How to Write the Yale University Application Essays 2018-2019

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One of the first colleges in America founded over three hundred years ago, 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 on the US News National College Ranking.


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 32,900 first-year applicants last year, only 6.7% 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.


Yale University Application Essay Prompts

Short answer questions (Required)

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 or fewer)

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.

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 or fewer)

The stereotypical answer to this question is along the lines of Mahatma Gandhi or 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, show you’re well-rounded by writing about Strom Thurmond.


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! Think about how the person you’ve selected interacts with your application. Remember, the question you would ask them reflects upon yourself too.

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

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.

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 or fewer)

In one of our team member’s 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 your personality. Are you outgoing and social? Are you calm and composed? Let Yale know with this question, but make sure it doesn’t contradict what your recommenders say about you!

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? (100 words or fewer)

This prompt is a similar to a traditional “Why Major” prompt, however, 100 words is a very tight amount of space, and thus 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 what exactly is most fascinating or compelling about your intended major. For example, if you are interested in linguistics, you could write specifically about the nuances of language formation in prehistoric hominids or how language and thoughts are linked in dreams. If you are interested in psychology, you could explain how you want to better understand consumer mentalities in order to build organic and effective marketing campaigns.


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. Make a statement about how you will act upon your interest.

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

Like other Yale responses, here you are challenged to discuss your thoughts deeply and clearly in a limited amount of space. A great resource to consider is CollegeVine’s “Why School” essay guide, which contains excellent information about how to tackle any specific school prompt.


For Yale in particular, you want to pick a refreshing aspect about the school that really piques your interest. One way would be to discuss how the school culture and atmosphere spark an electric fervor for learning. Be keen on discussing very specific and poignant details. For example, if you visit Yale, you may immediately notice the silent focus that permeates the massive libraries or the clarity of the cold winter air. Don’t be afraid to use acute or even sensory details to describe these experiences and the aspects of Yale that have led you to apply. A great strategy is to choose an idea, opportunity, or aspect that is very concrete and specific and build around it, as opposed to discussing an exhaustive list of reasons without truly elaborating in depth.

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Optional Engineering and Computer Science Essay

If you selected one of the computer science or engineering majors, 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 computer science or engineering, and what it is about Yale’s program in this area that appeals to you. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer.)

This question is about specificity, so be specific! Tell the Admissions Office exactly what you’ve done with computer science or engineering. If you’ve taken AP classes in these fields, mention them. If you’ve done your own independent projects, make these the focus of your essay. Don’t talk about your general love for engineering or Yale’s general strength as a school. If you’re writing this essay, Yale already knows about this!


The second part of this question is to reflect on what Yale’s program will offer you. For example, Yale is famous for their biological science department, as well as for having many Nobel laureates. Tell them exactly what you’d like from your engineering education (even if you don’t know yet). For example, if you’re interested in medicine, tell them how you like Lisa Sanders’ community outreach or that Stephen Fleck’s research interests you.

Longer essays (2 of 3 required)

Here comes the most important part of the writing section: the two longer questions. You have up to 250 words to respond to TWO of the following three prompts.

What do you most enjoy learning?

What makes you tick? What intellectual thoughts keep 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!

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. Focus on your involvement with the process of learning and the rest of the essay should fall in place.

Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?

This is what CollegeVine considers “the leadership essay.” Show off how you took charge in a situation to make a real impact! You shouldn’t talk about a group you were minimally involved with nor should you only talk about the accomplishments of the group. Make sure the essay reflects well on you, not just on the group.

A few examples of how to answer this prompt:


Example 1: Again, mentioning your research here isn’t a bad approach (unless you’ve done so in a previous answer!). Research isn’t constrained to scientific research either. If you’ve been involved in some academic pursuit outside of school, this is also a great place to talk about your impact.


Example 2: Have you been involved in your school? Clubs, sports, student council — these are all common places for visionary leadership. Talk about how you’ve engaged with the community, grown as an individual, and left your mark. Make sure the essay focuses on you, with the engagement providing the necessary stories and insights to write compellingly.


Example 3: Involved in your community? Common groups include churches, hospitals, activism, and non-profits. If your political activism or volunteering has made a difference you’re proud of, this is the perfect essay for you! Again, focus on your role and your impact, rather than that of the organization. For example, if you volunteered at a hospital, don’t tell Yale about how hospitals are important; tell them how you rearranged the bookshelf to make the books easily accessible.

Write on something you would like us to know about you that you have not conveyed elsewhere in your application.

Ah, the wildcard. Be careful if you choose this prompt; your answer better convey something memorable! Don’t tell them about your GPA or pet goldfish; this essay is for truly extraordinary things. Before you choose to answer this prompt, ask yourself: Do I have something truly unique to share? If the answer is yes, this is the question for you.

Some possibilities include:


Example 1: If you have experienced personal or familial hardship, and you don’t talk about it in your Common App essay, this is the perfect place to mention it. Make sure not to be too negative in your writing, but rather to focus on how you got through the experience and what you learned. Remember that the prompt is about YOU, so tell them about you.


Example 2: Did you spend your childhood in Kenya? Do you read a book every day? These are really interesting aspects of yourself that could make your application a lot more memorable. So mention them! Use this essay to tell Yale exactly what they should remember you by. When they talk about you in committee deliberations, you’ll be the “applicant who read 365 books in one year” instead of “another kid with a 36 on the ACT and 4.2069 GPA.”


Example 3: Do you have some personality trait that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else? For example, do you smile way more than you should or does your bright pink hair define you? If so, you should write about this. There are likely opportunities for humor in such an essay, so if you’re a funny type, this is your space to show it.

General Reminders

Yale is one of the most selective schools in the country, so applaud yourself for shooting so high! Great essays are quite possibly the easiest way to distinguish yourself from thousands of other accomplished applicants. Start early, take the essays seriously, and with a bit of luck, you might find yourself with an acceptance letter in a few months.


From everyone here at CollegeVine, we wish you the best of luck writing your Yale essays!


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