How to Write the Yale Application Supplemental Essays (2017-18)

Yale University is, of course, one of the most prestigious and highly selective universities in the world. Yale prides itself on welcoming the best and the brightest to its gorgeous Gothic campus in New Haven, CT. Admitted students learn from acclaimed professors and unparalleled academic programs. Graduates go on to achieve the greatest of heights, from winning Pulitzer Prizes to snagging a seat in the Oval Office. 

That's all well and good, you're thinking, but what does it take to get in

Of all the Ivy League universities, Yale arguably places the greatest emphasis on student interest and fit. That means Yale wants to admit applicants who: A) REALLY want to go to Yale, B) have SPECIFIC reasons for wanting to go Yale, and C) can illustrate HOW they will take advantage of Yale's many resources. These are the qualities you should highlight in your supplemental essays and short takes.

Now, let's analyze the Yale supplemental essay prompts and consider the best strategies for acing each one.

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What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (required, 125 words)

The infamous Why X University essay requires careful research and planning, particularly in Yale's case. Yale admissions officers are infamously sensitive to applicants' interest – and that doesn't mean interest in Yale's name brand, or interest in getting into an Ivy League school, or interest in going to Rory Gilmore's alma mater. No, admissions officers want proof that you know why Yale, specifically, is the right place for you to pursue your goals. After all, there are plenty of elite schools out there; what makes Yale different, for you?

In practice, answering this question well means conducting fairly extensive research. Look into specific professors, courses, student organizations, campus traditions, and other opportunities. Include vivid, descriptive details that show readers that you can really envision yourself thriving on campus. Make connections between your current activities and those that are available to you on Yale's campus. And don't remind admissions officers that Yale is a prestigious school. Trust us, they know

Short Takes (required, 200 characters)

The following four short takes questions require applicants to demonstrate their passions and multi-dimensional personalities in 200 characters or less. No pressure! Luckily, by employing a few key strategies, you can tackle the short takes without fear. 

1. What inspires you?

Elsewhere in your application, you've demonstrated your specific interests, passions, and goals. You've listed the hundreds of hours you've dedicated to extracurricular activities. Now, Yale wants to know why. Why did you do it? What was the inspiring impetus for all of that effort and dedication? Admissions officers hope that your answer to this question reveals genuine authenticity.

Think of your response as a personal mission statement. What is the central guiding mission that connects your past accomplishments and future goals? In one sentence, capture the essence of that mission. Use your own voice here, and don't be afraid to be bold and earnest and ambitious – after all, every big accomplishment starts with a big dream. 

To get started, try writing a bullet-pointed list of answers to that WHY question. Don't think, pre-judge, or censor yourself – just write every single answer you can think of. When you run out of steam, read over your responses and look for patterns or key words that repeatedly come up. These will likely form the backbone of your final answer.

2. Yale’s residential colleges regularly host intimate conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?

Yale admissions officers are looking for intellectually curious, engaged applicants. After all, Yale students are treated to visits from fascinating, diverse, accomplished people from around the world. The admissions team wants to ensure that they admit students who will be excited to attend these events.

Your response should demonstrate a unique perspective and connect in some way to the rest of your application. Interested in tech? Don't pick someone obvious like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. Dig a little deeper – think about interesting, engaging figures on the cutting edge of the tech world right now. Or, look for an accomplished person in your specific niche. The best questions will demonstrate that applicants are in-the-know about their chosen guest speaker's field. Essentially, your goal should be to demonstrate deep intellectual engagement in a specific field.

3. You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?

Take a look at Yale's course listings. Notice how specific and focused many of the course titles are? You can invent an equally focused course that aligns with several of your interests at once. Are you an equestrian who's passionate about art history? You'd surely be a great candidate to teach "Horses in Art: Symbolism and Significance." Or, if you have particular expertise in a field, you can create a course that hones in on your specialty.  

However, you're also free to break out of your shell and demonstrate an interest outside of your primary niche.  For example, if you're a pop culture lover with an interest in gender studies, "The Boy Band in American History" might be the course for you. You've done a good job showing how serious you are about your interests and goals throughout the application; feel free to loosen up and share a different side of yourself in this response.

4. Most first year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite?

This is a personality question. What type of role do you see yourself playing in a future suite? You have a few different structural options here.

You can create a list of features, both small and large, that you'll bring to the suite dynamic (e.g. "warm and supportive friendship, my excellent banana bread recipe, a passion for movie nights"). The list format enables you to reveal small, personal details that might not pop up elsewhere in your application.  

Alternatively, you can choose to strongly identify with a specific role: "I will be the debate moderator, always interested in others' opinions and eager to hear all sides."

Focus on being personal, detailed, and true to yourself. Rather than trying to mold yourself into your idea of the ideal Yale student, remember that the admissions team really does want to admit a diverse array of applicants, each of whom will bring unique strengths to their classrooms and friendships at Yale. 

Essays (2 out of 3 required, 250 words)

1. What do you most enjoy learning?

Yale wants to see genuine enthusiasm here. What topic could you talk about for hours without getting bored? What do you read about in your spare time? This topic is likely to be connected somehow to your primary application narrative – don't fake enthusiasm for something you're only somewhat interested in.  

Your main goal should be to convey enthusiasm and passion. Don't just describe your favorite subject – tell the readers how YOU engage with that subject. Offer vivid details of your engagement in classroom discussion, describe the rewarding nature of searching for truth through the slow and methodical research process, or capture the giddiness you feel as you crack open a new book about your favorite subject.  

2. Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?

This question becomes a stumbling block for applicants who worry they haven't made a big enough impact. In fact, this is a common concern for frustrated students, many of whom half-jokingly complain that they won't get into college because they "didn't cure cancer." Let us make this completely clear: no one expects you to cure cancer!  Simply by being a good student, friend, and citizen, you have made meaningful contributions to your community. The trick to answering this question is figuring out how to frame those contributions in the best possible way.

The best strategy here is to think of scenarios in which you've played a meaningful leadership role. Think about clubs in which you held a leadership position, groups or events you organized, and volunteer or activist work you did. Then, reflect on specific anecdotes from those scenarios. Which stories stand out as being demonstrative of your broader role/impact?

For example, perhaps as the student government vice president, you helped resolve a conflict (even a minor conflict!) between the president and treasurer. Describe your effort, then reflect on how your strengths as a mediator improved the dynamic of the student government as a whole. 

3. Write about something you would like us to know about you that you have not conveyed elsewhere in your application.

This question is ideal for applicants who have something important to share that doesn't seem to fit into any other essay prompt. For example, you could elaborate on extenuating life circumstances and explain how you overcame them or describe the impact of a major life experience on your personal growth and development. These are crucial pieces of information that the admissions officers will benefit from knowing.

You also have the flexibility to be a little wacky here – but make sure you're wacky with a purpose. Go ahead and write about your quirkiest habit as long as you draw a meaningful connection between that habit and your core identity.  For example, tell us about your personal tradition of waking up each day before sunrise, then explain why that tradition is important to you: you relish the feeling of possibility offered by a new day and the sight of the rising sun inspires you to make the most of your opportunities. 

Conclusion

As you write your Yale application essays, remember that each response is another opportunity to showcase your personality, your strengths, and the unique qualities you'll bring to the Yale campus. Take a deep breath. You can do this!

We'll be posting "How to Write the Application Supplemental Essay" guides for Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, MIT and more soon – stay tuned!

Looking for personalized assistance with your Yale application and essays? Learn more about our Admissions Advising Program and Essay Coaching services. 

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