate degree, he says, adding that an MBA can be more versatile, with a variety of applications in different sectors and industries. DelMonico himself has a master’s degree in English from the University of Texas, Austin and a JD from the University of Virginia law school.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Kiah Lau Haslett, DelMonico explains Yale’s admissions philosophy, how students should and shouldn’t try to stand out, and the benefits of being in a small business school and collegiate environment.

Describe Yale in one sentence.

I would describe it as a leading management school, the mission of which is to educate leaders of business and society.

What does Yale look for in an applicant?
One of the hallmarks of the Yale School of Management is that we want to bring in a class of individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests, and perspectives. The things we do look for are qualities that will support the mission of the school. … [We want] individuals who are broad-minded in their thinking, who don’t have a vocational mind-set, [who are] thinking about issues in much larger ways and thinking about connections in various areas.

Where do you recruit?

We recruit across a number of dimensions. We do recruit individuals who are already out in the workforce and are not only around the U.S., but also overseas. We recruit some students who are still in college through our Silver Scholars program, which is directed at individuals right out of college who are starting their MBA in the fall. We recruit [at] finance firms [and] consulting firms. We recruit at Teach for America because they tend to bring in and train students who might stay in education and the public sector, who have intellectual curiosity, and who tend to embody that mission of the school that we hope our students will fulfill.

What is the demographic breakdown of your students? How diverse is the school?

The demographic breakdown tends to be about two-thirds domestic students and one-third international, [concentrated] most heavily in Asia but with significant amounts in Europe and Latin America, and a smaller number in Africa. But we’re making efforts to increase those numbers.

We tend to be 30-to-45 percent female. Our average age tends to be in the 27- to 28-year-old range with four to five years of experience, but the head and the tail extend pretty far. As for industry and background, we tend to draw people from a pretty broad range of backgrounds: The largest are from finance and consulting but those are a plurality, not the majority of students. We have students from the public sector, engineers, and architects.

We have roughly 20-to-25 percent U.S. minority students and 8 to 12 percent are underrepresented minority students. That diversity is very important to us: A diverse student body means a diverse learning experience and we’re able to have diverse perspectives in the classroom and train all our students to be more thoughtful when they graduate.

Why did Yale decide to accept the GRE?

We are a school with very diverse student body with very diverse interests and backgrounds. We’re not [excluding] candidates who might be thinking of business school and other [professional] schools [and who took the GRE instead of the GMAT because the GRE is accepted at both].

What are key mistakes students make? How can they be prepared for your interview?

Some common mistakes really boil down to trying to be someone [you're not]. How they manifest that is by providing us with statements that the candidate feels we care about. We’re looking for leadership potential, but sometimes people think we’re looking for someone interested in a certain industry, and it can ring hollow.

Make sure you are asking people [for recommendations] who can write you very strongly positive recommendations. On the essays, simpler is better. You should be true to yourself. That’s not to say to not write interesting, compelling essays. It’s tough to draw the line for the gimmicky essays that are insincere and don’t grab our attention in a compelling manner.

Some financial aid is based on academic merit. How is merit determined?

We try to determine the greatest overall potential in a candidate, their experience, and all elements of the application and determine it that way. We also have a loan forgiveness program that is for graduates who go into nonprofit and public sectors; that’s what we use as need-based aid to make sure we provide aid to students going into those sectors, earning lower salaries.

Describe the philosophy of Yale admissions.

We recognize this is an inflection point in people’s lives. We feel our mission is to bring in the students who have the greatest potential to have the greatest impact on society. That sounds lofty but we take it seriously.

How is Yale different from other business schools?

Among the things that make the school different is the level of connection between Yale School of Management and Yale as a parent university. Most schools are stand-alone and don’t really interact with other parts of the university. Here, students do interact with colleagues at other professional schools and draw from their resources.

Describe the faculty at Yale.

My sense is that at most business schools, the faculty are great researchers or great teachers and at most schools that’s sort of a trade-off. One of the unique things [about] Yale faculty [is that faculty] really excel at [both] research and teaching, generating cutting-edge ideas and bringing them to the classroom for the benefit of students.

We are a small, close-knit collegial environment and the faculty is very much a part of that. It’s not uncommon for faculty to be involved in activities outside the classroom. You see them at events and happy hours. They mentor students informally and that’s helpful for the students and emblematic of the close-knit community.

Describe the curriculum, which was overhauled in 2006 to be more holistic and integrated. How has the change been received, five years out?

The change has gone very well—even better than our most optimistic expectation. From a student perspective, the feedback I get and hear from colleagues elsewhere in the school is that it’s been incredibly well-received and is the holistic, integrated learning they’re looking for. One other piece of it is how the curriculum’s been received externally. Anecdotally, comments from recruiters and employers are that our students are bringing outside-the-box thinking and creativity that adds value to the organization.

How does the school help graduates find jobs?

We have a full-service career-development office with a relationship-management model. Experts in particular industries or concentrations of industries will work one-on-one with students and help design and execute their career search as early as the first year. The career-development office works with students on their skill inventory, assessment of various industries, and what entities they want to target in their career search.

How did the recession and financial scandals affect admissions, curriculum, and job searching? How did the school adjust?

Not surprisingly, when the recession first hit there was a bump in applications from people in the finance sector and we’ve continued to see that through the last admissions cycle. When the downturn happened, it was very quickly digested and integrated into the curriculum. Faculty members were rewriting their syllabi to incorporate this very seminal event.

[For jobs,] obviously the downturn made things more challenging, but I think we’ve weathered the downturn remarkably well. On the career side, we did a number of things to help the students and really drew on our strong alumni network to help students continue to find placements.

Our 2010 information shows that 76 percent of students had a job offer before graduation and 64 percent had accepted a job before graduation. Are these numbers good? Are they higher or lower than average?

I defer that to our career development for the actual numbers, but the only thing I can say is that I know that, based on the Bloomberg Businessweek placement ranking last year, we were somewhere in the top 10. Our students are doing incredibly well in the job market at firms they are interested in, but I don’t have the details of the breakdown.

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