How to Write the Yeshiva University Essays 2023-2024
Yeshiva University is a private college rooted in the Jewish tradition with four campuses located in the heart of New York City. While Yeshiva is synonymous with NYC, more than 600 incoming undergraduates begin their college experience with a year of Torah study in Israel at the university’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute.
Yeshiva University requires regular applicants to answer one longer essay prompt and three short answer prompts. Applicants to the University’s honors program must respond to one long essay prompt and one short answer, along with the essays for all applicants.
All applicants should note that Yeshiva has prompts that are on the longer side and incredibly open-ended, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to draft, write, and revise your responses. In this post, we’ll cover how you should approach the open-ended and short answer essays that make up a crucial component of your application.
Yeshiva University Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: All applicants are required to respond to one of the following prompts:
- Option A: Hakarat hatov: Write a thank you letter to someone in your life. Express your gratitude and detail what you appreciate and why it is important to you (500-750 words).
- Option B: Here’s how I intend to change the world… (500-750 words).
Prompt 2: Pick 3. Try to be as specific, creative, personal and original as possible. (25 words)
- My approach to managing rejection is…
- I feel most responsible when…
- I discovered my own resilience when…
- The greatest chessed I ever did was…
- People say I am honest because…
- ___________ brings me joy.
Honors College Applicants
In addition to the one long answer prompt and four short answer questions above, all honors college applicants must answer the following prompts.
Prompt 1: Applicants must respond to one of the following prompts.
- Option A: You just completed your 1000-page autobiography, please submit page 613 (750-1000 words).
- Option B: Discuss a challenge to one of your core beliefs and how you responded (750-1000 words).
Prompt 2: Pick one of the three words below and write a short essay on it that gives us insight into your character. (150 words)
All Applicants, Prompt 1, Option A
Hakarat hatov: Write a thank you letter to someone in your life. Express your gratitude and detail what you appreciate and why it is important to you (500-750 words).
Hakarat HaTov is the Hebrew term for gratitude, and quite literally translates to “recognizing the good” which is an appropriate beginning for a prompt asking for you to write a letter of thanks. This prompt has some overlap with Common App prompt number four, where you are asked to write about a moment of gratitude. However, because Yeshiva University does not accept undergraduate applications via Common App, you would be able to borrow ideas from that essay if you’ve already written it. However, note that there are several differences between the both prompts, so you will have to change a few elements of your essay.
In terms of deciding whether this prompt is right for you—if you have a particularly impactful person in your life, then this prompt may be the perfect opportunity for you to express your gratitude to them, and in turn, share your story to the admissions officers. Keep in mind that while this is a letter to someone else, you ultimately want to share information about you, so only pick this prompt if you have an engaging story related to someone who helped you a lot along the way.
Writing the Essay
The best way to approach this essay is to write it as if you were actually writing a thank you note to the person you have chosen, starting with “Dear so-and-so,…”. Be specific about the ways in which they have helped you and how their guidance has impacted your life.
You can also mention your accomplishments, but only if it is relevant to the story you are telling. For example, when writing about an impactful English teacher you could write something along the lines of:
“When you took us on a field trip to see a production of Hamlet which had recast Ophelia as a man, you challenged me to reconsider how societal standards, which I like to think I’m able to transcend, unavoidably impact my interpretation of literature.”
In this way, you are talking about how your teacher exposed you to new subject matter and provided a different perspective on a common high school subject. But at the same time you are highlighting that you are an open-minded and curious learner.
The goal of this essay is to express your gratitude in a way that is both genuine and personal and at the same time share your own value system and how it has been shaped by your mentor. If you do this, you will have a strong essay that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Mistakes to Avoid
Commonly, students choose to only discuss the positive aspects of the person they are thanking without sharing any details about themselves. But in fact, admissions officers want to learn more about you and your core values, rather than about the person you are writing about. To avoid this common mistake, it’s important to re-read your essay and ask yourself two questions: Am I only talking about the other person? Have I used details to show how this person has influenced me?
Many students also do not provide enough details on how specifically their mentor has influenced them. Ideally you should provide 1-2 anecdotes that share memories of experiences you have had with these people and lessons you have learned along the way. Instead of generic pleasantries, you want to share specific experiences where this person really made a difference in your life. Ask yourself, How did they support you? How did they show they believed in you? How did this impact you?
All in all, keep in mind the following key items to write a stellar response:
- Share anecdotes about experiences you have had with your person, but more importantly, demonstrate that you have learned and grown from these experiences
- Be specific. Don’t just say that someone helped you “achieve your goals.” Instead, share specific examples of how they helped you.
- Be personal. This is not a time to be boastful. Instead, focus on the ways in which the person you have chosen has impacted your life in a positive way.
- Show that you are self-aware and humble and truly grateful for what your person has taught you
All Applicants, Prompt 1, Option B
Here’s how I intend to change the world… (500-750 words).
The goal of this prompt is to explain how you see the world today and how you would use your unique background, knowledge, and skills to change it for the better.
For example, a student could have faced a personal health challenge in their childhood which led to a strenuous fight for their life, but at the same time, embroiled themselves and family in a year-long battle with their insurance company over refused payments. They are now motivated to engage in political activism to reform the existing healthcare system and advocate for affordable healthcare.
This prompt would be right for you if you’ve had a personal struggle, have been involved in an important societal movement, and are motivated to make a change. That being said, the scale of impact you have doesn’t have to be at the state or national level; even talking about impacting your immediate community would suffice as long as the impact you are making is meaningful to you.
Writing the Essay
A good response would keep in mind the following:
- Tell a story. Build an understanding for the reader about your perspective on the current state of the world and your place in it.
- Build a connection. Use imagery and other literary devices to help the reader appreciate the personal connection you have with this topic.
- Identify an opportunity. Be sure to specifically tell the reader what you are trying to change in the world.
- Advertise your expertise. Tell the reader how you are uniquely qualified to make this change in the world by sharing your knowledge and skills that you have honed from experience.
- Be specific. Clarify how specifically you will make a difference in the world.
Because this response is similar in length to the Common App essay, you should have plenty of room to tell us your story with details that can win the reader over and help them understand why you care so much about this specific topic. Choosing a topic is only half the battle; convincing the reader of the importance of the topic is crucial.
Take your time sharing an anecdote to describe the topic’s importance to you, but also save room to explain how you’d like to make an impact and change the world for the better.
Mistakes to Avoid
You want to make sure that the problem is truly actionable and meaningful to the world. Furthermore, you would want the impact you have to be relevant to your own background so admissions officers can learn more about. For example, you may want to avoid talking about building an interplanetary defense system to protect against asteroids from hitting Earth if you are applying for an arts major because it’s not really a hugely current societal problem and it’s definitely not relevant to your background.
Another common mistake you should avoid is being too general about the impact you would make. Students may find themselves writing “with my newfound leadership skills, I can make an impact on the team.” This provides no clarity on which leadership skills you have honed nor what kind of impact they can have on the team. Rather, you should focus on explaining what about your background makes you fit for making an impact and how you plan to leverage these towards accomplishing your specific goals.
All Applicants, Prompt 2
All applicants are required to answer three of the following short answer responses in 25 words each.
My approach to managing rejection is…
I feel most responsible when…
I discovered my own resilience when…
The greatest chessed I ever did was…
People say I am honest because…
___________ brings me joy.
These are quick-fire prompts that are asking you to provide evidence for qualities about yourself. All of these prompts are best answered through a concise yet detailed response that relates to the trait you are talking about.
To choose three prompts that represent you best, read through each of the options and go with your gut. If you read a prompt option and immediately a story about yourself jumps into your head, then chances are it may be the right choice for you.
Use that short anecdote that comes into mind to reflect on how the experience shaped your character – most of these prompts are asking you to share what you have learned from experience.
For example, if you are choosing option A, use the following stepwise approach to brainstorm a response:
- Read the prompt and try to imagine a situation where you faced rejection
- Mentally revisit that experience. Reflect on what led to the situation, how you felt emotionally in the moment, and how you processed the rejection.
- Ask yourself, what skills helped me get through the rejection process?
- Reflect on and jot down what you learned from the experience
An example of a response to the first option could be:
“My approach to managing rejection is… to understand that similar opportunities, if not better, lie ahead for me and that this is a unique opportunity to become better at my craft.”
Alternatively, if you are choosing the third option, use the following stepwise approach to brainstorm a response:
- Read the prompt and try to imagine a situation where you were resilient.
- Mentally revisit that experience. Reflect on what led to the situation, how you felt emotionally in the moment, and what led to the struggle.
- Ask yourself, what skills or mentality motivated me to persevere?
- Reflect on and jot down what you learned from the experience
An example of a response to the third option could be:
“I discovered my own resilience when… I hiked barefoot up a two-thousand foot mountainside in the pouring rain following a two-day fast for a religious pilgrimage to a sacred temple.”
The key to answering any of these responses is to share specific details about either the experience or the lesson that you learned from the experience. By being as specific as you can with the limited word count, you will best capture your feelings in the moment and best answer the questions.
Honors Applicants, Prompt 1, Option A
You just completed your 1000-page autobiography, please submit page 613 (750-1000 words).
This is an interesting creative writing prompt that challenges you to think about where you see yourself decades into the future. The goal of this prompt is to articulate your vision for your future and the person that you will become.
If you have a strong idea of what you want to do in your future, then this prompt may be perfect for you.
Here are some tips on what a good essay should include:
- Write in the first-person. This is an autobiography, so you are writing about yourself from your vantage point.
- Choose a specific event or experience to write about. Don’t try to summarize your entire life in 750-1000 words. Instead, focus on 1-3 specific events or experiences that “had” a significant impact on your life. This could be a personal challenge you overcame, a time you learned something important about yourself, or an accomplishment you are proud of.
- Get creative with the introduction and provide some context as to what moment in your life that we are reading about.
- Remember that you’re writing page 613, not page 10. A lot should’ve happened between now and this page in your autobiography. Dream big!
- Be specific and provide details. Don’t just tell the reader what happened. Show them. Use vivid language and imagery to bring your story to life. The more specific you can be, the more memorable your story will be. It’s hard to imagine yourself in the moment, especially when that moment never happened, but the more you can picture your future self the more accurate and entertaining this page in your autobiography will become.
- Be honest and authentic. This is your autobiography, so don’t be afraid to be yourself. Share your true thoughts and feelings, even if they are not always positive. Colleges want to get to know the real you, so don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.
For this prompt, you are given more words than the Common App essay, so you have more than enough freedom to embellish your story and share details that explain how you ended up where you are at that moment in your life. Because it is only one page of an autobiography, it may be best to avoid talking about more than 1 year of your life.
For example, try not to summarize two decades worth of research that led to your winning the Nobel Prize. Instead focus on the one pivotal year where you received an international grant that gave you just enough funding to study the important molecular underpinnings of stem cell regeneration. Talk about the memories of staying up late at night, fearing that your funding would run out and you would have to close the lab and lay-off your colleagues. Share the stories of the trials and errors of growing the cell cultures. Discuss the “eureka” moment you had one Saturday morning when running through Central Park. The more details you can share to put the reader in your shoes, the more convincing your story will become.
Honors Applicants, Prompt 1, Option B
Discuss a challenge to one of your core beliefs and how you responded (750-1000 words).
The purpose of this essay prompt is twofold. First, it encourages you to reflect on a deeply held belief, illustrating your capacity for introspection and self-awareness. Then, it requires you to evaluate a situation where this belief was challenged, showcasing your ability to consider alternative perspectives, engage in critical thinking, and adapt to new ideas or situations.
Ultimately, the admissions officers are looking to understand more about your character, your thought processes, and how you handle conflicts or challenges.
This prompt is very similar to the Common App prompt # 3. However because the Yeshiva undergraduate application is not on the Common Application, you should be okay to borrow ideas from that essay if you’ve already written it, however, the prompts are slightly different so don’t just copy and paste your essay over.
Choosing a Topic
- Reflect on your core beliefs: Identify a belief that is fundamental to your identity or worldview. This could be related to politics, religion, ethics, or even personal principles such as hard work or honesty.
- Identify a challenge: Recall an incident where this belief was significantly challenged. This could be a conversation with someone holding opposing views, an article or book that presented a contrasting perspective, or an experience that made you question your belief.
- Assess your response: Consider how you responded to the challenge. Did you defend your belief, alter it, or adopt a new one entirely?
Writing the Essay
A good way to open the essay—and really, almost any personal essay—is to tell an anecdote. That helps draw the reader in and engage them in the narrative you are telling. In this case, you might start with the incident itself, or, if you are describing a long incident or series of experiences, a particular moment. You have more than enough space in this response to nail down the specific details.
More importantly though, you want to describe how the experience affected you. Remember, the essay is less about the specific experience and more about what it reveals about your character and your value system. Provide substantial analysis that shows how you responded: What did you feel while you were doing what you did, and how did you feel afterwards? Did the challenge make you defensive? Did it prompt you to question your beliefs or seek out more information?
Ultimately, the essay should showcase your ability to grow and learn from challenging experiences. Whether or not your belief changed, reflect on what you learned from the experience and how it has shaped you as a person.
Finally, remember that authenticity is crucial. Write in your own voice and be honest about your experiences and reflections. Don’t try to present yourself as having all the answers, but rather as someone who is open to growth and learning.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Being superficial: This is a deeply personal essay that requires genuine self-reflection. Avoid glossing over your feelings or experiences.
- Being closed-minded: Show that you are open to different perspectives, even if you ultimately maintain your original belief.
- Overemphasizing the challenge: While the challenge to your belief is important, the focus should be on your response and the growth that resulted from the experience.
Alex, a high school senior, has always believed that individual actions, no matter how small, can contribute significantly to environmental conservation. This belief has guided many of Alex’s actions and decisions, from living a low-waste lifestyle to refusing to take flights.
Alex’s belief was challenged during a school debate where a classmate argued that individual actions are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and that meaningful change can only be achieved through systemic changes implemented by governments and corporations. This classmate argued that placing the onus on individuals to solve environmental problems is a way for corporations and governments to shirk their responsibilities.
This incident caused Alex to reflect on their belief and consider the validity of their classmate’s argument. While Alex still believes in the importance of individual actions, they came to realize that it’s not enough on its own and must be complemented by systemic changes at the governmental and corporate levels.
Alex can write an essay about this experience, detailing the initial belief, the challenge, the reflection process, and how the belief evolved. The essay can also touch on how this new perspective will influence Alex’s future actions and advocacy efforts, recognizing the importance of both individual and systemic changes in addressing environmental issues.
Honors Applicants, Prompt 2
Pick one of the three words below and write a short essay on it that gives us insight into your character in 150 words.
This prompt asks you to reflect on a key aspect of your character by exploring one of three abstract concepts: kindness, trust, or time. Your chosen concept will serve as a lens through which the admissions committee can gain insight into your personality, values, and experiences.
Since the essay is limited to 150 words, it’s essential to be concise and focused in your response.
Picking a Topic
The word you choose should resonate deeply with you and offer a unique insight into your character. Don’t just pick a word you think the admissions committee wants to hear about; choose the one that genuinely reflects an important aspect of your personality.
Your word should be tied to a unique story, as that will help set your essay apart. A common pitfall of this kind of essay would be writing about these qualities generally instead of relating them to who you are.
Writing the Essay
- Be specific: Due to the word limit, you won’t have space to discuss the concept in abstract terms. Instead, focus on a specific anecdote or experience that illustrates your relationship with the chosen concept.
- Show, don’t tell: Rather than explicitly stating your qualities, use your chosen anecdote to demonstrate them implicitly. For example, instead of saying “I am kind,” narrate an incident where your actions exhibited kindness.
- Reflect: Briefly reflect on why the chosen incident is significant to you and what it reveals about your character.
Sarah is a student who is passionate about history and storytelling, so she chose the word TIME.
She can begin her essay by bringing readers into the moment she was visiting her town’s local museum, where she learned about a historical figure from her town who made a significant impact on the community. Inspired by this story, Sarah decided to create a series of short stories that reimagine key moments in her town’s history from different perspectives.
Sarah can reflect on how delving into the past helped her understand the complexities of the present and the importance of preserving and reinterpreting history. She can discuss how this creative exploration of “time” reveals her character traits of curiosity, empathy, and a desire to connect with others through storytelling.
Where to Get Your Yeshiva University Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Yeshiva essays to improve your chances at admission? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. 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!