In another installment of our MBA Admissions Director Q&A series, we hear from Bruce DelMonico, Assistant Dean for Admissions at the Yale School of Management. Bruce joined Yale SOM in October 2004 and has led the Admissions Office since November 2006. Before joining Yale, Bruce was an attorney focused on First Amendment, white collar, and commercial litigation. Bruce holds a BA in Honors English from Brown University, an MA in Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Read on for his insights into MBA admissions at Yale SOM, what to expect in the interview and more.
Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
Bruce DelMonico: There are many aspects of the program that I wish applicants knew more about–our mission-oriented approach to management; our innovative integrated curriculum; our strength in a wide range of academic disciplines (we really do consider ourselves to be an excellent, general management school). But I’d like to focus on our distinctive “raw case” approach to the classroom experience, which I think exemplifies the thoughtfulness of how we do things here at Yale and how we’re trying to help our students develop real-world skills–even while sitting in the classroom–that will prepare them to be high-impact leaders after they graduate. At Yale SOM, our core classes are roughly 50-60% taught by the case method. But these cases, which we call raw cases, are developed by our own Yale case-writing team. We call them raw cases because unlike “cooked” cases at other schools, where the relevant material is boiled down for you to a 10-12 page document that eliminates all extraneous facts, raw cases present all the primary source material you would encounter in your actual professional life: earnings statements; 10-Ks, 10-Qs, and other regulatory filings; media coverage; interviews with key stakeholders; and other materials. The idea is that it is a skill–and a crucial one at that–to be able to wade through these materials and understand what’s relevant and what’s not, fill in missing gaps, and resolve inconsistent or incomplete information. This is a real-world skill that it takes time and effort to develop, and our curricular structure enables you to do that. This raw case method underpins the interdisciplinary nature of our integrated curriculum, and is one way the school positions our students to fulfill our mission of educating leaders for business and society.
CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision?
BD: I would start by saying that we do not begin reviewing applications until after the deadline passes, so you should take as much time as you need to complete your application – there is no advantage to applying to us early. Once the deadline does pass, the first thing we do is to sit down as a committee (there are roughly 15 of us) to go quickly through the entire pool to get a sense of it. Then we begin reading and sending out interview invitations almost immediately. Applications are reviewed by at least two different members of the admissions committee. A subset of the committee meets early in the round to review most applicants for interview decisions, and then the entire committee meets at the end of the round to make decisions on candidates who have been interviewed. Candidates can take different paths through the process – we try to make sure we’re moving people through the review process as expeditiously as possible, which means we at times have parallel processes at work to enable that to happen – but everyone gets a thorough and sifting review by the admissions committee.
CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?
BD: Our essay prompt is short and direct–“Describe your biggest commitment”–but it is by no means simple. We developed it in partnership with Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor in our organizational behavior group who has worked with us (along with other faculty) over the years on various aspects of our admissions process. With Professor Wrzesniewski’s help, we have put together a very structured rubric for how we evaluate the essay and how it integrates into our overall application review. I can tell you that we care less about the specific commitment you choose to write about–we are not making value judgments about what is and is not a worthy commitment–and more about what behaviors you can point to that evidence the commitment. The commitment can be either personal or professional–again, no judgment; applicants have written successful essays in both areas. The key is how you demonstrate the commitment, not what the commitment is.
The mistakes people make tend to fall into a number of different areas. One obvious one is not answering the question, but rather trying to re-purpose another essay for our prompt. Another, somewhat related, mistake is trying to use the essay to answer “Why an MBA?” and “Why Yale?” We’ve constructed our application very intentionally and ask for different, complementary pieces of information at different stages in the process; you don’t need to fit everything into the essay. Focus on the commitment and don’t worry about tying it to your MBA aspirations. And finally, another mistake is trying to use an umbrella commitment – even if worthy and noble – to fit in a number of different experiences. We really want you to focus on one thing, one commitment, and be very specific about that commitment rather that articulate an overarching concept or ideal and include a list of things that fit into that larger concept. We’re less likely to get a sense of your demonstrated behaviors from this latter structure.
CA: Could you tell us about the Yale MBA admissions interview process? Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (resume-based, behavioral)?
BD: Depending on the year, we interview roughly a quarter to a third of the applicant pool. Interviews are conducted primarily by trained second-year students, although members of the Admissions Committee do conduct some as well. Our interviews are “blind,” meaning that the interviewer has reviewed your resume, but has not seen the rest of your application. The idea is for this input to be as independent of the other reviews as possible. The interviews themselves are 30 minutes in length and structured in format – every interviewee receives the same questions in the same order. Research consistently shows that structured interviews are far more predictive than unstructured ones, which is why we adopted this format many years ago. Interviewers also use a highly structured rubric in evaluating candidates, to heighten inter-rater consistency, decrease bias, and increase the fairness of the process. The questions themselves are largely behavioral in nature – we ask about past experiences and how you handled certain situations, as well as about your MBA aspirations. The goal, as with the rest of our application, is to elicit the information that is most helpful at that time and in that format, and that complements the rest of the application. I would note that although the interview is the last thing you will do as an applicant, that does not mean that it is the most important aspect of your candidacy or that it will determine the outcome of your application. It is just one more data point, and the one piece of advice I would give to applicants is not to put too much emphasis on it, as you shouldn’t any single element of your application – nothing by itself will make or break your candidacy.
CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?
BD: We accept either the GMAT or the GRE as part of the Yale SOM application. We accept both tests and do not have a preference for either – in fact, our admission rate is roughly the same for applicants regardless of which test they took, which I think is an important proof point that we do not have a preference.
Our testing policy has not changed in recent years – we continue to require a standardized test as part of the application process. We know that some schools have gone test-optional or started to offer test waivers during the pandemic, but we haven’t followed that path. Rather, we’ve monitored test availability closely over the past several years and offered test submission extensions when test centers closed and the at-home option wasn’t available, but we haven’t waived the test requirement entirely. Research consistently shows that standardized tests are highly predictive of first-year MBA grades, which are an important (although by no means the only meaningful) outcome. Test scores aren’t the most predictive element, but they provide important incremental validity and consistency to our application process, and we have yet to find a replacement – or combination of replacements – that represents an adequate substitute. We continue to work toward finding this substitute, and when we do, we will consider loosening or eliminating the testing requirement. But we don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of our application process by doing so prematurely or without fully researching and understanding the situation.
CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.
BD: There are so many! But two I would mention are Strategic Leadership Across Sectors, taught by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld; and Interpersonal Dynamics, with Heidi Brooks. Professor Sonnenfeld is one most prominent and well-known faculty members at the school; he leads our Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) and CEO Summit, among other things. He also has led the global corporate withdrawal from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. Strategic Leadership Across Sectors leverages his deep connections to the corporate world and brings different leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors to the class each week to share their leadership lessons. These are closed-door conversations (no recordings or devices) that involve close interactions with some of the most prominent leaders in the world. It is one of the most popular courses at the school – as Interpersonal Dynamics, which is an intense, activity-based and experientially driven class about how to engage with others and thus how to be a truly effective leader. Students routinely describe it as one of the most transformative classes they took as a student. (Honorable mention goes to the Global Social Enterprise class, taught by Tony Sheldon, which involves students doing a consulting project with a different mission-based organization each year. This past year, the students did consulting work in Kenya.)
CA: As we learn to live with COVID-19, campuses have opened up and students are back. What about prospective students? Will they have the opportunity to visit campus? Will admissions interviews be conducted virtually?
BD: It’s true that COVID has not gone away, but as you note we’re learning to live with it, and in that spirit our campus has started to open up and students are indeed back. Classes will return to being fully in person this upcoming academic year, with various precautions and protocols in place (Yale has been very cautious throughout the pandemic and has very much erred on the side of keeping the community safe, perhaps more so than other institutions). Similarly, we have re-started in-person admissions events and travel, and will be resuming full campus visits this fall. We also plan to conduct on-campus interviews for Round 1, but as always we will have virtual options available for applicants who cannot or choose not to travel to campus. We will also continue to host a full schedule of virtual events for candidates who do not wish to attend in-person events. I would note that in all instances – on both the recruiting and campus visit front, as well as with interviews – not engaging us in person will in no way disadvantage you in the admissions process. We offer these in-person options as a way to allow you to experience as much of the school as possible, but we know that many people do not have the time or resources to travel, and it would therefore not be fair for us to incorporate these kinds of engagement in our evaluation of your candidacy. They are purely for you, not for us, and we’re glad to be able to return to them this upcoming season!
CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or Yale MBA admissions process?
BD: I would just like to wish all of the MBA aspirants who read this piece the best of luck in the application process. I know that it feels very high-stakes and involves a great deal of effort and anxiety, but just know that those of us on the other side of the process are rooting for you and are hoping to help you take this next step in your professional development.