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How to Write the “Community” and “Issue” Yale Essays

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered



In this article, we discuss strategies for writing Yale University’s “Community” and “Issue” supplemental essays. Applicants using the Common App or Coalition Application to apply to Yale are required to choose one of these two prompts and respond to it in 400 words or fewer. The first prompt is the “Issue” essay prompt, which reads:


Yale carries out its mission “through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community.” Reflect on a time when you exchanged ideas about an important issue with someone holding an opposing view. How did the experience lead you either to change your opinion or to sharpen your reasons for holding onto it? (400 words)


The second prompt is the “Community” essay prompt:


Reflect on a time when you have worked to enhance a community to which you feel connected. Why have these efforts been meaningful to you? You may define community however you like. (400 words)


In this article, we discuss choosing topics for each of these essays and strategies to structure them.


The “Community” Essay: Choosing a Community


The Yale “Community” essay prompt clearly states that you can define community however you wish, which means you can choose to write about any kind of community that you feel you are a member of. When considering potential communities, start by brainstorming any groups you are part of that have defined boundaries, such as your town, school, team, or religious organization.


There are also informal communities that you could choose from, such as your friend group, family, coworkers, or neighborhood. Even though these groups have less of a formal definition, they are still communities. What matters most is that the community that you choose is important to you, that you have contributed to it, and that you have learned something from it.


Structuring the “Community” Essay


When structuring this essay, think about it in three sections. The first introduces the community, the second demonstrates your contributions to the community, and the third explains what the community has given and taught you. As you write, keep in mind that this essay is a two-way street; you want to show what you have given to your community and what it has given you.


Introduce the Community


The first step in writing this essay is to introduce the community. Explain who is part of the community and what the community is like. Highlight the community’s structure by demonstrating how you are part of it and how you interact with your peers, superiors, or inferiors within the group. It is also important to depict the community’s dynamic in this part of the essay. For example, is it fun, relaxed, and loving, or is it rigorous, challenging, and thought provoking? 


Show What You’ve Contributed


The next section of this essay should discuss your engagement with this community and what you’ve contributed to it. Consider what you’ve done, what initiatives you’ve brought to the community, and what your role is within it. You can also highlight anything that you had to give up to be part of the community.


Show What You’ve Learned


The last part of this essay should discuss what you have gained and learned from this community. For this portion, consider things that the community has given and taught you, as well as ways that it has helped you grow. Think about how this community has shaped who you are and who you are becoming.


The “Issue” Essay: Choosing Your Issue


The other prompt option is the “Issue” essay. The first step for this one is to define what your issue is. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it’s something that has enough nuance for you to talk about it in a complex and intelligent way.


Make sure it’s an issue of some relevance to you; otherwise, it will come across as dispassionate. As you write this essay, you should show that you are somebody who cares about an issue that they think is significant. 


Grand Issues


When selecting an issue, you can either choose a grand one or a local one. Grand issues are big, unsolved problems that are common in society, such as cancer, homelessness, or food insecurity. If you do choose a grand issue, remind yourself of its personal importance. While grand issues are full of nuance, they may lack personal meaning. Examples of personal connections to grand issues could be if you have encountered homelessness, lived with food insecurity, or have lost someone to cancer.


Local Issues


Another topic option is to write about an issue that is local. For example, maybe your high school has a teaching staff that doesn’t represent the diversity of the student body. While this is not a global issue, it’s something that strongly affects you and your community. 


Perhaps you live in a town that is directly suffering from the opioid crisis, or you have divorced parents and have started an activist group for children of divorced parents. Both of these examples of local issues also have personal importance. 


Issues to Avoid


When choosing a topic to write about, avoid issues that you don’t have any connection to and that aren’t personally important. These are often problems that are too grand and can’t be made personal, such as world peace. 


Another category of issues to avoid is anything that doesn’t align with Yale’s values. Yale, like most universities in the United States, generally has a liberal lean. As such, it is likely not in your best interest to write a strong defense of socially conservative values. While there are values that you are free to hold and express—and Yale welcomes people of all backgrounds and ideologies—this essay is not necessarily the best place to express them.


You are most likely applying to Yale because it’s a place that you want to be and have something in common with. This essay is a great opportunity to emphasize the values that you share with the university rather than the things that divide you. Since a reader only has five to seven minutes to go over your entire application, you don’t want them to come away with the sense that you are somebody who won’t thrive at Yale.


Structuring the “Issue” Essay


Define the Issue and Highlight Past Experiences


When writing the “Issue” essay, start by identifying the issue and sharing how you came across it. Then, provide insight into why it is meaningful to you and your relationship with it.


Next, show the reader how you have already engaged with the problem by detailing your past with the issue. 


Discuss Future Plans to Approach the Issue


After this, you can look forward and discuss your future with this issue. A great strategy is to write about how your Yale education will address the problem and how your field of study relates to it. You can also highlight any Yale-specific programs or opportunities that will give you insight or context for tackling the issue. 


Alternatively, if there is something about this issue that Yale’s academic flexibility will enable you to explore, you can share that in this part of the essay. For example, maybe you are interested in health policy and plan to take classes in the sciences. You also want to take classes in the history of health, science, and medicine, as well as political science and economics courses, which you plan to utilize to write new healthcare policies.


Another option is to focus on an aspect of Yale’s community, such as peers, professors, or mentors who will help develop your ability to navigate the issue. Ultimately, you want to demonstrate in this essay that what (and how) you learn at Yale will prepare you to take action and move forward with confronting your issue in the future.