SOM admits first Silver Scholars crop

As of Feb. 14, Olivia Kahr ’02 had already secured herself a spot at University College in London as a doctoral candidate in art history. But on Feb. 15, her post-graduate plans evolved into something even more illustrious, courtesy of the Yale School of Management.

Named one of eight Silver Scholars by the SOM, Kahr will spend the next academic year at the SOM completing her first year of business school. And while Kahr will not physically be in London, she will be simultaneously be doing research for her University College doctorate.

The Silver Scholars program, an experiment instituted this year in celebration of the SOM’s 25th anniversary, awards full-tuition scholarships to a select number of Yale undergraduates for their first year of business school. SOM professor Barry Nalebuff, who played an integral role in the foundation of the program, said its future will depend on the success of this year’s scholars.

In allowing these students to enroll at the SOM directly out of college, the program is a departure from conventional business school admissions practices, which require several years of work experience prior to matriculation.

To compensate for their lack of work experience, the scholars will be required to complete a full-year internship after their first year at the SOM. After completing their internships, the students will return to the SOM for their second year of business school and will eventually earn a master’s of business administration degree.

Kahr, who hopes to become a museum curator one day, said she was planning to go to business school anyway because of the museum industry’s increasing demand for curators with business backgrounds.

“It was a matter of doing it right now as opposed to doing it later,” Kahr said. “Why not just get it over with?”

Nalebuff said departing from traditional business school admissions practices will allow the SOM to recruit top-notch students and provide a different perspective on the importance of work experience.

“If you don’t have work experience before you go to business school, it doesn’t mean you can’t get it while you’re in business school,” Nalebuff said. “It struck us as a different and better way to enroll wonderful kids. Better students make for a better school, and that means you have to look in unorthodox places.”

Both Nalebuff and SOM Director of Admissions James Stevens said they were astounded by the quality of the 33 applicants. After a first-round screening, the program’s coordinating committee invited 16 applicants for an individual interview as well as a group interview.

“What we were looking for was a certain maturity and a certain indication that those individuals would be able to contribute to the program,” Stevens said. “We wanted to make sure they would be prepared for business school. And the great news is, they’re more than ready.”

William McKee ’02, who would have worked for investment banking firm J.P. Morgan had it not been for the Silver Scholars program, said he felt ready to enter business school because of his past experiences with entrepreneurship.

“I’ve done a lot of entrepreneurial work, so I don’t feel like I’m coming into it completely from the cold,” McKee said. “I’m just looking forward to meeting people who do different things but are all interested in business.”

During the summer of 2000, McKee and his housemate Max Ventilla ’02, who was also named a Silver Scholar, began a software company with friends from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, raising thousands of dollars. And although the company has since shut down, McKee said it nevertheless served as a valuable experience.

While business schools at other institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and UCLA have also begun accepting a small number of applicants right after college, Yale will be the first to offer an opportunity to pursue a year-long internship.

Nalebuff emphasized that this program is only an experiment, and although the scholars look promising, the future is still uncertain.

“They don’t quite know what they’re getting in for; we don’t quite know what they’re getting in for,” Nalebuff said. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to do this again, but it’s worth taking experiments.”

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