How to Write the Yale University Essays 2021-2022

Yale University is a world-renowned Ivy League school located in the quaint city of New Haven, Connecticut. It is the third-oldest higher education institute in the United States and has maintained its prestige over time, consistently ranked among the nation’s top schools. Because Yale is one of the most selective schools in the nation, the school’s extremely selective 6.9% acceptance rate during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle is not shocking. 

 

While Yale is a challenging school with regards to admissions, once becoming a bulldog, students don’t regret it! The university has it all, boasting school pride—manifested through a plethora of unique traditions—, an engaged student body—involved in theatre, the school paper, acapella singing groups, and more—, and a residential college system that makes forging friendships easy and enjoyable.

 

Hoping to become a Yale bulldog? When applying to such a selective school, writing standout supplemental essays can certainly give you a boost. Through your supplemental essays, you can create a complete picture of who you are and humanize yourself to readers. Read on for our best advice. 

 

Want to know your chances at Yale before getting started? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

How to Write the Yale University Essays

 

Students can apply to Yale University using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or Questbridge. All applicants are required to respond to three short answer questions that involve exploring your areas of interest and outlining your reasons for applying to Yale. 

 

Additionally, all applicants must write two short essays, at 250 words each. Finally, students applying through the Common App or the Coalition App are required to answer four very short answer questions, around 35 words each.

 

Short Answer Questions 

 

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 a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you?  You may define community however you like.
  • Option B: Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you?

 

Common App and Coalition App Supplemental Questions (200 characters, ~35 words)

 

These are for applicants using the Common Application 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 would you ask them to discuss?
  • You are teaching a new Yale course. What is it called?
  • Yale students embrace the concept of “and” rather than “or,” pursuing arts and sciences, tradition and innovation, defined goals and surprising detours. What is an example of an “and” that you embrace?

 

 

Short Answer Questions

 

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? 

 

Essays

 

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 a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you?  You may define community however you like.

This question is quite open-ended as it asks applicants to write about a community—whether formal or informal—to which they belong. With this prompt, admissions officers are trying to learn what is important to you in a community and why you are important in a community. When applying to a university, you are applying to join their community—so think about what they want! They want to accept students who form deep bonds, care for their peers, and have strong guiding values and principles. This essay allows you to show that you are already well-versed in forming meaningful connections.

 

The bounds of this essay are loose. 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.

 

When writing this essay, you should describe your involvement in your community and why that involvement is important to you.

 

You can 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? 

 

A descriptive introduction sets the stage for the rest of your essay. When you are outlining the values of a community that is meaningful to you, you are also outlining your values! If you want to position yourself as fun-loving, you may want to focus on the sarcastic or silly aspects of your community. If you want to be seen as deep and thoughtful, you may want to focus on your community values and traditions.

 

Next, 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? Describing your role in your community will allow admissions officers to get a more full picture of what you value and how you act on your values.

 

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?”

 

This essay can take on a narrative form if you want to tell a brief story that exemplifies your community involvement or you can write it as a simple description/explanation. If you choose to be more explanatory in your writing, you should make sure to give yourself some sentences for deep reflection. While there is a prompt to answer, make sure that your writing stays engaging and thoughtful!

 

Prompt 2, Option B

Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you? (250 words)

 

The goal of the college essay is to humanize yourself and help admissions officers get to know you. This prompt gives you plenty of freedom to achieve that goal! The power of this essay really comes from your reflection and exploration, not your topic itself. Of course, the first step is picking a topic. 

 

When brainstorming, make sure to consider all of your options. Your thing can be a physical object, a person, an accomplishment or award, an experience (brief or extended), or anything else you can think of. If you are having trouble brainstorming, draw to mind memories of things that have made you happy in the past year—maybe you took on a new hobby, made a new friend, got a unique award. If you are having trouble, expand the period of time you are thinking about (i.e. think about all of high school) or focus your energy on memories about specific aspects of your life (i.e. academics, family life, social life).

 

After you have some initial ideas of things you might want to write about, remember that you are asserting to the admissions committee that this thing is important to you. Consider what your different ideas say about you. This may help you when deciding your final topic!

 

Strong examples (if executed well):

 

  • Learning to sew provided you great satisfaction because you are a methodical thinker who also values aesthetic beauty and always have had trouble reconciling those two values
  • Climbing to the top of a mountain in Colorado provided you great satisfaction because someone important to you said you couldn’t and you normally accept others’ opinions as facts but this time were bold and courageous and proved them wrong
  • Getting a pet during quarantine provided you great satisfaction because your cat is cuddly and cute but also because you used to think that you couldn’t even take care of yourself but now have realized how capable you are and have overcome that insecurity

 

After you have a focused topic, as you start writing, continue to remind yourself that this essay is about reflection. In a college essay, reflection can happen in a number of ways, often depending on a student’s writing style.

 

Some students will include reflection within their narrative. For example, if you are writing about the satisfaction you got from achieving your goal of producing a feature-length film during quarantine, your narrative itself might include struggles, doubts, and moments of uncertainty—times where you actually asked yourself “Why is this important to me?” With a struggle-centered narrative, you might weave in your reflection by exploring your thoughts in those moments.

 

Here is an example of a reflective middle paragraph, which would be preceded by an introduction identifying the student’s goal and followed by a paragraph about the satisfaction from achieving the goal.

 

I had made the decision months earlier to opt out of game nights and instead focus on my editing, but it was starting to take a toll on me. On January 3, instead of editing, I crumbled into bed, riddled with questions: Is this really worth it? What was I thinking? A timid knock at the door, followed by the boisterous entrance of my little sister recentered me—“Hey Bubba, how’s the editing? Can I see? I’m soooo sad you’re leaving but sooo excited to take my friends to Studio Movie Grill so they can see me on the big screen!” She was important to me; being great was important to me; being great for her was important to me.

 

While this interwoven reflection is great, other students organize their essays differently. Some students will split their 250 words between two paragraphs, one fact-centered and one reflective. This organization can also be strong, but it is important to avoid repetition! If you divide your essay in this way, avoid identifying your values in your first paragraph and save that for your reflection. Make sure your second paragraph takes your first paragraph to the next level of depth.

 

This essay is so open-ended that it can be overwhelming! Take it one step at a time. First, identify your topic. Then, think about what it means to you and what it says about you. Take some time to organize your paragraphs. And reflect away!

 

Common App and Coalition App Supplemental Questions

 

What inspires you? (200 characters, ~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 conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss? (200 characters, ~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 new Yale course. What is it called? (200 characters, ~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.

 

Yale students embrace the concept of “and” rather than “or,” pursuing arts and sciences, tradition and innovation, defined goals and surprising detours. What is an example of an “and” that you embrace? (200 characters, ~35 words)

 

This prompt is about interdisciplinarity, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be academic. You can have “and”s in your extracurricular interests, your identity, your values, and your thoughts.

 

It’s pretty common for humans to want things to be binary, black-and-white, or all-or-nothing, but that’s also not how life works most of the time. To answer this prompt, you can make use of cultural and social tendencies toward binaries. Think about things that you have struggled with and then had to embrace as “and”s. Or, think about things that people around you don’t accept as “and”s, that you are always trying to convince them of.

 

Does your identity present “and’s” with regards to gender, sexuality, or your fundamental beliefs? Were you raised surrounded by “and’s” of religion, ethnicities, or parenting styles? Do you have interests that don’t quite add up in the traditional sense? Have you had times in your life that are simultaneously joyful and grief-filled? Have you ever been both proud and disappointed?

 

Some ideas:

 

  • You’re interested in STEM and design (maybe you want to be a scientific illustrator?)
  • You’re biracial (though keep in mind that this will be a popular prompt for biracial or multicultural/multilingual students; try to take it a step further if you opt for this “and”)
  • You’re a full-time student and part of the workforce
  • You’re an extrovert and have social anxiety
  • You have issues with your parents and appreciate what they’ve sacrificed for you

 

Some complete examples:

 

  • At one end of my shelf is the Tanakh; the other’s my Bible. Look around. You’ll see a bush, a tree, crosses, stars. When you get to me, you’ll see Judaism and Christianity in my heart, mind, and life.
  • They cheered as I got my medal. I was unhappy, not proud. I could’ve run faster. I’ve since learned to be proud of and unsatisfied with my work. It’s a growth mindsetI’ll always keep striving.

 

Sit with your ideas for a while, then express them clearly, cogently, and creatively with your 200 characters.

 

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