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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the Yale University Essays 2023-2024

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 on Yale’s short answer and longer essay prompts.


You can also check out these Yale essay examples to inspire your writing.


Yale University Supplemental Essay Prompts


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


Additionally, all applicants must write one 400-word essay. 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)


Short Answer 1: 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.


Tell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it? (200 words or fewer)


Short Answer 2: What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)


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


  • What inspires you?

  • If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be?

  • Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence?

  • What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application?


Essays (For all applicants)


Please respond to one of the following prompts in 400 words or fewer. Please indicate the number of the prompt you choose.


  • Option 1: Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful?

  • Option 2: Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.

  • Option 3: Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you?


Short Answer Questions


Short Answer 1

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.


Tell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it? (200 words or fewer)

For context, as part of answering this prompt, you’ll be asked to pick three of several different academic areas from a long list. This prompt is similar to a traditional “Why This Major” prompt, however, 200 words is a 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. Of course, this essay prompt, like many, can usually be answered through several different possible angles. 


One strategy involves tying your past and future together through your present interest. As directly as possible, you would describe how your academic interests developed, what exactly is compelling about your intended major (which will likely be directly connected to one or more of your academic interests), and perhaps 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.


Secondly, a respondent to this question could dive more deeply into the topic itself, with less of a focus on career and future and more on how you think. You could begin with a hook that loops readers into the very marrow of your interest, perhaps with a personal anecdote. Then, you could fully nerd out on whatever your interest is, from fine art to molecular biology to Spanish Literature. In order to explain why you are drawn to this interest, you can discuss your chosen topic or idea in a way that truly showcases your particular passion.


For example, a student with an interest in evolutionary biology could note the field’s tendency to challenge common assumptions surrounding anything from the innateness of gender norms to the “why’s” of our biological realities, while an international relations aficionado could say that being raised in a bilingual household triggered a lifelong love of translation, not only of language but also of  social norms, and cultural phenomena, between differing worlds. 


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.


Short Answer 2

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? 


Common App and Coalition App Supplemental Questions


What inspires you? (200 characters)


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.


Of course, you could derive your inspiration from something external, like a certain group of people you interact with every day or even your favorite musician. This is fine and can make a meaningful essay, but it’s the sort of thing a person has to be very careful about. For example, writing an essay about how inspired you are by your mother’s diligence as a hand surgeon can be a great read, but these types of essays make it easy to accidentally focus more so on your inspirational subject than about you. Make sure to always tie back the source of your inspiration to yourself, your drive, your actions, and your values. 


If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be? (200 characters)

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 others? You can let your creativity run wild here; if you have a niche interest, this is the perfect place to mention it.


For a college course, share the title and give a brief description of the course, such as the works you’ll study and the themes covered.


Remember that 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.


For a book, you’ll want to share the title and a brief synopsis. An example might be: “Who Made My Clothes? Stories from Garment Workers Around the World. This book will humanize these workers, sharing their backgrounds, their reasons for sewing, and the conditions they work in.”


For the original work of art, also share the title and give a visual description mixed with the inspiration for the piece. An example would be: “Mushroom Forest, mixed media. This work depicts an ethereal forest of colorful, self-foraged mushrooms and moss. A small, painted frog looks onward, shielded from the rain by the mushroom canopy.”


Keep it engaging, witty, and quick!


Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence? (200 characters)

People with great mentors and role models usually become successful in their fields, and Yale wants to admit successful students. This prompt also gives you an opportunity to show self-awareness and gratitude for someone else’s impact on your growth.


If no one comes to mind immediately, it may be easier to think of traits or aspects of your application you want to highlight, and then consider who had the biggest impact on that area of your life. For example, pretend you’re Beth from The Queen’s Gambit, and your obvious talent is playing chess. You might choose to write about Mr. Shaibel, the janitor who introduced you to chess:


Mr. Shaibel, my orphanage’s janitor, not only taught me chess; he helped me grasp opportunities I didn’t have, introducing me to the HS coach and even giving me money to enter my first tournament.


You have an extremely limited character count, so get straight to the point, and feel free to use well-known abbreviations/acronyms to maximize space.


What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application? (200 characters)


This one is incredibly open-ended, which can be as terrifying or as exciting as you decide it to be. It gives you a great opportunity to showcase something that wouldn’t traditionally show up in a letter of recommendation or a resume. Here are a few questions to consider for brainstorming:


  • What are your hobbies?
  • What could you talk about endlessly?
  • What are you known for in your friend group? How about your family?
  • What’s your guilty (or not so guilty) pleasure? Reality TV? In-n-Out runs? Gummy worms?
  • Do you have a random skill, like cutting hair or making friendship bracelets?
  • Do you have siblings, and does your role in the sibling hierarchy affect your life?
  • What’s a weird story of yours? A spontaneous thing you’ve done or something that happened to you and the way you reacted to it?
  • What’s a value you were raised to have?
  • What’s something you like doing, regardless of whether you’re good at it or not?
  • On that subject, what’s something you’re bad at but do anyway?


Brainstorm as freely as you can and leave no stone unturned; nothing is too stupid or frivolous to make it into your essay! The important thing in any college essay is rarely the subject itself, but what the subject reveals about you. For example, you can write about how, as the most skilled hair-braider on your cross-country team, you’ve gotten to know all of your teammates better through being the unofficial “team braider,” or that as a middle child, you’ve developed dual penchants for observation and conflict resolution. You only have a few words and it’s implied in this prompt that this essay can be an off-the-resume one, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be deep. But it should still be revealing in some way!


Essays for All Applicants


Prompt 1

Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful? (400 words)


This essay presents a fantastic opportunity to showcase both your intellectual vitality and your social skills. At its core, it’s an essay about your growth as a thinker and person. 


We disagree with people often, often multiple times a day, so there’s plenty of material to brainstorm from. This may be especially pertinent for members of argument-based extracurriculars, like debate, Mock Trial, and Model UN students. Activists and researchers, too. But remember— it doesn’t have to be an argument, just a discussion with a dissenter. 


Write down a list of possible topics, and don’t worry too much about the context of the discussion so much as its content and impact. When this essay is well-written, quarrels with the woman in front of you in line for grocery checkout can be just as fascinating as a national debate closing argument. 


Also, determining whether an issue is “important” or not can be a subjective matter. Your essay doesn’t necessarily need to be about traditional political debate topics, such as abortion or gun control. In fact, we encourage you to write about issues that will be a little less common, if you can think of some relevant experiences (local issues can be especially promising). Topics such as cultural appropriation, the ethics of thrifting and reselling, or whether your school district should get rid of its gifted program are all fair game.


Just remember that Yale is a liberal university, so you don’t want to alienate your audience by sharing that you have a particularly conservative point of view.


After creating your list, scan your potential topic ideas for varied points of interest. Pay special attention to the second half of the prompt and consider which experiences either helped you sharpen your reasoning or change your opinion. Which experience was the most transformative? Intellectually stimulating? Emotional? Unique? Which do you remember the most clearly and why? Once you’ve narrowed down your options into a few viable ones, pick the one that you feel will make it easiest to craft a compelling story.


When starting this essay, include just enough to set the scene. Don’t dwell on exposition, irrelevant details of the conversation, or negative emotions surrounding the event for too long. Who was there? How did you disagree, and why? Introduce each viewpoint as succinctly as possible while still preserving important details, keeping in mind the strict word count. 


Explain the important points within the conversation before fully diving into the essay. Often essays around any sort of challenge are better-written when the writer focuses on the growth aspects of the story rather than whatever challenging circumstances came before. 


Really dive into how your thinking was shifted or augmented by your experience or even what broader lessons you may have learned after better understanding a specific issue. What did you do during or after the discussion? Did you research it more deeply or take action in support of your final opinion?


For example, maybe your environmental club thought that your school should ban plastic straws because of their negative impact on the planet, but then you learned from disabled students how important plastic straws can be for accessibility. As a result, you shifted the campaign to introducing a composting system instead, and learned the importance of inviting more diverse voices to weigh in on the club’s initiatives.


By the end of the argument, your reader should feel that you’ve truly gotten to know your topic well and experienced positive change as a result. Feel free to mention specific logical progressions, newfound evidence, or novel philosophical perspectives you’ve discovered.


This essay is also an exercise in open-mindedness, so make sure to avoid ad hominem attacks against your “opponent.” As a general rule of thumb, frame your viewpoint throughout as a respectful one, regardless of how the discussion actually went. 


Prompt 2

Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like. (400 words)

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. Yale’s essay prompts have historically stressed the importance of community, as it’s an understandable priority for them. 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. 


Most people are a part of various communities, whether they realize it or not or whether these communities are formal (town, soccer team, religious organization, school) or informal (group of friends, coworkers, family) ones. If you are having trouble identifying which yours are, consider which people you feel a sense of community with. Volunteer groups, families, cultures, and clubs may spring to mind. Really, though, anything can make the cut: your Dungeons and Dragons group, those sharing your gender or sexual identity, people with similar life experiences 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? 


To draw readers into your story, feel free to lead with a charming sensory anecdote, like that of your family cooking their favorite traditional dish or the roars of laughter emerging from gameplay. In just a few sentences, show your reader just how important this community is to you and in which ways you feel connected to it. Do they make you laugh harder or understand you better than anyone else? Do you feel particularly passionate about an issue they represent? 


When you are outlining the aspects of a community that are 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.


Secondly, discuss your engagement with the community. You can lead by introducing your motivation for your efforts to explain them. 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? In this way, your efforts and their meaning can be covered in one fell swoop. 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.


Although this essay presents an opportunity to show off what you’ve done, there should be just as much emphasis—if not more so—on your personal connection to your achievements as on your achievements themselves. Remember that admissions officers will already be looking over your activities and awards information, so there’s a good chance they’ll see it soon before or after reading your essays! Take this chance to display your core values, because in a way, this prompt is asking a sub-question: What is meaningful to you?


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!


Where to Get Your Yale Essays Edited


We hope this post was helpful in at least getting the ball rolling on your submission. While your essays do play a substantial role in landing you an acceptance letter in the spring, they aren’t the only thing that matters. Also, assessing the quality of your own hypothetical essays is one of the less objective ways of estimating the chances of your application’s success. 


That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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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.