Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words maximum)
In a Yale SOM blog post about the school’s essay prompt, Bruce noted that this “seemingly simple and straightforward question” was composed with assistance from one of the program’s organizational behavior professors. Yale’s admissions committee clearly takes the application essay seriously and is being thoughtful about the types of behaviors it wants to see in the school’s students. In our online event, Bruce declared himself “agnostic” about whether applicants should discuss a personal commitment or a professional one. He notes that he is simply trying to gauge the level to which candidates commit themselves, rather than the context of the engagement: “We don’t have a preference for professional or personal accomplishments. . . . We are not making value judgments about what that commitment is, but it is more about how you approach that commitment, how you have demonstrated that commitment, and what sorts of behaviors underlie that commitment.”
You may initially think that this prompt is rather narrow in scope, allowing you space to share the story of just a single professional or community project and nothing more. Although you can certainly discuss your dedication to a particular project or cause, you are definitely not restricted to this approach. Consider this: you can also be committed to an idea (e.g., personal liberty) or a value (e.g., creating opportunity for others), and approaching your essay from this angle instead could enable you to share much more of and about yourself with the SOM admissions committee. For example, you might relate a few anecdotes that on the surface seem unrelated—drawing from different parts of your life—but that all support and illustrate how you are guided by a particular value. Or, to return to the example of personal liberty as a theme, you could show how you take control of your academic and professional paths, adhering steadfastly to your values and vision. Whatever you choose to feature as the focus of your commitment, your actions and decisions, manifest via a variety of experiences, must allow you to own it as a genuine part of who you are as an individual. Identifying a theme that you think no one else will ever use is not your goal here; presenting authentic anecdotes that powerfully support your selected theme is what is important.
However, if you prefer to focus on a single anecdote, the commitment you claim must be truly inordinate. Being particularly proud of an accomplishment is not enough to make it an effective topic for this essay. You need to demonstrate your constancy and dedication in the face of challenges or resistance, revealing that your connection to the experience was hard won. Strive to show that you have been resolute in following a sometimes difficult path and have doggedly stayed on course, citing clear examples to illustrate your steadfastness. Nothing commonplace will work here—you must make your reader truly understand your journey and leave him or her more impressed by your effort than the outcome.
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