Interview with Laurel Grodman, Director of Admissions for Analytics and Evaluation at Yale SOM [Show Summary]
Laurel Grodman, Director of Admissions for Analytics and Evaluation at Yale SOM, shares her perspective on how Yale differentiates itself from its competition and what it takes to be a successful applicant. The school has experienced explosive year-over-year growth in application volume for the last five years. Let’s learn what Laurel sees for the future.
Yale SOM: The Curriculum, Admissions, and What the Future Holds [Show Notes]
It gives me great pleasure to welcome for the first time to Admissions Straight Talk Laurel Grodman, Director of Admissions, Analytics and Evaluation at Yale School of Management. Laurel is a Yalie through and through. She earned her BA at Yale University in 2002 and her MBA from Yale SOM in 2006. After working for Citigroup and Unilever she returned to Yale as Senior Associate Director for Career Development in 2010. In 2014, she became the Director of Admissions for Analytics and Evaluation.
Let’s start with the basics. Can you give me a brief overview of the full-time MBA program at Yale SOM, focusing on differentiators? [1:59]
I like to start with our mission, which is to educate leaders for business and society, which is the founding mission of the school and brings everything together. That mission in and of itself is a differentiator in terms of the candidates it attracts and where alumni focus their careers, but in addition to that there are three things:
1. We aim to be the business school most integrated with its home university. You really are part of Yale more broadly, with access to classes across the entire university. You can choose electives in any number outside of the school and we encourage students to take advantage of that.
2. Our objective is to be the most distinctly global business school in the U.S. We have a global studies requirement so every student will engage globally at least once. That is fueled by our membership in the Global Network for Advanced Management which is a network established six years ago that brings together 30 business schools from around the world to provide travel options and global experiences.
3. Our integrated curriculum: we teach the business fundamentals and we teach them well, but beyond that we go a step further in terms of how it all works together. Beyond traditional core curriculum we organize around organizational perspective. It’s much more deliberate in terms of how courses work together – with co-teaching, and experts from across entire university. Organizational problems require you to pull from a bunch of different areas so that is how we like to teach it to students.
What’s new at Yale SOM? [7:05]
We’ve continued our streak of strong new faculty hires in all areas. We’ve also continued to build our master degree programs. We have a masters in systemic risk, and we are bringing in our inaugural class in Master of Management Studies in Global Business and Society, a small but probably growing program for early career students. This brings an additional voice to campus, more perspective to the class which is great. We are also in the midst of a search for our next dean, in its earlier stages – more info gathering at this point.
Is the global nature of Yale mostly due to the network of 30 schools or is it supplemented by the more traditional global treks, exchanges, etc. [9:50]
I think it’s both. Yale was certainly a global place to be before the network, but it has been expanded based on the global network weeks. Twice a year 700 students will travel to one of 17 or so campuses to learn from a week in that campus/region’s area of expertise in a truly global classroom, from all 30 schools. That kind of opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without the network, but we’ve always had a strong international community, to bring global perspective to the classroom
What is something really cool that a Yale grad is doing? [11:31]
I recently did an admissions reception in London with alums and every one of them was doing something cool. We have a Class of 2014 graduate who has gone to the international office of CNN and is VP of International Operations and Strategy for CNN Digital, but what I loved about her is I worked with her when I was in the CDO and her previous experience was in nonprofit, so she made a significant pivot in her career, which was really wonderful.
A graduate from the early 90s is passionate about economic development in urban areas and working on public/private partnerships which are coming up a lot in reading about our applicants’ interests. In a very random sampling with this group people were doing anything you can imagine.
I sometimes find that applicants look at their MBA applications and feel the requirements are random, when in fact the elements are included strategically and purposefully. Can you go into the purpose of some of the different elements of the application: [14:30]
They all feed into a fairly straightforward higher framework that we think about so I’ll outline that and then talk about it in the elements. We are looking for three things – people who are academically prepared, people who have demonstrated impact in their professional life and outside of the professional setting, and engaged community members. Everything we ask for feeds into one or more of those areas.
1) The resume, most directly relates to impact, and helps us understand career trajectory, transitions you’ve made, and most specifically the impact you’ve had on the teams and organizations you’ve been with. It’s not just about listing job responsibilities and what difference you’ve made, but in the community as well.
2) Yale’s single essay, we ask our applicants to describe the biggest commitment they have ever made. And that, too, has the potential to tell us about a number of different aspects. We are looking for an understanding of how you approach the thing that is most important to you. There is no right topic to write about.
3) The video component, helps us with a couple different things. On the most basic level it gives us a quasi face-to-face interaction before being invited for an interview and a sense of how you think on your feet, which certainly in the MBA classroom is helpful. For our candidates for whom English is not a native language, it gives us the ability to assess that and to eliminate English testing requirements (we no longer require the TOEFL), and then we do ask specific things in the questions to get a better understanding of leadership, and reactions to certain situations, which adds more dimension to an application.
4) Two professional recommendations, most directly lead to the impact piece and understand better your potential as a leader. We ask ideally for someone who is a current supervisor or who has supervised recently who knows you in and out to interact with daily and can speak to strengths and contributions. Think about how those two would complement each other.
5) The interview. It is by invitation, and anyone offered admission will have had an interview. It gives us an opportunity to continue to tease out information about work experience, contributions and then talk more about goals, why you want to come to business school, again going beyond the 2-dimensions we get on paper. It also gives the interviewee an important opportunity to learn more about us, and the majority are conducted by second- year students because it provides another vantage point into the school.
Last year Yale enjoyed a 12% increase in its application volume. How was application volume for this year’s entering class? [23:13]
We’ve been so fortunate to see dramatic and sustained growth. This past year was our second highest volume.
Has Yale experienced a drop in international applications? Is it harder for internationals who do apply to obtain visas? [24:28]
I would say they were down a little. I am always hesitant to make sweeping judgments based on one year. We will continue to look at it, but it was not so incredibly dramatic a decline to panic, but we are certainly looking at it. Anecdotally I have heard a few instances where people with H1B visas are staying at their jobs as opposed to giving it up.
For the class of 2019, the middle 80% GMAT range was 690 -760 and the middle 80% GPA ranges was 3.38 – 3.94. The averages were 730 for the GMAT, 330 for the GRE, and 3.69 for the undergrad GPA. What do you look for besides stats? How does one get in with below average stats? [27:23]
Obviously we look at lots of things beside stats, and our discussion to this point hasn’t talked about academics at all. It is important to start by saying we don’t have cutoffs. We want people to come here who will succeed and thrive. We don’t want to set you up for failure so we do think about how you will fare once here. Take the ranges knowing there are many components of the application. In terms of thinking about how to get in with lower stats, be aware of weaknesses and don’t be afraid to think about ways to counter that by either taking action or giving us more information. So I think about GPA and GMAT as parts of a whole. If undergrad performance was lower, we will put more weight on the GMAT, so show us how focused you are now with that higher score. Could supplemental coursework make sense? Maybe some quant courses would help. Demonstrate you can do the work, be aware, and think of ways to counter weaknesses. It’s helpful to be above range in some areas – so having great professional impact, for example. Give us context if your stats aren’t where you wanted them to be. We have an optional statement, and use it if it is relevant.
What are the most common mistakes that you feel applicants make? [32:55]
An applicant who is not being genuine, who is telling us what they think we want to hear based on what they know about SOM and our community. It is not good to force things, so making up career interests that sounds like something an adcom would be interested in when they are not listed anywhere else in the application is a red flag. It is hard to maintain a façade across the entire application process – it’s much easier to be yourself. Another is not leaving enough time for the process. If this is important you need to plan for it, and a rushed application is very noticeable – like force fitting another school’s essay into ours. We ask something quite distinct, and it is obvious when you have written an essay for another school. Careless errors also come out, like misspelling. We assume this is an important process for you, and therefore the effort you put in is the same you would for anything that is important to you. If there are errors in the application it reflects poorly on you.
You graduated from Yale 12 years ago. What do you look back on most fondly? [37:41]
It is never productive to talk about the community because so many schools have great communities, but as an alum I feel like I have a little leeway. From that perspective, I’d choose the network of peers, role models, colleagues, and lifelong friends. It is rewarding to look back on those precious two years of forging those friendships in so many contexts.