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Yale SOM MBA Essay for 2023-2024: Tips & Strategy

Yale SOM’s MBA application includes several innovative features, including a behavioral assessment, a personal assessment, pre-interview questions, and behaviorally anchored recommender forms.

These elements combine for an effective and efficient package, helping applicants and the admissions team focus on what matters most while boosting the predictive power of the application.

For several years, the SOM app also included a single required essay prompt: “Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made.” For 2023–2024, however, Yale has added some detail and context to that question, and added two more prompts, so candidates can choose one of three essays.

Essay Options

  1. Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made.Why is this commitment meaningful to you and what actions have you taken to support it?
  2. Describe the community that has been most meaningful to you.What is the most valuable thing you have gained from being a part of this community and what is the most important thing you have contributed to this community?
  3.  Describe the most significant challenge you have faced.How have you confronted this challenge and how has it shaped you as a person?

All three questions focus on actions: making a commitment, contributing to a community, or confronting a challenge. They are all designed to give you opportunities to tell the school a story of a meaningful experience that has shaped who you are today. 

Rather than asking you to make a statement about who you are or what’s important to you and marshal evidence to support that claim, SOM takes a different approach. They ask you about important things you have chosen to do, and from that, they can infer what moves you and what matters most in your life.

SOM’s long-serving admission leader, Bruce DelMonico, has explained the rationale behind this approach. Reading about future plans is helpful, but actions speak louder than words, he explains. “In your response, we are looking to learn about how you have approached a particular commitment, whether personal or professional, and the behaviors that support it,” DelMonico notes. “You should be less concerned about what we want to hear and instead focus on being honest with yourself in selecting and describing the commitment that has been most significant to you.”

In addition to your choice of these questions, SOM has also added a new question in the family and background section of the app that offers additional space and flexibility to tell the school who you are. Likely in response to the recent Supreme Court Affirmative Action ruling, the new field asks, “If you would like to elaborate on any of your responses within this section, or any other aspect of your background, we encourage you to do so here. (250 words)

Top Tips for Tackling the Yale SOM Essay Question 

  1. Understand Yale SOM’s “bias toward action.”

DelMonico has often talked about Yale SOM’s “bias towards action,” and this shows up in essay prompts rooted In the belief that actions speak louder than words. SOM is looking for behaviors that support your stated commitment, contribution or challenge. 

They implore applicants to be honest with themselves. Honesty is the key because the essay asks you to bring the receipts (see Tip #2). Yale is looking for something more objective and dispassionate than other schools. There are bound to be strong feelings, values and motivations backing your actions, but Yale isn’t asking what moves you – they want to witness what you’ve done!

  1. Ask yourself the tough questions.

If a stranger shadowed you for several years and had unfettered access to your life – spending patterns, reading habits, physical moves, contact with other people, emails, meals, etc. – but couldn’t read your thoughts or know your feelings, what might they infer about what matters to you? What could they conclude based on how you invest your most precious resources: time, attention, social capital, emotional energy? When faced with a high-stakes decision, which path did they see you choose? When forced to make a thousand everyday decisions, what patterns would they have observed? 

Running this thought experiment in a dispassionate way can be hard – we are constantly rewriting stories about ourselves in illogical, inconsistent, very human ways. But interrogating yourself this way gets at the spirit of the question. The trick here is to link up your honesty and your confidence and let them reinforce one another. That’s no easy task in this business where everyone is stretching to project a vision of their best self, but that just makes authenticity all the more precious.

  1. Get to the point.

We have all made lots of commitments, but you can only write about one. Yale welcomes personal or professional angles, but whichever you choose, state it clearly in the first few sentences of your essay. You have only 500 words to work with, so there’s not a lot of room for context or compelling sentimental hooks. That’s okay. Some of our deepest, most enduring commitments have an emotional core; if you dig deep enough to find something genuine you should be close to something compelling, even as you’re focused on actions, choices, investments, sacrifice and results.

Use the straightforward nature of the prompt to inspire your writing style. Keep the focus on yourself as the main character and keep your sentences concrete, specific, and action oriented. Do that, and you’re likely to end up crafting some pretty good prose along the way!

Finally, resist any temptation to bend your response to align with the SOM mission or pick a particular commitment that you think will resonate with the school’s values. If your response links up naturally with the school’s strengths, that’s great, but don’t force it. Really focus on you and your behavioral patterns; stick close to the question and close to how you regularly impact the world around you.

View our MBA Admissions Masterclass featuring Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UCLA Anderson for more Yale SOM application insights. Follow Fortuna’s YouTube channel for the latest videos. 

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including Yale SOM. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to Wharton and other top programs, request a free consultation.

Want more advice? 

For more insights and advice on applying to Yale SOM, view our related articles and videos:

Updated September, 2022

Zachary White is a Fortuna Admissions expert coach and former Yale SOM Assistant Director of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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