A Guide to the Application Process at Yale
This article is a first-person account from Robert Crystal, a Yale student and CollegeVine livestreamer and contributor. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- My Application Journey
- Applying Early
- Personal Statement
- Yale Supplemental Essays
- Letters of Continued Interest
- Staying Grounded as You Wait for Admissions Decisions
My Application Journey
During the fall of my senior year in high school, I applied restrictive early action to Yale University because I knew it was my dream school, but I was deferred. I was 100% certain that I wanted to attend Yale, and if it had offered me a spot, I would have accepted and never applied to another school. Although I didn’t get in early, I also wasn’t rejected. Being deferred to the regular admissions round felt like a significant event in my life.
I had planned and prepared so much for applying to Yale, and I was convinced that it was the place for me, but the deferral forced me to reevaluate. As a result, I applied to 10 more schools while continuing the application process at Yale. I sent Yale’s admissions office a letter of continued interest in which I shared updates on my life and recent accomplishments since applying early. More importantly, I used the letter as an opportunity to reaffirm my continued interest in attending Yale.
When college admissions decisions were released for the regular decision round, I was already grateful that I had been accepted to so many schools. Fortunately, the last letter that I opened was the decision letter from Yale—my dream school. After being deferred during the early decision round, I was finally admitted. I accepted the offer immediately because I was certain that Yale was my home.
Applying early decision and early action does, in some respects, increase your chances of admission. First, fewer people are applying early, which gives you a greater chance of being admitted. Second, the very act of applying early is a strong signal to admissions officers of your genuine interest in attending a given school. But the early decision and early action applicant pools are often more competitive because there is a greater percentage of top-performing applicants with stronger-than-average grades and test scores, as well as more legacy applicants.
Regardless of your chances of admission, if you know for certain that there is a particular school that you want to attend above all others, you should waste no time and apply early. But if you’re not sure and are still doing your research, reflecting on what you want and where you want to go, wait until the regular decision deadline to apply.
Also, if you believe that you’ll be a more competitive applicant after you finish the first semester of your senior year, you should wait for the regular decision deadline. This could be because you are taking a rigorous course load, and you want admissions officers to see your impeccable first-semester grades. It could also be because you have a major competition, performance, or showcase occurring after the early decision deadline that will strengthen your application.
When I applied to college six years ago, I wrote my personal statement for the Common Application in response to the following prompt:
“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
In my essay, I wrote about the importance of classics, dead languages, and their cultures in my life. I started by describing how I would fall asleep to audiobooks about Greek mythology as a child. Then, I discussed various academic programs, internships, and summer opportunities where I had the privilege to travel the world and study foreign and ancient languages. Ultimately, my essay explored how formative it was to study the classics and how they helped me become an inquisitive, passionate student and person. For me, this was the background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful that I would have been incomplete without it.
Yale Supplemental Essays
I wrote my supplemental essay in response to the following prompt:
“Please reflect on what you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application or on something about which you want to say more. You can write about anything from personal experiences to goals, to interests, or intellectual pursuits.”
In this essay, I wrote about the summer after my junior year of high school, when I worked at an archaeological dig on the north slope of Mount Vesuvius. Although the program was designed for graduate students, I persisted and was admitted as a high schooler with no real qualifications aside from the conviction that I knew Latin.
For me, that was another example of my lifelong tendency to seize opportunities that sparked my interest without considering whether I had enough time or energy to take on a new project or commitment. I was used to having a packed schedule, and I never worried much about failure. But as far as that approach had carried me, I met my match with the archaeological dig when I found myself sweltering every day under the summer heat while carrying wheelbarrows and hacking away at the slopes of a mountain to excavate an ancient Roman bathhouse.
I had literally and figuratively landed in a ditch. It was the first time that I felt truly out of my depth. It was naive of me to think that my limited classroom experience had prepared me well for an archeological dig. Nevertheless, I was too afraid to fail in front of the professors and other students, and I was determined to prove—to myself and others—that I had earned my right to be there. Ultimately, my essay told the story of the first time that I truly bit off more than I could chew and how my intense fear of failure and a strong desire to succeed helped me persevere, cementing the experience as one of the most rewarding in my life.
Letters of Continued Interest
If you are deferred after applying early action or early decision, be prepared to send a letter of continued interest to the school in February. In this letter, share what has unfolded in your life since you first applied. This includes your first-semester grades and any other major updates or accomplishments. You want to demonstrate that you have continued to push and challenge yourself after applying, and you should restate how interested you are in attending that school. A letter of continued interest cannot hurt your application—it will either have no impact or might even bolster it. Truth be told, I don’t know what impact, if any, my letter had on Yale’s decision to admit me.
Staying Grounded as You Wait for Admissions Decisions
College applications are a matchmaking process. It’s not just about you and it’s not just about the school. It’s about whether admissions officers think you and the school are an optimal match. Of course, there is also an element of randomness to the process, and just because you are not accepted to one school doesn’t mean you won’t be the right person for another school. The right place is out there, and hopefully, your whole list resonates with you, so any school that accepts you would be a place that you could see yourself attending. Most of all, always remember that no college acceptance, deferral, or rejection should determine your self-worth.
It’s extremely competitive to get into college, and there are considerably more qualified applicants than spots available. These schools wish that they could admit more students, but there are capacity and resource limitations.
Ultimately, you will receive your acceptances, decide on a school to attend, and have a transformative and enriching experience. Keep this in mind throughout the admissions process, and know that you are going to build an amazing future for yourself no matter what school you choose—whether it’s one that you have always dreamed of attending or one that you never thought that you would call home. For instance, I’ve always known that Yale was my dream school, but I met many people in college for whom Yale was not their first choice. With all this in mind, just know that it’s you, the student—not the school—that will determine how gratifying and rewarding your college experience will be.