How to Write the Yale University Application Essays 2019-2020
Please check out our Yale Essay Breakdown for the 2020-2021 cycle!
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 (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 36,843 first-year applicants for the Class of 2023, only 5.9% 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.
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Yale University Application Essay Prompts
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.
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 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)
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)
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 this College?” YouTube video, 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.
Required Longer Responses (250 words or more)
Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words)
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 you use vibrant, varied, and descriptive language; this style will allow you to convey your excitement about the topic to readers.
Option A: Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?
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).
The prompt asks you two questions. First, how have you engaged with your community? Second, how has this engagement affected you?
In contrast to many seemingly similar prompts, Yale doesn’t want to know how you have affected your community. Rather, they want you to reflect on how being an engaged member of some community has impacted who you are.
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. Describe how you specifically have engaged with the community you are a member of and how you have impacted the culture. 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 coworkers at the local bakery? Or, did you meet survivors of gender-based violence through your work with a local organization?
Finally, describe how this community and engagement has affected 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 teach you how to engage with people who come from different backgrounds? 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?”
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 entire world as you would use Yale’s resources to address problems.
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 (300 words)
This first part of the prompt essentially calls for an extended “Why major?” essay. Again, think about what genuinely interests you about engineering. By majoring in this field, what do you plan to do? Be sure to offer concrete reasons and/or detailed stories to support your response.
Example:My eyes dart feverishly back and forth between the computer screen in front of me and the misshapen robot a few feet away. Around me, three other students frantically make adjustments to the robot, the timer in the front of the class approaching the one minute mark. As I enter in the last few lines of code that will ideally guide the robot through the complicated pathway, I look up from my computer and take in my surroundings… Yet through all of this chaos, I find within it a sense of peace, of belonging.
Whether it be times like this, where I’m scrambling to make a robot move, or times where I’m just sitting at home trying to work through a tiring electromagnetic induction problem, I remain genuinely intrigued by all aspects of engineering━it is this persistent motor that will keep me exploring and discovering as I transition into college.
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. If you know someone at Yale who was able to answer your general questions about the school, see if they can put you in touch with someone from the department of interest to help you out with this essay.
Example: At Yale, I will be presented with a collaborative and encouraging environment that will be sure to foster and expand my horizons not just in engineering, but in mathematics, physics, and computer science as well. From participating in discrete algorithmic research with Professor Michael Fischer to taking Math as a Creative Art with Professor Patrick Devlin to studying theoretical fluid dynamics with Professor Juan Fernández de la Mora, Yale will provide me with an extensive and engaging curriculum that will only further my interest in engineering and applied sciences…
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