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How to Write the Yale “Intellectual Interest” Essay

This article is a first-person account by Hale Jaeger, a CollegeVine livestream contributor. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered



Any student interested in applying to Yale University can do so using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or QuestBridge. Yale applicants are required to respond to two short-answer questions. In this article, we break down the first prompt, which asks about your intellectual interests.  


Prompt 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)


Choosing Your Topic


In this essay, you should dive deep into one specific topic, not an entire subject. To do this, you can focus on a particular aspect of your desired major, or if you’re not declaring a major, concentrate on an area of interest that you want to take classes in during your first year of college. If you don’t declare a major on your Yale application, that is perfectly fine. This is what Yale is talking about in the prompt: they want students to have the freedom to explore their academic interests during their first two years of college. 


In each of your essays, write about something that you haven’t already covered in another essay. The admissions counselors at Yale will read all of them, so you don’t want to repeat information. If you do choose to write more about a topic that you discussed in another essay, make sure to cover a unique aspect of that topic or present a different perspective.


Why You Should Be Specific


You should be specific with this essay because many students will write about similar topics. College admissions officers are humans too, and they don’t want to read about the same topic in hundreds of essays. For this reason, try to be as unique or specific as possible. Also, choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in, not just something that you think an admissions counselor will want to read about. It is easy for readers to tell if you are passionate about a topic. 


If you are writing about something that you learned in class, either through an exam or a project that you worked on, you should elaborate on the topic outside of the classroom. This prompt is about a topic that you are passionate about, so a mandatory assignment won’t convey your interest to the fullest extent. It’s fine if that is where you were first introduced to the topic, but most of your essay should focus on your experience outside of mandatory work. 


Make Your Writing Reflective 


For a topic that covers your academic or intellectual interest, you want to make at least part of your essay reflective. It is one thing to say that you are passionate about a topic, but it is something else to express why you are passionate about it. Reflecting on why this topic is important to you will show your reader more about your personality. The topic will have no meaning if you don’t include a moment of reflection. In terms of essay structure, start by introducing the topic, explain how you became interested in it, and then spend the rest of the essay discussing your past experiences with the topic and why it is important to you. 


Part of making your essay reflective is talking about how you have engaged with this topic in the past. Ask yourself how you have already committed to furthering your knowledge and the steps that you will take in the future. By reflecting on your past, you can get a better understanding of your future goals. This will give the admissions officer reading your essay an insight into what kind of student you will be at Yale and the kind of career path that you could have after graduation.