How to Write the Yale University Essays 2020-2021

One of the first colleges in America, Yale has since secured its position as one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. As a member of the Ivy League, Yale sits at #3 (tie) on the US News National University Rankings.

 

Yale’s class of 5,500 undergraduates study in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. Each student lives in one of the fourteen residential colleges across the 345-acre campus. With over 35,220 first-year applicants for the Class of 2024, only 6.5% of students were accepted.

 

Yale offers three ways to apply: the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the QuestBridge National College Match Application. Let’s take a look at the Yale-specific questions that accompany each of these. Want to know your chances at Yale? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what Yale University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Yale University needs to know.

 

Yale University Supplemental Essay Prompts

Short Answer Questions (200 characters, ~35 words)

 

These are for applicants using the Common App and Coalition Application only, not Questbridge.

 

  • What inspires you?
  • Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?
  • You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
  • Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?

 

For all applicants, including Questbridge:

 

  • Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided.
  • Why do these areas appeal to you? (125 words or fewer)
  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

 

Essays (250 words, for all applicants)

 

Prompt 1: Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it?

 

Prompt 2: Respond to one of the following prompts.

 

  • Option A: Reflect on your membership in a community. Why is your involvement important to you? How has it shaped you?  You may define community however you like.
  • Option B: Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international significance. Discuss an issue that is important to you and how your college experience could help you address it.
  • Option C: Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?

 

Engineering Applicants Only:

 

For the Common App and Coalition Application, and not Questbridge.

 

Please tell us more about what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in engineering, and what it is about Yale’s engineering program that appeals to you. (250 words)


Required Short Answer Questions

 

The short answer questions give you an easy way to make your application memorable. However, too often, many students write something boring or cliché. While your mom might be the most important person in your life and scoring the game-winning goal might be your most memorable experience, the same is likely true for hundreds of other applicants. How can you avoid this? Let’s take a look at the questions.

What inspires you? (35 words)

This sounds a lot like “vision statements” that many business professionals write for themselves. The idea here is to give a concise summary of what drives you every day.

 

While brainstorming an answer to this question, it’s a good idea to think about how you would summarize your application in a few sentences. What are your recommenders saying about you? What do your classwork and extracurriculars demonstrate an interest in? What sentence instantly helps to combine the disparate elements of your application into a cohesive narrative? This should help guide an answer to the question that’s consistent with your overall application.

 

For example, maybe you’re passionate about competitive weightlifting and computer programming. You love the two very different activities because they allow you to constantly push your limits. You can always lift more, and create a more efficient program. Your response to this prompt might focus on your desire to continually improve yourself and what you’ve built.

 

Or, maybe the focus of your high school career was leadership and service. You served in Student Government, participated in Model UN, and started an organization to combat the food desert in your local community. In this case, you might write that working with governing bodies to enact meaningful change is what motivates you.

Yale’s residential colleges regularly host intimate conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask? (35 words)

The stereotypical answer to this question is along the lines of Mahatma Gandhi or former President Obama. Of course, these are interesting people that anyone would like to have a conversation with, including hundreds of Yale applicants. On the other hand, very few applicants will write about people like Paul Baran or Joseph Campbell. You can make your application stand out by mentioning someone unique.

 

Once again, this question gives you the opportunity to reference back to the rest of your application. If you’re trying to show you really love math, maybe write about Pierre de Fermat. Or, if you have already written two essays about math, showcase your other big passion for storytelling by writing about Brandon Stanton, the founder of Humans of New York.

 

The second part of this question is about what you’d like to ask the selected individual. Admissions officers see questions like “what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?” all the time. Be original and specific! Think about how the person you’ve selected interacts with your application. Remember, the question you would ask them reflects upon yourself too.

 

For instance, say you decide to write about Brandon Stanton. If he were invited to speak, you could ask him what he thinks draws so many people to his platform, and what makes storytelling so powerful. You might ask about the ways it can change lives. These are all specific questions that demonstrate thoughtfulness and an ability to engage in higher-level thinking.

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (35 words)

This is just a proxy to ask “what interests you?” That is, what interests you enough that you’d want to share that passion with a handful of Yale students? You can let your creativity run wild here; if you have a niche interest, this is the perfect place to mention it. An answer like “Designing and Testing Role Playing Games” is a lot better than “Economics 101.”

 

Alternatively, think about two interests you have. For example, if you like cartoon shows and politics, a class called “The Politics of Cartoon Shows” will definitely catch the eye of an admissions officer.

 

With your remaining space, you might give a brief description of the course, such as the works you’ll study and the themes covered.

Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? (35 words)

In one of our team members’ successful Yale applications, he made a long list of things he liked, spicing it up with humorous items like “dank memes.” A list of things is a great way to answer this question; you can easily show your diverse interests in one sentence.

 

Another way to answer this question is by describing activities you envision doing together with your suitemates. Maybe you’ll bring the popcorn for horror movie nights, or you’ll lead yoga sessions to help everyone de-stress before finals. Or, you might share your unusual cooking creations, like a chocolate avocado smoothie. The goal is to share how you might interact with those you live with.

Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided.

 

Why do these areas appeal to you? (125 words or fewer)

This prompt is similar to a traditional “Why This Major” prompt, however, 125 words is a very tight amount of space, so you need to be comprehensive and clear. Whether or not you plan on majoring in physics, economics, or neuroscience, the same basic strategy can be applied across the board.

 

As directly as possible, you need to describe how your academic interests developed, what exactly is compelling about your intended major, and what your professional goals are. 

 

For example, maybe you’re interested in Linguistics because you’re a third culture kind, and have always struggled to get rid of your American accent in Portuguese, but your younger brother speaks without an accent. You want to explore the science behind language acquisition, as well as the human impact of language (culture, identity, language preservation). You’re potentially interested in becoming a translator one day, primarily to expand great works of literature across language barriers.

 

Or, maybe you’re interested in Psychology and Political Science because you’re fascinated by today’s polarized political climate. You want to understand why people hold the beliefs they do, and why voters act the way they do. One day, you hope to work on the campaigns of progressive candidates who support the causes you care about.

 

Whatever your interest is, waste no space in diving right into the most specific details. Then, work to connect the details to future goals and interests. While a traditional “Why This Major” essay should include why you want to study that major at that specific school, you may not have any space, given the small word count. Luckily, the next question allows you to discuss how Yale can support your academic goals.

What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

This is a classic example of the “Why This College” essay. For this prompt, you’ll want to cite specific reasons Yale is a good fit to support your academic goals. You may also want to include any compelling extracurricular reasons, as college is not only about what you do in the classroom.

 

Let’s go back to the example of the student who’s passionate about Psych and PoliSci. A specific Yale resource they might want to highlight is the PoliSci Department’s funding for students working on election campaigns. This funding allows students to develop and implement a campaign strategy related to their unique skills. For example, they might choose to create a social media campaign, using their knowledge of voter psychology. 

 

Aim to get just as granular in your essay, and do extensive research on resources at Yale. See our post How to Research a School for the “Why This College” essay if you don’t know where to start.

 

In an essay of only 125 words, you’ll likely only be able to mention 2-4 aspects of Yale that resonate with you. That’s totally okay! It’s better to show a deeper understanding of what Yale offers than to list a bunch of general characteristics. 

 

Under no circumstances should you mention anything vague that could apply to other schools, such as the location, prestige, or even a strong academic department. If you could copy and paste your essay for another school and just switch out the school name, that’s a sign that your essay isn’t specific enough. Take it to the next level; what courses, programs, organizations, or grants could support your goals? 

 

Required Longer Responses (250 words)

 

Prompt 1

Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it?

 

What makes you tick? What keeps you up at night? Yale is looking for students driven by a passion for learning; they want to see the ability to succeed within a focused field of study (i.e., the college major). Therefore, your answer to this question should convey your love for a certain field of study. Keep in mind that your answer isn’t constrained to classroom subjects — if you read books about sports statistics on your own time, that’s a perfectly valid answer!

 

It is best to make your response specific, as the prompt asks for an idea or topic –– not a subject. For example, instead of reflecting on a general interest in biology, you should write about a passion for genetics. Writing about a specific interest will allow you to better convey exactly why you are drawn to the topic. For instance, there may be many reasons that you are interested in biology, as biology covers a number of subjects. However, you might be specifically interested in genetics because your brother has a hereditary disorder or because you uncovered family secrets through a DNA testing service.

 

Example 1: A broad answer like “physics.” If you choose such a vast topic, make sure you focus on what specifically excites you about it. Since answers like “physics” are going to be common, you need to convey your passion in a unique, memorable way. Tell Yale what part of quantum mechanics excites you and how you look forward to certain lab experiments. However, try to avoid really broad topics like “science.” If your transcript distinguishes between different sciences, your essay should too.

 

Example 2: A very specific answer like “15th-century European history.” There aren’t going to be many (if any!) other applicants with that answer, so you’ve already made yourself memorable. The challenge here is to tell a broader narrative of what excites you about this distinct topic. You could talk about how you got interested in it and why it excites you more than, say, European history as a whole. A word of caution though: don’t claim an interest that the rest of your application doesn’t support! Between your transcript and recommendation letters, it could be very clear that your professed passion is not as intense as it seems.

 

No matter what you talk about, make sure your essay conveys your intellectual vitality — an interest and desire for learning. The exact thing you talk about matters less than showing a deep passion for a specific interest.

 

A great way to write this essay is to break it up into parts. First, write about how you were introduced to the topic. Such an introduction will allow you to naturally discuss why it was so compelling to you. Then, discuss your engagement with the subject. Yale wants to accept students who love to learn for the sake of learning and who go above and beyond to do so. Write about the documentaries you watched, books you read, research you conducted, or conversations you had with teachers! By focusing on your involvement with the process of learning, the rest of the essay should fall in place. When describing your excitement about a topic, it is best to use vibrant, varied, and descriptive language; this style will allow you to convey your excitement about the topic to readers.

 


Prompt 2, Option A 

Reflect on your membership in a community. Why is your involvement important to you? How has it shaped you? You may define community however you like.

This question is quite open ended and allows applicants to write about a community – whether formal or informal – to which they belong. You can really write about anything, from a formal community (town, soccer team, religious organization, school) to an informal community (group of friends, coworkers, family). Keep in mind that “community” doesn’t have to be defined in the traditional sense, either. Your community could be a group of people who share the same language, values, experiences, or personality traits.

 

The prompt asks you two questions. First, why is your involvement important? Second, how has this involvement affected you?

 

You should aim to organize your essay in the following way:

 

First, define and describe the community you are writing about. Defining the community is especially important for applicants writing about informal communities. For example, if you are writing about your siblings, make sure that this is clear. When describing the community, be sure to describe the culture. How do you interact as a group? For example, your soccer team may be more than teammates – perhaps you have special moments while traveling on the bus for a match. Make sure you discuss the dynamic. As a group, are you sarcastic, silly, or serious? Does your community have a specific kind of humor or tradition?

 

Second, discuss your engagement with this community. For example, did you create a Snapchat group chat for your debate team that allowed you to bond outside the context of serious competitions, opening up a channel for close friendship among teammates? Did you regularly grab lunch with your co-workers at a local bakery? Or, did you meet survivors of gender-based violence through your work with a local organization?

 

Finally, reflect on why your involvement was important to you, and how it’s shaped you. For example, did the Snapchat group chat teach you to empathize with your competition, improving your sportsmanship? Did conversations with your coworkers over lunch spark your interest in food science? Or, did volunteering at a non-profit increase your interest in being a human rights lawyer? You could also talk about how being the oldest sibling taught you to be a caretaker and sparked your interest in becoming a doctor. Regardless, you want to write about how you have become who you are through your engagement with this community.

 

In this video, we read a successful Yale essay for a similar prompt: “What is a community to which you belong?”

 

 


Prompt 2, Option B

Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience could help you address it.

Yale wants to accept students who will make the most of their education. That is, using all that they have learned to improve the world. Further, Yale wants to accept students who want to change the world.

 

This prompt asks you to describe an issue that is important to you and reflect on how you would make use of a college education in order to address this problem. Your response to this question should be broken down into two main parts. First, describing the issue and why it is of personal significance. Second, discussing what kinds of things you would want or need to learn to move closer to your goal of addressing this issue. Let’s break down what each of those parts specifically require.

 

First, describing the issue and why it is of personal significance. As with most college essays, it is best if you can make your response unique. Most students could write generally about why solving world hunger or cancer is important. Few students would be able to describe why such a grand issue is personally significant. As such, there exist two main approaches. First, you can pick a grand issue (like cancer, world hunger, or homelessness) and connect it to your life. Perhaps your mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, or you grew up regularly not having enough to eat. Establishing an emotional connection is important for any topic, but especially national or international topics that many students might also write about. Your other option is to discuss a local issue. Maybe your public high school lacks a diverse teaching staff or you come from a town facing the opioid crisis. Writing about an issue of local importance will be more accessible for most students. It will also make it easier to establish personal significance; you can write about noticing how you couldn’t relate to your teachers, or how your neighbor’s daughter was impacted by drug addiction. These stories will easily allow you to develop a connection, as a local issue is inherently already personal.

 

Second, discussing what kinds of things you would want or need to learn to move closer to your goal of addressing this issue. This part of the prompt is slightly more challenging. As a high school student, it may feel impossible to imagine what a college experience or education will consist of. However, there are a few core experiences that you should consider connecting to the prompt:

 

  • Discuss the majors or courses that are of interest to you. For example, you may wish to take a course on psychopharmacology in order to understand how the brain interacts with drugs. 

 

  • Connect the problem you hope to solve with Yale’s liberal arts education. How will taking courses in a variety of disciplines allow you to address the issue at hand? You might complement your studies in psychopharmacology with political science courses on public health policy, or seminars on the history of science and medicine.

 

  • Reflect on the people you’ll meet, whether those are peers, professors, or visitors who give talks. 

 

  • Discuss the opportunity to contribute to the academic understanding of a subject through research; for example, assisting a professor who specializes in health economics. Fifth, you can look into the various grants that Yale has for supporting creative arts projects, research, international and public service internships, and more!

 

At the end of your essay, you should be sure to tie together all of the components you discussed. Remind Yale that accepting you would add value not only to your life, but to the broader community, as you would use Yale’s resources to address problems.

 


Prompt 2, Option C

Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?

 

The biggest mistake students make with a prompt like this is to focus too much on the role model. Every college essay is meant to reveal more about who you are, so even if the topic asks about your role model, you should use that as an avenue to discuss how that mentor impacted your personal growth. 

 

The first step with this prompt is to pick a figure who has had a substantial role in your life and development. It doesn’t have to be a family member–this is probably actually one of the more cliche responses, unless you have truly meaningful anecdotes to include in your essay. You should also avoid historical figures or celebrities with whom you didn’t have an actual relationship. It’s important to pick someone who got to know you well, and who you got to know well. After all, the prompt specifically asks you to discuss your relationship with your mentor.

 

As you’re brainstorming, think about the people who pushed you to become a better person and to tackle challenges you didn’t think you could handle (but your mentor always believed you could). Think about your teachers, tutors, coaches, supervisors, bosses, religious leaders, professionals you shadowed, and older peers. Another avenue is to reflect on your most valuable personal qualities, like your tenacity or compassion. Which people helped you nurture those qualities?

 

Here’s an example: maybe you had a good relationship with the owner of the coffee shop where you worked weekends. You always looked forward to your chats on life and the realities of owning a business. Maybe you considered the owner a role model, as they also came from a lower-income background, like you, but they ultimately were able to create a successful business, one that sources ethical coffee and gives back to underserved communities. Even though you were timid, the owner encouraged you to develop initiatives for the coffee shop, such as an outdoor concert of local musicians that would benefit a non-profit giving free music lessons to low-income students. Because of your mentor, you became more confident, and discovered your passion for social entrepreneurship. 

 

This would be a strong response because you had a meaningful relationship, and because you can focus on your own growth, particularly through organizing the concert. It also allows you to provide more context on things you may have listed in your application, but didn’t get a chance to fully explain.

 

Engineering Students Only

Please tell us more about what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in engineering, and what it is about Yale’s engineering program that appeals to you (250 words)

This prompt essentially calls for an extended “Why This Major” essay. Since you will have already discussed your interest in engineering in a previous essay, be sure to cover any points that you haven’t mentioned yet. In the previous “Why This Major” prompt, you only had 125 words. This is your chance to share more anecdotes, provide more context for your interest, and discuss your relevant experience.

 

For example, maybe you’re interested in Chemical Engineering since you’re passionate about sustainable fashion. You want to be able to engineer production processes that are safe for the environment and garment workers, while also being cost- and resource-efficient. You became interested in sustainable clothing production after living in a town with a garment factory that polluted the river and killed wildlife. In this extended essay, you might share a story of how the environmental pollution impacted you, and discuss your experience working at a sustainable fashion small business.

 

The latter part of the question asks about Yale’s program specifically. You’ll want to approach this the same way you approach the “Why Yale?” question—very specifically and only after thorough research. 

 

For example, the same student might write about the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design, which offers collaborative and experiential courses that focus on applying engineering skills to the real world. They could discuss their interest in taking the course Green Engineering and Environmental Design, which covers “current design, manufacturing, disposal processes, toxicity, benign alternatives, and policy implication.” These are all topics that would be highly-relevant to the student’s goals, and this course is also a very specific way Yale can support the student.

 

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.