I visited Yale SOM last week during a visit to the East Coast. Yale’s admissions office graciously arranged for my husband and me to participate in a tour, attend a class, and meet with Bruce DelMonico, the Director of Admissions at SOM.
I can’t tell you how much such a visit adds to one’s understanding of a school. I just drafted a four-page, single-spaced memo for the Accepted staff with impressions and insights gleaned from the visit. And I already knew a lot about the program. I strongly urge you to visit schools you are interested in, if possible when classes are in session.
I want to focus on one part of my discussion with Bruce. (I am using quote marks and dialogue, but please realize that I am writing from notes and memory, not a recording.)
Yale’s stated mission is to “educate leaders for business and society.” Bruce emphasized that SOM wants “principled leaders who will make a difference.”
I asked him how he reacts when he reads essays from applicants who have dual goals of going into Wall St. and then going into sustainable development, micro-finance, rural development in poor parts of the world, or fill-in-the-blank cause-of-the-day, but have not participated in any related activities.
His response: “Our antennae go up. We view such essays as a red flag. We suspect that the applicant is writing what he or she thinks we want to read. Frankly, we would rather hear from the applicants whose professional commitments haven’t allowed community service that they intend to follow Bill Gates’ example and turn to philanthropy later in their career, or that they intend to provide financial support to Cause X throughout their career.”
We discussed Yale’s core curriculum and its focus on stakeholders in the business world. I observed that this focus highlights the conflicting interests inherent to business. Bruce agreed and added that because the core is infused with a values-based approach, there is no separate ethics course at SOM. Furthermore, the ability to recognize and balance clashing priorities is part of “principled leadership.”
Bruce concluded this part of our discussion by saying that Yale wants to see commitment plus action. That combination makes values real. (Please see “Passion in Admissions.”)
So does the Bill Gates comment mean that if you want to apply to Yale you should not make time for community service? Not at all. Yale wants sincere, credible applicants. If you want to save the whales and have never been to the ocean, your commitment sounds hollow. It lacks credibility, and so do you.
You will be much better off if your application reveals actions that reflect your values than if you just say you will support your favorite cause financially. But the last thing you want is to flunk a credibility test by claiming noble goals that do not align with your past behavior.
Furthermore, principle-based leadership is not just about fine social goals or even actions you have taken in support of worthy causes. For Yale it also means recognizing and navigating the conflicting interests intrinsic to business. Through its curriculum, SOM displays a profound understanding of and concern with that clash. You may find it advantageous to present your understanding of the colliding currents in business as well as your ability to navigate those currents when you apply to Yale SOM.