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Real Humans of the Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

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With students flooding back to business school campuses around the globe, we are thrilled to kick off our Real Humans of the MBA Class of 2020 series with this spotlight on members of the incoming Yale School of Management (SOM) first-year class. Last year’s series—our first ever—was hugely popular with our audience, and we’re hoping this year will be the same. We’re also pleased to include many more schools this year, close to 40 in all! We plan to publish two per week, so stay tuned to learn more from students at all the schools you may be targeting.

To the Yale SOM students featured below and the dozens more participating students from other schools, thanks so much for making time to take part as you settle into life at business school! We can’t wait to see how you make the most of your MBA.

Real Humans of the Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

Yale SOM is widely recognized as the #1 MBA program in the world for students seeking careers in the nonprofit industry. With 8 percent of its most recent graduates heading into the sector, Yale SOM leads most other top MBA programs. Still, that leaves nine out of 10 graduates taking jobs in the private sector. So why is Yale SOM’s brand not as well known outside of the nonprofit industry?

If you’ve been tempted to think of Yale SOM as “just a nonprofit school,” think again. You might consider that idealism and desire to make a difference the school’s greatest strength, but it is far from its only one.

In fact, diversity is a hallmark of the Yale SOM experience. One reflection of that diversity: The career trajectories of SOM grads are among the most balanced of any leading business school. According to the school’s most recent employment results, 54 percent of students in the Class of 2017 accepted jobs in consulting and finance, compared to 72 percent at Columbia and 67 percent at Chicago Booth.

Academic integration is also a hallmark of the Yale SOM MBA. The school implements what’s known as an “integrated curriculum,” a unique design to tie the elements of a business school education into a meaningful whole. In addition to teaching the fundamentals of business, Yale SOM builds an understanding of the big picture, delving into the impact of business on society at large. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, entering students cannot waive any classes, even if they come in with a background in accounting or finance.

All students go through the entire curriculum from start to finish. Yale SOM doesn’t have concentrations: Students have the flexibility to select from the vast array of electives in the areas of corporate strategy, technology, finance, impact investing, sustainability, corporate governance, and more. Students also have unlimited elective choice at other schools throughout Yale University.

While many MBA programs have begun to shift towards offering experiential learning courses, Yale SOM’s instructors tend to focus heavily on theory. But a key component of the integrated curriculum is the use of “raw cases,” a teaching method that consists of receiving extensive, un-curated data about a real situation, including news reports, interviews, and other web-based sources. SOM students must then synthesize this information and build their own analysis to come to a decision point. While not hands-on work with a real company, this method does call on students to put some of their newly developed skills to work, ranging from accounting and marketing to organizational development. This differs from traditional cases, in which students read a 10- to 15-page narrative of a business situation followed by a series of relevant exhibits and a decision point.

Another aspect that makes Yale SOM unique is how it integrates professional development directly into the curriculum. Here, too, Yale is an outlier among its peers. Within the first semester, students complete a program called “Orientation to Management,” a series of modules about careers taught by the school’s career development team. This approach ensures that students are not just apt problem solvers but also able to approach real-life situations after graduation from multiple perspectives.

A broadminded approach certainly pays off: The Yale SOM 2017 Employment Report shows 93.4 percent of MBA students received job offers within three months of graduation, with a median base salary of $124,900.

Numbers aside, it does seem that plenty of studentschoose Yale because of a common sense of purpose. “Yale SOM students are not cynical,” Yale Director of Admissions Bruce DelMonico says. “They want to make a difference, and they feel that doing something worth aspiring to. This core quality shapes the culture and community here at a deep level.”

We are thrilled to kick off our Real Humans of the MBA Class of 2020 series with an introduction to some of the incoming MBA students at Yale SOM. Read on to learn more about their application process and what led them to choose Yale. 

Meryl Breidbart, Real Humans of the Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

Name: Meryl Breidbart

Age: 27

Hometown: Hewlett, NY

Undergraduate Institution and Major: I did my undergrad at Harvard, where I majored in visual and environmental studies with a minor in comparative religion. I also earned an MFA in design for social innovation from the School of Visual Arts in 2015.

Pre-MBA Work Experience: This gets a little complicated, so bear with me! The summer after undergrad, I started a company, Chirps, with two of my Harvard classmates. We make tortilla chips and other food items using crickets as a sustainable protein source.

Right out of my MFA (which I completed straight from undergrad), I worked for an environmental firm called AKRF in the marketing department. I transitioned from there to a more digital role doing design at Amino Apps, a network of mobile communities for different niche interests and then to running the design and product team at Jopwell, a career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. I left Jopwell a few months before SOM and have been working as a freelance designer since.

Why business school? Why now? As you can see from my educational background, I have no formal training in business or finance. I knew that, especially as a woman in the business world, it was imperative that I have both formal training and the MBA credential to continue my entrepreneurial pursuits.

Why Yale? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? This was a fairly easy choice for me! I wanted a school with a student body with a diverse set of interests and backgrounds. I’ve already met so many “non-traditional” MBA students at SOM that it seems that it is the SOM “traditional” to be “non-traditional,” which is precisely what I was hoping to find.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? Not to beat a dead horse, but I think my experience as a founder of a company is my most valuable and most differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020. Not asked but also worth noting for anyone who is also “non-traditional,” what I DON’T bring to the table is a strong quant background.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I have the most amazing pup named Moses!

Post-MBA career interests? More entrepreneurship, please! I love early-stage startups and helping them figure out their kinks, so I’ll work more on Chirps and/or start another something.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? I recognized that a weakness in my application was my limited quant experience, so I took a class through EdX in business school math. The courses are free, but for $79 you can get a certificate of completion (if you pass the timed final).

–One thing you would change or do differently? I took the GRE and not the GMAT. I’m not positive I’d go back and take the GMAT if I were to do it again, but I do think that GRE students still face somewhat of an uphill battle when it comes to proving our capabilities/readiness for the MBA. Given that I’m not an admissions officer and don’t really know, though, definitely take this with a grain of salt. Plenty of my classmates also took the GRE, so there’s definitely hope for you should you choose to take this route.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? I didn’t realize before actually applying that application fees are not nominal! Once I realized that each one was around $200, I definitely thought a bit more carefully about where to apply and to how many schools. I’d definitely have skipped paying if I could have .

What is your initial impression of Yale’s students/culture/community? I am most impressed by how nice and collaborative everyone is. I wasn’t sure what to expect—educational atmospheres often foster competition (which I’m sure will develop to some degree as we get further into the semester), but so far everyone seems really excited to grow together and in concert, rather than in conflict/competition.

One thing you have learned about Yale that has surprised you? SOM has its own (small) gym. This may seem insignificant, but the Yale gym is not super close to SOM/where I live, and it’s really nice to know that I have the option of hopping on a quick treadmill run after (or before, if feeling aspirational) class.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? SOM has a reputation for being academically rigorous. This is definitely one of the reasons I chose SOM over other schools (if I’m paying good money, I want to get what I pay for), but I’m definitely anxious to see just how challenging it will be.

Miya Sharpe, Yale SOM Class of 2020

Name: Miya Sharpe

Age: 25

Hometown: Washington, DC (Northeast!)

Undergraduate Institution and Major: North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University|

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4 years at 3M,  two in the Industrial Business Group (marketing and analytics) and two in 3Mgives (corporate social responsibility and strategic grant-making)

Why business school? Why now? I think business school has a unique way of shaping your mindset to think bigger. I’m consistently telling people to aim higher, but that’s easier said than done when the social issues of the world seem impossible to solve. A great business school puts you into situations where you’ll work with a diverse team to solve large, vague problems with very little direction forcing you to broaden your horizons in a very short period of time.

An MBA also adds a level of credibility when seeking roles that involve driving more strategic change. Now was the ideal time for me because I feel like I was finally gaining momentum in my career, being trusted with decision-making responsibility where my decisions had larger, longer-lasting impact. I knew as I continued to succeed, these responsibilities would only continue to grow. If I wanted to be the best team member I could be, I needed to be grounded with skills such as the ones I mentioned earlier like navigating ambiguity and operating in the gray.

Why Yale? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? Initially, Yale SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society really spoke to me, my passion for driving racial equity, and the overall impact I want to have on the world. Furthermore, a mentor of mine told me to go to a school that would carry weight in whatever I wanted to do next. Since I don’t know exactly what I want to do next, I knew for me this meant choosing a school that carries weight everywhere and is respected both domestically and internationally.

Finally, as I began to narrow down my options, MLT encouraged me to do a lot of reflection about what was important to me and to be completely honest with myself. I found myself consistently going back to fit. Is this school a good fit for me?

I’ve been blessed in that during my time at 3M, I never felt like I had to code-switch, put on, or be anything but my authentic self and I thrived. So I knew a good fit for me ultimately came down to an MBA program where I felt I could do the same, where my quirks and eccentricities are not only accepted, but encouraged.
When I went to welcome weekend at SOM and I danced my life away with fellow admits and current students and then we all woke up and handled business, I knew it was a perfect fit.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? Attending the largest HBCU (historically black college or university) in the country instilled in me a great deal of confidence in my own skin. Being surrounded by brilliance in such a diverse group of individuals is like a constant reminder that you don’t have to be anybody but you, and in the right environment you will flourish. My most valuable contribution to the class of 2020 is my ability to bring my whole self to any environment. I firmly believe authenticity builds stronger teams.

A friend I met at a diversity weekend in my MBA admissions journey told me, “When you can remain your authentic self even in new environments, you give people the power, courage, and agency to do the same.” I believe this will have a domino effect and result in the building of a new generation of diverse, unapologetically authentic, and transparent leaders.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I can kick myself in the back of the head.

Post-MBA career interests? I’m not exactly sure yet, but I know whatever it is, I have to be personally passionate about it. It will likely involve leveraging business resources to make an impact on the world, specifically in historically under-resourced and/or marginalized communities.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Remain myself.

–One thing you would change or do differently? Start taking the GMAT seriously earlier in the process.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? The GMAT. My MLT family cheering me up after my third failed attempt to reach my ideal score and all my family and friends celebrating me when I finally got the score I wanted. It took me five times, so don’t stress if you don’t immediately knock it out of the park.

What is your initial impression of YALE’s students/culture/community? Amazing! This is a supportive community and the support begins before you even walk in the door. As I prepared for Consortium’s OP, I had so many second years and alum reach out to me to make sure I was prepared. Without them, I certainly wouldn’t have been as successful during early recruiting.

One thing you have learned about Yale that has surprised you? That people actually stay in New Haven on Fridays. I assumed that everyone would just go to New York or Philly or Boston for the weekend for a good time, but there’s more going on in New Haven on a Friday than you’d think.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Overextending myself. I tend to be one that likes to get super involved very early, but I’ve heard all about the intensity that is Fall 1 and 2 so I know I’ll have to restrain myself from getting to deeply involved in extracurriculars.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Meeting so many people from so many different places from all over the world (and selfishly trying all their different favorite local cuisines as I love to eat).

Arjun Murthy, Yale SOM Class of 2020

Name: Arjun Murthy

Age: 24

Hometown: Orlando, FL

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Babson College, economics

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 3 years in business development at H. Krevit & Company (manufacturing company in New Haven)

Why business school? Why now? I have been interested in business from a young age and went to a business-focused undergraduate institution to build a foundational set of knowledge.

Spending three years in a corporate strategy and business development role in a chemical manufacturing company opened my eyes to the many opportunities that exist to consolidate businesses in mature industries and deploy technology in more traditional ‘brick and mortar’ businesses.

Doing an MBA at SOM gives me the opportunity to refine my skills and integrate what I have learned both in the classroom and the real world to better identify opportunities to use technology to enhance performance and create value in more traditional industries.

Why Yale? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? What stood out to me most about the SOM was its mission “to Educate Leaders for Business and Society.” Having been in business for the past few years, I thoroughly believe that the only way to establish a successful business in the long run is to create real value for society and then aim to capture a small part of that value for your business.

My view is that a successful business focuses on solving relevant and substantial problems that people face and then aims to create a business model based off that solution. Hence, a focus on the intersection of business and society is not just a “nice to have,” it is critical for building a sustainable business.

I was also drawn to the relatively small class size of SOM, which I think allows students to make more meaningful interactions with their classmates. Even the courtyard-centered design of Evans Hall helps with forging connections among classmates.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? In a class with many talented individuals, it is hard to say I have something completely unique to offer. That said, having lived and worked in New Haven for several years before coming to SOM, I hope I will be able to help my classmates explore all the great things the city of New Haven has to offer, including those outside the immediate Yale campus. New Haven is a vibrant city with a lot to do, and I hope my classmates get to know it as well as I have.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I love good Italian food, especially pasta. I can make a tasty homemade pesto sauce and aim to learn other recipes as well.

Post-MBA career interests? Working on discovering and implementing new use cases for emerging technologies such as machine learning. I hope to work in a business development/strategy role in one of the many growing companies that are using these technologies to transform industries and improve productivity.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Be genuine. I think authenticity really shines through in your application and helps you connect with the admissions reader. If you are authentic, it is much easier to communicate your story in a tangible way that attracts interest.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I wish I had focused more of my application on why I would be a positive addition to the class and less on why I was qualified to join. Since the majority of applicants to top schools are well-qualified, it is not enough to show you are qualified—instead, applicants should seek to convey why they would make a great fit to the class and how they would contribute something unique that would help round out the group.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? The GMAT was not the most pleasant experience, but what got me through was my sense of the bigger mission to get an MBA.

What is your initial impression of Yale SOM’s students/culture/community? Everyone, including classmates, faculty, and staff, are very friendly and warm. I can really feel the collaborative culture among the students, and everyone seems genuinely interested in making your experience the very best it can be.

One thing you have learned about Yale SOM that has surprised you? How good the food is! I am not used to a university cafeteria having such quality food.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Finding a way to ensure I do not get stuck in my comfort zone and continue to learn new subjects, explore new opportunities, and meet new people.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Getting to know my classmates on more than just a superficial level.

Eric Shepherd Estey, Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

Name: Eric Shepherd Estey

Age: 30

Hometown: New York City

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Cornell University, B.S. Civil Engineering

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 8 years, consulting; 5 years, military

Why business school? Why now? Having built experience and expertise consulting on strategic business challenges, I now feel ready to transition into industry. An MBA offers me the opportunity to study different areas of business (marketing, sales, product development) than those I worked with in consulting. Specifically, it will help me re-orient my career towards new product development within the aerospace field, for which I have a strong passion.

Why Yale? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? Yale SOM connects me with an incredible breadth of knowledge and experience through my fellow classmates, a significant portion of whom are international students. Yale SOM also gives me an unparalleled opportunity to consider non-traditional career paths while allowing me to continue satisfying my part-time military service obligations.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? I hope that my most differentiating contribution to SOM will be the concurrent application of both my military background as an Air National Guard helicopter pilot and my eight years of civilian consulting experience. This dual military/civilian path has given me a rare perspective on what each sector does well (and not so well) and what strategies can be carried over.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I am an absolutely terrible ice hockey player, and I look forward to making a fool of myself in the intramural league at SOM.

Post-MBA career interests? My goal is to shift my career from consulting to more direct ownership of products and outcomes. I am currently pursuing a career in research and development and/or new product development within the aerospace industry.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Visit every institution you can and do so while class is in session. Also, strive to meet with students that share some of your interests (club members, for example) as they might be best able to communicate their experiences with you.

–One thing you would change or do differently? Start applications earlier!!! I did feel rushed as deadlines neared, while working to accurately convey my message in school essays. I even found myself refining applications while riding back on a C-17 from Hurricane Harvey.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? While I was writing essays, I really wished for a common application. However, I came to recognize the significant cultural differences across the various programs, and (begrudgingly) accepted the value of individualized applications.

What is your initial impression of Yale’s students/culture/community? Every day I am surprised and impressed by my classmates’ stories. They come from all walks of life and regions of the world and seem equally driven to make the best of their time at Yale. I look forward to meeting the rest of the SOM community in the coming weeks.

One thing you have learned about Yale SOM that has surprised you? Yale mandates that each student perform studies outside the United States but also funds a large majority of the costs towards that requirement to ensure all students are able to enjoy the experience.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? I know that time management will be a challenge for me, given the competing requirements of coursework and extracurricular activities.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? I can’t wait to travel to exciting overseas destinations with my fellow classmates next spring. Israel is high on my list.

Wendy Henry, Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

Name: Wendy Henry

Age: 31

Hometown: New York, NY

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Claremont McKenna College, international relations and French

Pre-MBA Work Experience: Most recently, four years in corporate citizenship and sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies and Goldman Sachs. Prior, five years in roles across the nonprofit, government, and private sectors.

Why business school? Why now? In my early professional career, I explored potential career paths in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors. Through these experiences, I discovered my passion for the intersection of impact and business, which led me to pursue a career in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

These past four years working in CSR have left me more excited than ever about the future of this field and have strengthened my belief that businesses can drive profits and long-term growth by doing good.

This experience has also allowed me to gain an understanding of the field’s workings and opportunities, as well as insight into the professional knowledge and skills that will enable me to best drive impact looking forward.

Having discovered my passion, gained hands-on experience in the space, and identified the skills that I’d like to further develop, I found this to be the perfect time to pursue business school and add to my toolkit.

Why Yale SOM? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? Culturally, the diversity of the student body and the students’ shared, genuine commitment to impact are some of the most important factors that drew me to Yale SOM.

I am continuously inspired by my classmates, who are all such engaged, supportive, and globally-minded individuals—each so passionate about making a difference in their own way. This SOM culture and shared vision fosters an amazing learning environment where I could see myself grow and thrive.

Academically, I also found SOM’s curriculum to be very well aligned with what I was seeking to accomplish via an MBA. The school has an integrated core curriculum, designed to build strong business foundations and leadership skills, as well as extensive electives and resources focused on social impact, sustainability, and innovation—my key areas of interest.

SOM is also very integrated with the larger Yale University, so students have the opportunity to take classes and leverage resources from across other degree-granting programs, tailoring our academic experiences to support our unique post-MBA goals as fitting.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? As we all prepare to be cross-sector change-makers and innovators, I hope to share with classmates my passion for infusing impact into business and my recent experiences from the corporate citizenship and sustainability field.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I have lived on three continents and would love the opportunity to live and work abroad again in my career!

Post-MBA career interests? I’m passionate about continuing to help businesses increase their bottom line through sustainable, innovative, and forward-thinking decisions. Upon graduation, I would love to join the strategy or operations team of a socially and environmentally committed company, and perhaps one day, to even build and launch my own responsible enterprise that disrupts and innovates on industry practices.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? From building your personal shortlist of schools, to writing the essays, to preparing for interviews—the entire application process itself is designed to make you dig deep and be introspective. It really pushes you to think through and identify your passions, long-term goals, and the potential steps needed to get there. I learned a lot about myself through the process, and I would absolutely do it again.

I would also speak to as many students and alumni as possible and visit as many schools as you are able to. In the research phase, I remember that many of the schools started to sound alike on paper. I found that in speaking with students, visiting schools, and sitting in classrooms—this was when the nuanced and differentiated personalities of the schools would really shine through.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I would leave myself more time for the essays. Introspection isn’t something that can be done quickly; I ended up revisiting experiences that have shaped me but that I hadn’t thought about for years. Additionally, with all the brainstorming, scrapped versions, revisions, and tweaks, it takes much longer than you might expect. To properly tell your story, you can’t rush the process.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? No surprise, but the GMAT! It helped to have a great prep course for the structure and the camaraderie, to set a daily routine, and to have outlets for decompressing—whether it was running or watching my favorite TV series to unwind. And most importantly, it helped to have a great support system. I’m grateful for my friends and family, who acted as my personal cheering squad and saw me through it all!

What is your initial impression of Yale’s students/culture/community? SOM emphasizes diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and I am thrilled with how true that has turned out to be! In my learning team alone, we represent five countries and eight wide-ranging, unique industries, including management consulting, healthcare, journalism, marketing, engineering, government, and more.

The range of global perspectives and backgrounds means there will always be someone with real-world experience to share, whether you’re discussing a case in class or looking to explore career opportunities in a new industry.

One thing you have learned about Yale that has surprised you? From day one, I was inundated with vast amounts of new information and activities to engage with. Though I’ve often heard that business school is like drinking from a fire hose, I’m still surprised by just how much there is to take in and how quickly everything flies by.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Between classes, clubs, global experiences, on-campus leadership positions, networking opportunities, recruiting events, social activities, and more—there is so much at our fingertips.

I’m most anxious about finding the time to participate in everything that I’m interested in. Being intentional with my choices, prioritizing, and remembering to take time to recharge will be key this year. As my second-year classmates advised, it’s a marathon, not a sprint (even though it may sometimes feel like both)!

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? The incredibly supportive and safe learning environment at business school really makes this the perfect time for trying new things, taking risks, and daring to fail. Paired with the wealth of opportunities and resources available to us, I’m most excited about stepping outside of my comfort zone to build a set of entirely new skills and experiences—and doing this as much as I can—during my time here at SOM!

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.