Learn how real students and recent grads have navigated their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? series.
Meet Helen, a 2Y Yale SOM student with an interest in the role diversity plays in policymaking.
Helen, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Yale has a single application essay question – and it’s a tough one. How did you approach describing “the biggest commitment you’ve ever made”?
Helen: As simple as it might seem, the approach that worked for me was to reflect deeply on the essay question over several weeks. I would recommend applicants do the same and ask themselves what drivers have been behind decisions they’ve made in their career – particularly decisions that have had a major impact or that were different than those others might have made in the same situation.
One thing to note is that some common commitments, e.g., marriage or parenthood, may have driven your decision-making, but also may not necessarily provide insight for the admissions committee about who you are and what you could bring to SOM.
For me, my honest answer is that I made a commitment to myself to be the type of person who other people would want to lead and represent them – that’s a driver behind many of the decisions I make.
Additionally, with respect to writing application essays, don’t forget to give yourself time! I think having a few weeks to reflect on the questions before beginning to write and ideally a week between revisions – with several rounds of revisions – is ideal for ensuring that you are able to fully develop your thinking. This is definitely something you don’t want to procrastinate on!
How did you approach Yale’s video essay component? Any tips for preparing, when the questions vary from applicant to applicant?
Helen: While the questions vary, there are a limited number of questions, and they all are along similar lines – essentially, they cover things you have likely already reflected on in the course of your business school application process. And they’re often interesting and fun (e.g., what course would you teach at Yale SOM if you could teach one?).
The video essay platform allows you to practice an unlimited number of times, so give yourself time to get comfortable with the system and practice similar questions. Most importantly, this will allow you to get a sense of what the 90-second time limit feels like – that can honestly be the hardest part of structuring your answer!
What was the greatest weakness in your admissions profile? What steps did you take to ensure you submitted your strongest application?
Helen: As an international studies/political science major who had not worked in a quant-heavy field prior to business school, I knew my lack of demonstrated quantitative ability might be a stumbling block in the admissions process. I took a calculus course through UCLA to supplement my application and focused on performing well on the quant section of the GMAT.
If this sounds familiar, know you’re not alone – it’s a very common concern among applicants to top schools, and now, entering my second year at SOM, I feel confident that my quantitative skills were well-matched to the difficulty of the curriculum.
Once school started, what surprised you most about the program?
Helen: I was surprised by the degree of freedom I had to shape my own experience in the program, especially after the first semester (which largely consists of required core classes). Students at SOM have so many options to choose from in terms of electives, travel opportunities, extracurriculars and of course, internships. This can be awesome, of course, but it’s really helpful to have clarity on your personal priorities so you can take advantage of these opportunities in a focused and productive way.
Listen to our podcast interview with Bruce DelMonico, Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions at Yale School of Management:
What is it like living in New Haven? What options are available for housing, transportation, and entertainment?
Helen: I love New Haven! Having lived in New York for four years before school, I thought moving to a smaller city would be challenging, but it’s actually been awesome. Most SOM students live in East Rock, the neighborhood adjacent to the SOM building, and it’s a beautiful area with Victorian homes, neighborhood cafes and shops and a park with great running and hiking trails. Many students rent apartments in East Rock, with some also renting in other areas of New Haven. While having a car can be helpful, it’s not necessary and there are many transit options including rideshare, owning a bike or using the New Haven bikeshare program, walking, or taking the New Haven or Yale bus services.
There are also great options for entertainment, both through Yale (Yale Repertory Theatre, Yale Cabaret and world-class museums) and outside of Yale (Shubert Theater, lots of outdoors recreation and great food – including New Haven’s famous pizza). SOM’s favorite entertainment option is definitely Gryphon’s Pub, a graduate student bar owned and operated by the university and offering free beers on Thursdays!
I understand you hold a BA in international studies. How has your undergraduate background helped shape your MBA goals?
Helen: At my undergraduate program, international studies is a major within the political science department with additional focus on international relations, foreign policy and a foreign language. I chose this path to optimize for the global nature of society and business in today’s world – I wanted to learn how to understand and analyze the international perspective in policymaking. Doing so led me to study for a semester at the American University in Cairo and take a role in an organization working on U.S. foreign policy in my first job after college. That global perspective has continued to be important to me, and was one of the reasons I was interested in SOM, which has many international programs and a high proportion of international students. While at SOM, I’ve been to Mexico City with classmates and to South Africa as part of an International Experience course – it’s been really cool to be in another internationally-focused program!
What does it mean to be a Forte fellow? What are the criteria for selection, and what are the responsibilities and benefits involved?
Helen: Forte Fellows are women at SOM (and other business schools) who have received merit-based scholarships. Criteria vary by program, but generally receiving a scholarship is indicative of the overall quality of your MBA application – there is no separate application. There are no ongoing responsibilities for fellows at SOM, but there are some benefits, including being able to attend the Forte conference the summer before matriculation at a reduced cost. I had an amazing time at this conference and formed a really strong bond with the other women from SOM who participated – they’re still some of my best friends at school!
Separate from the Forte Fellowship at SOM, I also participated in another Forte program, MBALaunch, several years before applying to SOM. While participating in MBALaunch doesn’t directly impact selection for a Forte fellowship, SOM and other programs do offer application fee waivers for MBALaunch participants. I’d highly recommend this program to any women interested in business school, especially those who are coming from nontraditional backgrounds, i.e. not working at companies or part of networks that provide a high level of support for the MBA application process.
What is Representation 2.0? When and why did you start this venture?
Helen: Representation 2.0 is a nonprofit focused on equipping undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to run for elected office. Our team’s mission is to improve government effectiveness and voters’ trust in government by improving the extent to which elected leaders demographically represent their communities.
Studies show that when people not traditionally represented in elected office are asked to consider running for such roles, they often write off this idea early in their careers because of a lack of information, interest and/or confidence. As a result, they are less willing to reconsider running for office later in life.
To combat this, Representation 2.0 has created a workshop curriculum and suite of resources to increase student leaders’ confidence in their abilities and interest in public service, and help them take the next steps toward running for office. We ran a successful and effective pilot workshop in April 2019 with ten students from local Connecticut universities.
Participants said the training helped them feel “empowered and inspired” and gave them “a much more positive perception about running for office.” In the next year, we plan to host more workshops, including one in the New York market, and secure initial funding from foundations and individual donors to help us continue to scale.
I started this venture in summer 2018 after developing the idea with friends and mentors for a few years. Looking at today’s political landscape, I saw that while we’re making progress toward better demographic representation, progress has actually plateaued in some dimensions. And while many groups are working to recruit diverse mid-career candidates to run for office, they observe that the bench of potential candidates is not deep – i.e. while more underrepresented people are being elected, there still aren’t enough underrepresented people willing to run in the first place to ensure we can reach demographic parity.
I’ve worked in political organizing with college students, as well as for organizations like Girls Who Code focused on providing resources to underrepresented groups. I decided to apply my experience in that work to reaching underrepresented students early in their careers and not only inspiring and equipping them to run for office, but also providing them with a broad and diverse support network of other who can identify with their experiences.
I’m really excited to see the outcomes from our next workshops and to continue expanding over the next year!
How are Yale SOM students recruited for summer internships?
Helen: As far as I know, the internship recruitment process at SOM is pretty similar to the process at other top 10/15 business schools. There are essentially two categories of internships students consider – those that use formal recruiting processes and those that don’t. Internships with formal/structured recruiting processes include investment banking, consulting, some Fortune 500 general management roles, and some roles with tech companies. Internships with less formal processes include those with startups, social- or public-sector organizations, and VC, PE or impact investing firms. The formal recruiting processes mostly happen between September and March of the first year of the program, and informal processes can happen at any time but are more concentrated in spring of the first year, as these companies often don’t have certainty about their capacity to host interns until closer to the summer.
These two categories also require somewhat different approaches. Formal processes require you to follow a pretty strict rulebook, which career clubs (e.g., Finance Club, Consulting Club) run by second-years and the career development office will help you understand and support you through. Informal processes require you to do a lot of independent research and networking, which we also have campus resources to help with.
Can you share a bit about your internship experience at Deloitte? What does a typical day look like?
Helen: Sure! I had a great experience interning in Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations consulting practice in New York this summer. I was staffed on a financial services strategy project where I had the opportunity to build the financial model behind my team’s recommendations to the client and work closely with senior leaders on both the consulting and client sides.
My project was local, so on a typical day I would work out (run in Central Park, gym, or yoga) before commuting to the client site. My team had regular beginning – and end-of-day calls to align team members working across time zones on key goals for the day, so after our morning call I’d spend the next several hours working with my team and client stakeholders to advance the model or other aspects of our deliverable. I was usually able to also spend a bit of time on internal firm initiatives beyond my project, such as supporting diversity and inclusion work or developing proposals for new projects. I would usually leave the office before 7pm, commute home, and have dinner before doing another hour or two of work prior to our end-of-day check-in. We also had frequent team dinners or happy hours.
I learned so much in my two months at S&O and would recommend the internship to anyone who’s interested in learning more about problem-solving and the consulting “toolkit,” including financial modeling!
If you could send one message to applicants beginning their MBA journeys, what would it be?
Helen: Prioritize! As I mentioned earlier, there are so many options available to you during your MBA and so little time to take advantage of them. As a result, it’s really important to reflect before beginning your program and understand what you most want to get out of this experience. I physically wrote my priorities down and would continue to go back to my list throughout my first year to cross-check my choices against it, which can be tough to do when faced with so many awesome opportunities to learn and get involved in your business school’s community. (Also: always remember to send thank-you notes to people who help you throughout the process – it still matters and can really set you apart, plus it’s the right thing to do!)
Do you have questions for Helen? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Business School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Helen by connecting with her on LinkedIn.
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• Different Dimensions of Diversity, a podcast episode
• Yale Som: Integrated in Its Curriculum, with Its University, and to the World, a podcast episode
• Life at Yale SOM, Google Internship & the Importance of Diversity, a student interview