How to Write the Yeshiva University Application Essays 2017-2018
Founded in 1886, Yeshiva University is the oldest university in the United States that combines Jewish scholarship with studies in the liberal arts, sciences, medicine, law, and business. While the majority of students at the university are of the Jewish faith, many students, especially at the School of Law and the School of Business, are not. From the university’s website:
Now in its second century, Yeshiva University is the oldest and most comprehensive educational institution under Jewish auspices in America. It is an independent university that ranks among the nation’s leading academic research institutions and, reflecting the time-honored tradition of Torah Umadda, provides the highest quality Jewish and secular education of any Jewish university in the world. Since its inception the University has been dedicated to melding the ancient traditions of Jewish law and life with the heritage of Western civilization, and each year we celebrate as future leaders make YU their home.
Whether studying literature, biology, business, or premed, all undergraduates undertake a Jewish studies program in the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies or the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies as part of the requirements of the bachelor’s degree. If you are considering applying to Yeshiva University, you might want to take a look at the CollegeVine guide to religiously affiliated colleges and universities.
As one of the nation’s premier institutions of Jewish higher learning, Yeshiva’s application process is somewhat selective. Its website states, “Candidates for admissions are expected to present a strong B average and a (new) SAT score of 1170 (Writing and Language + Mathematics) or ACT composite score of 24.”
However, your Yeshiva University application is more than just a matter of test scores and grades. The website also states, “The applicant’s character, personality, and contribution to school and community life are also factors in the admissions decision.” As such your admissions essays will play an important role in your application, and we have composed the following guide in order to help you craft the best possible responses to the essays for the standard application and the much more selective S. Daniel Abrams Honors program.
Yeshiva University Application Essay Prompts
All applicants, except for Honors program applicants, must respond to one of the following prompts:
Standard Application Prompt #1
If you could design your ideal college course, what would it be, and why? (Response required in 750 words.)
When you describe your ideal course, you should think about how you are using your description to tell a story about yourself. Your course description should reflect both your intellectual interests and your preferred method of learning. Whatever course you propose, you will want to address both of these points.
What is the topic of the course?
If you decide to write about a literature class, you will not simply provide a list of books, but rather, offer insight on the connecting theme that threads these pieces of literature together. Maybe you are interested in the topic of climate change and want to propose a course on contemporary African literature, with a focus on how that literature imagines human resiliency and frailty in the face of environmental change.
As you describe the topic of your course, remember to mention how you became interested in that particular topic or combination of subjects. Maybe climate change first intrigued you when you noticed that the streets of Miami were regularly flooding. Whatever your moment of inspiration may be, incorporate it into your essay so the reader can share in the experience with you.
How will the class be structured?
When you picture your ideal class, you might imagine more concrete details than just the course topic. Would your class be structured around hands-on activities? Open-ended discussions in small groups? A team engineering project? As an example, if you write about a mathematics class, you would not want to just talk about the math concept that you want to delve into (differential calculus, linear algebra, cryptography). Instead, you should also detail the kinds of assignments that would get you the most engaged in the material.
Maybe, in a cryptography class, you would enjoy an assignment in which one group creates a set of block ciphers and another group tries to hack those ciphers. As you address this part of the prompt, be sure to explain why you want to engage in that particular type of learning. Maybe you want your class to be a small group discussion because that is where you are most comfortable exploring new ideas. Or, maybe you are looking forward to your career when you will need to be working with teams of other professionals, and would like to have a class where students have to work together on some kind of shared project.
Standard Application Prompt #2
Describe one time you advocated for yourself or for somebody else. Discuss the internal conflict and/or values that drove your decision to act. What, if any, were the rewards or consequences of your actions? (Response required in 750 words.)
This prompt is very straightforward. Just tell a story from your upbringing. Whatever story you tell, you should look outward to discuss the social situation in which you advocated for yourself or others and you should look inward to examine how you questioned your thoughts and values in that experience.
The first and most important part of this prompt is making sure to choose the right story to tell. You run the risk of sounding petty if you choose to tell a story about how you went to your freshman English teacher and “advocated” to have a “B+” turned into an “A-.”
“Advocacy” implies that you had to put yourself out on a limb and engage in debate and struggle for the purpose of the greater good. This advocacy can take many forms: Maybe you organized a project to have members from the homeless community come to your school and share their stories. Maybe you participated in a protest when the county jail was considering replacing visiting hours with “video visitation.”
If your story of advocacy is a matter of you speaking up for yourself, it is probably best if you are doing so with the recognition that in doing so you are not advocating for yourself alone. Maybe you use a wheelchair to get around, and you had to fight long and hard to get the school to repair the sidewalk in front of the bus stop. While you might be the only student who uses a wheelchair for one particular year, you can link your struggle to the general principle that all people — no matter their form of mobility — ought to be able to participate in society.
Remember that as you discuss the “results” of your actions, there might not be any big or heroic resolution to your story. That does not mean that you cannot write about it. Indeed, if you are working with others in the struggle against some form of systematic injustice, then the results might not be immediate.
In the example of protesting at the county jail to preserve in-person visitation, you may really believe your protest is only one part of a longer struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex. The “rewards” may be small victories in a practical, political sense (perhaps the work is part of a larger campaign to make treatment of prisoners an issue in the next sheriff’s election).
Also, sometimes the results are not positive: sometimes protestors are arrested, sometimes sidewalks are not fixed, and sometimes programs for the homeless are discontinued — in spite of your best efforts. Even if you did not attain the outcome you hoped for, the purpose of this essay is not to show your success, but rather to show how you deal with adversity and how your values move you to act.
For S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Applicants Only
The university’s website describes the honors program as follows:
The S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program was founded in 1999 with the goal of enhancing the college experience of high-achieving students. Built on the premise that outstanding scholars should be brought together, challenged and encouraged to excel, the program nurtures students as it helps them to grow both intellectually and personally. There are both academic and extracurricular components to the Honors Program.
The academic program stresses writing and critical analysis, research and individual mentoring. Students select honors courses from offerings in the humanities, Jewish studies, natural sciences and social sciences, as well as interdisciplinary seminars. In their final three semesters, honor students each complete a senior project under the individual guidance of a faculty mentor.
Instead of answering one of the two preceding prompts, those seeking admission to the S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program will need to respond to a mixture of short-answer questions and longer essay prompts.
With this larger portfolio of essays, it becomes especially important to think holistically about the themes and ideas that connect your responses together. The strongest applications will not just offer a disjointed set of answers, but rather will, for example, find a way to link the short-answer question “what social issue are you passionate about” to the longer essay prompt that asks you to describe “your ideal career.”
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #1
If you could go back in time and relay a message to yourself at the beginning of high school, what would it be? (Response required in 150 characters.)
Even with a limited number of characters, you should seek to convey a multi-dimensional picture of yourself as a thoughtful and mature person. Something generic, like “stay focused on your studies,” sounds more like a cliché pulled from a hat than an honest attempt to reflect on what you have learned over the last four years. It is better to choose something that is particular to you, and the best way to do that is to link this answer up to other parts of your application.
For example, if you hope to study entomology, you might write, “sometimes, when life gets hectic, it is good to pause and contemplate the exquisite geometry of a yellow jacket hive.” This is a piece of advice that only you would give to yourself, and it will stand out as being sincere.
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #2
If you could travel to one place you have never before visited, where would that be? Why? (Response required in 150 characters.)
This question is not asking you for a description of your dream vacation. Your reason for going to a certain place should be tied to your academic interests, your personal history, your service work, or the practice of your faith.
If you are interested in astronomy, you might say, “I want to go to Hawaii, perhaps to swim and hike, but most of all to visit the W.M. Keck Observatory and observe the Andromeda galaxy.” This answer preserves a little bit of humor while addressing your interests in your studies and your future career.
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #3
In addition to your intended major, what is another academic field in which you are interested? (Response required in 150 characters.)
One way to answer this question is to state your interest in a second field and relate it to your interest in your intended major.
For example, you might write, “My interest in ethics follows from my interest in biology: I am concerned about the ethical issues raised by recent developments in gene editing.” Even if your second academic interest is unrelated to your primary focus, you should still find a way to explain why you are interested in that topic. For example: “Though the logical rigor of math fascinates me, my secondary academic interest in psychology has taught me that we do not act by logic alone.”
Whatever you choose for your second field of interest, there should be some evidence on your application that you are actually interested in that topic — either in your activities, or in the stories you tell in your other essays.
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #4
Name one political or social issue about which you are passionate. (Response required in 150 characters.)
This question is very straightforward and, again, if you really are passionate about that issue, there should be evidence of your passion somewhere else on your application. For example, you might write, “Ever since serving as a summer intern for the Southern Poverty Law Center, I have become committed to helping rehabilitate members of hate groups.”
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #5
What book or written work do you feel should be mandatory reading for all students during their first year at Yeshiva University? Explain. (Response required in 750 words.)
This is a more complicated question than it might at first appear. It is not just asking you to name a book that is important to you as an individual. It is asking you to reflect on how one particular text might speak so powerfully to the values and commitments of Yeshiva University that it ought to be considered required reading for all its students. Thus, this question is not just asking you about a book you read but also asking you how well you understand the values of the university community that you hope to join.
One way to structure your answer for this question is to start with why a particular text is meaningful to you and then move to show why you think all that text fits in with Yeshiva University’s mission more broadly.
For example, you might believe that Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, ought to be required reading. Thus, your essay would begin with your first encounter of the text in a bookstore where you were surprised to find a comic book that concerned the serious topic of genocide. As you read deeper, you were surprised to find the text questioning its own central visual conceit: Spiegelman troubles over whether his initial idea to represent the Germans as cats and the Jews as mice is as simplistic as it seems. And finally, you found that you could only put the text down by giving your copy to other people and encouraging them to read it too.
Taking a step back from your personal experience of the text, you should then reflect on why that text might be especially good for a curriculum that caters to people with a variety of academic interests and strengths. Perhaps Spiegelman’s innovative use of both text and images can appeal to a wide range of learning styles. After all, some people are better at analyzing the combinations of light and shadow in images, while others take more quickly to parsing syntax of sentences. You could argue that a text like Maus will allow people with different learning strengths to share their modes of analysis with each other at Yeshiva.
Finally, think about how your chosen text speaks to the mission of Yeshiva University in particular. This is where you need to do a little bit of research on the university’s website in order to see how they articulate their values. To continue with the example of Maus, you could posit that Spiegelman’s text picks up on some themes that the university had already started to explore when it invited the artist Sebastian Mendes to hold a seminar on the question of “how does one respond creatively to events of enormous historical significance or deeply personal emotive power, such as the Holocaust or genocide?”
Hence, Art Spiegelman’s story is especially important, not just for how it represents the Holocaust, but especially for how it addresses the question of how we remember that story and how the trauma of one generation might become trauma for another. The story is, after all, not just about how Art’s father survived, but also about Art’s relationship to his father. The story, you could contend, is especially important to the interdisciplinary discussions Yeshiva has today as it addresses a world where many people have survived atrocities and gone on to have children who — in many complicated ways — share the memories of that survival.
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #6
What would be your ideal career? Describe how your leadership, work, and/or internship experience would make you an ideal fit for this profession. (Response required in 750 words.)
This is a much more straightforward essay and is a great place to start tying together the various strands of your divergent interests. If you are interested in the law and are committed to issues of criminal justice reform, you might talk about becoming a public defender. Here, you could cite both the work you did as an intern in a law office that manages immigration cases and your involvement in organizing a local reading group on criminal justice reform.
As you describe your activities, remember that this essay is not just looking for a resume. Though they ask you to “describe” your “leadership, work, and/or internship experience,” what they really mean by that is to describe the values and passions that drove you to seek those experiences as well as what you learned.
Maybe you first felt compelled to get involved with criminal justice reform after reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, and came to see the stripping of voting rights from people who have been convicted of felony offenses as a violation of human rights. Perhaps what you learned from listening to other members in your community during reading-group meetings was that systematic violations of civil rights inside the criminal justice system go much deeper than just losing one’s right to vote. Maybe you also learned how the cash bail system keeps poor people in jail before they are convicted of any crimes.
As you write, one thing to keep in mind is that you should not be overly focused on the amount of money that your ideal career might bring. While it is perfectly understandable that people who go to college will in part be motivated by the desire to earn at least a living wage, the thing that will sustain you in your “ideal” career is the fact that it satisfies to your passions and interests.
Finally, when you talk about “leadership” — a buzzword that pops up on many college applications — you should be aware that leadership does not always mean a heroic action. In complex settings, leadership means doing lots of listening and mediating between different stakeholders. It means finding new ways to make people in your organization feel like they are valued, and it means training others to lead in your stead.
If you were student body president, what did you do to make sure that your successor could continue to build on the work you did? If you were an intern leading a legal aid workshop, what did you do to make the participants feel comfortable asking questions?
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #7
Which idea or invention would you “uninvent” if you could? Explain. (Response required in 750 words.)
In The Seeds of Time, Frederick Jameson says, ‘‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism’’ (xii). Jameson’s point is that we have plenty of fictional stories about asteroids crashing into the earth, or zombies devouring us whole, but we do not have stories that imagine an alternative to our present social and economic system where small numbers of people own a large proportion of the means of production.
Whether or not one wants to follow the Marxist line of thought that Jameson outlines, his larger point is still relevant for this essay: There are some concepts and ideas that are so central to our way of thinking about the world, and it is hard to imagine the world without them. The impetus of this question is to say that it is precisely because of this difficulty that we have the responsibility to try to imagine the world otherwise. This prompt is, in a certain sense, asking you to become an utopian science-fiction writer.
Given the wide variety of things that you might “uninvent,” it is probably best to choose something that allows you to augment your personal interests. For example, if you are interested in urban planning, you might “uninvent” the personal automobile. The first thing to recognize is that the personal automobile is not just a piece of technology — it is technology that was invented with a whole host of ideas and dreams for the future that animated it.
The opening passages of your essay might sketch the world with the car as we know it. The personal automobile did not just give people a way to move themselves conveniently from one place to the other; it was part of a larger movement that restructured the infrastructure of the city. Bikes now “share the road” with cars; shopping malls are built with large parking garages where cars sit abandoned while people buy new shoes; trolley car tracks are torn up and replaced with freeways.
Why would you want to “uninvent” the car, and in doing so, uninvent the world you have just described? Here is where you describe the problems with that world: carbon pollution, social isolation bred by personal automobiles, commutes as a solitary experience rather than a social one, etc. Then, you can question, perhaps a better world is possible?
In the next part of your essay, you can then try to imagine what the world would be like without cars.
How would the city’s infrastructure develop differently? Maybe there would be more subways? And with more subways, would there maybe more chances for the community to gather and experience performance art? Maybe there would be more walking and a healthier population. Would our whole food system be different? Maybe people would no longer congregate in restaurants, and instead choose to dine at home to where little helicopter drones deliver plates of food fresh from the farm. Maybe the “nuclear family” would become obsolete as living quarters are situated closer together and more people share the same space together.
To change one thing about our world might be to change it entirely, and this question is a chance to explore just how far your imagination can reach.
S. Daniel Abrams Honors Program Prompt #8
Who is one person (personal, fictional or historical) who has inspired you. Why? (Response required in 150 characters.)
Here again, the only trick to answering this question is to tie your response to the rest of the essay. Maybe you father stubbornly insisted on biking to work everyday, no matter the weather. Perhaps his commitment to living by his principles inspired you to do the same.
Best of luck writing your essay!
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