for; there's no "correct" response to the essay questions we pose. What are we looking for? First, we're looking for information to fill in the blanks in a person's resume. We want to know what our applicants have done and what they want to do in the future, what their values are, and how they relate their values to their work. We're also interested in how they write. The form of the essays can be important, as well as the content. How applicants handle the English language is important—the ability to articulate their thoughts in a clear and concise way. In a school with a surplus of qualified candidates, decisions are made for reasons that can t be reduced to numbers or facts in some formulaic way. Essays help our Admissions Committee do what it must do, which is to reach reasoned, yet ultimately subjective, judgments. You will find if you inquire from school to school that the importance of the essays increases as the selectivity of the admissions process increases.
In one essay we ask students, in effect, to rationalize their past and connect it to their future. We call this the "career objectives" essay. It gives us hard information, but this is also a way of determining if applicants are capable of thinking reflectively—and synthetically— about themselves and their careers. Often, even the most intelligent, by traditional measures, are not.
Our second essay is about learning goals and is designed to provide information about the applicant's reasons for wanting to attend the Yale School of Management in particular. What does he or she expect to learn, and how will this learning be put to use?
One common "mistake" in essays is to narrate one's resume, or life history, without any reflection or evaluation or self-criticism. Another mistake is to write "what the Admissions Office wants to hear," which usually turns out to be very artificial sounding at best. There is also the person who is low-key to the point of not telling us very much. We call this the "British understatement problem." It's not always a mistake; in fact, it often makes for a refreshing change after countless self-glorifying essays (another pitfall). But in some cases an applicant simply doesn't say much, and we can't tell if it's because of modesty, lack of expressive ability, or possibly because he or she hasn't given much thought to what we're trying to do with the essays or with application information generally.
Advice? Don't send first drafts. Write essays and then sit on them for a while. Try to be as clear and concise as possible, but don't let the school's length limitations prevent you from being thorough. Between thoroughness and terseness there is a happy medium, however; and most essays are too long—or rather, more are too long than too short.
The best approach is simply to answer the school's questions as thoughtfully and honestly as you can. Let the admissions people make the admissions decisions. Don't try to psych out the process and make the decision for them. Don't try to pretend to be the stereotype that you think the school has in mind, because when you do that, you probably won't convey much of your own personality or your own thoughts.
Again, be honest. Honesty and openness are virtues in essay writing, as in work and life, as is (maybe) a little risk-taking. People often think that the only applicants who succeed in management school admissions are those who have very precise ideas of what they want to do with the next 40 years of their lives. You, in fact, might be rather indecisive at this stage of your life. You might be coming to a period of re-examination. You feel like retooling, turning a page, changing direction; but you don't yet know exactly which way you want to go. If that's the case, say so. We've been around a long time, and we understand quite well that some of our best students, and many future managerial leaders, go through this kind of "passage." it is much better to be honestly undecided about your future than falsely-precise. On the other hand, vagueness is not a virtue, and it would be misleading not to say that most good applicants display in their essays a strong sense of purpose.
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