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3 Tips for Writing Stellar Yale Supplement Essays

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Yale admits just over 4% of their total applicant pool every year. If you want to be one of those admitted students, you'll need to write amazing Yale essays as part of your Yale University application.

In this article, we'll outline the different types of essays you need to write for your Yale University application and teach you how to write a Yale supplement essay that will help you stand out from the thousands of other applicants.

 

What Are the Yale Essay Prompts?

Yale University requires you to submit multiple short answer questions and one essay, depending on whether you are submitting the Common Application, QuestBridge Application, or Coalition Application.

You will choose from a selection of topics for the longer Yale supplement essay questions. The prompts are the same for both the Common and the Coalition application, but the number of prompts you'll choose to answer is different depending on which application you use to apply.

You'll also complete short answer questions regardless of which application you're using. It’s important to note that Common, Coalition, and QuestBridge applications all require short answer questions, but only Common and Coalition applications require a second set of short answer questions and a supplemental essay.

The short answer questions for the Yale essays range in word limit from 35 words to 250 words. These essays are specific to the Yale application—you won't find them on any other college or university's application.

Although they are short, the Yale supplement essays are just as important as the longer essays.

The Yale supplemental essay questions offer you plenty of opportunity to show off your qualifications as an applicant and wow the admissions committee.

 

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2023-2024 Yale Essay Questions

Applicants who fill out the Common Application or the Coalition Application will answer one of the following three prompts:

Essay Prompt #1: Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful? (400 words or fewer)

Essay Prompt #2: Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you’d like. (400 words or fewer)

Essay Prompt #3: Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you? (400 words or fewer)

 

Yale Supplement Essay Prompts Analyzed

Now that you've read through the Yale supplemental essay prompts, let's take a closer look at how to answer them. 

Essay Prompt #1

Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful? (400 words or fewer)


This essay asks you to reflect on your ability to engage with opposing ideas and to modify your own
—or to hold firm, if need be! It's a tall order, but a very, very important subject. Whether you changed your mind a little, a lot, or not at all, this prompt asks you to explain why the discussion, itself, was meaningful to you. 

Yale admissions officers want to know that you can participate in a healthy exchange of ideas with others without compromising yourself or shutting down the conversation. This is very important, as it's a huge part of collegiate life!

For this essay, you'll need to think of a pretty specific scenario. Maybe you had a class conversation about a controversial subject, or maybe you talked to a parent, relative, or friend about a subject you disagreed on. Did you know going into the conversation that you disagreed? How did that affect the way you spoke? What was the tone of your conversation? How did it resolve (or did it)? Most importantly, what did you take away from the experience and how did it impact you? How has it shaped your belifs and the way you interact with others who do not share them? 

 

Essay Prompt #2

Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you’d like. (400 words or fewer)


This essay provides a great place to let the committee see a side of you that has nothing to do with academics. There are so many possible answers here: family, sports teams, religious school, AV club, and even virtual communities are viable options to write about. Whatever community you choose, be sure to pick one that has made an impression on you and to which you feel connected.

Have fun with this Yale essay. Don't feel pressure to talk about how much charity work you do—chances are a lot of applicants will go that route and it will seem inauthentic. (Unless charity work is actually your jam. If that's the case, go for it!)

You also have the opportunity to define “community” on your terms here. If you have a unique experience with a group of people that may not look like a traditional community to outsiders, writing about that experience can help you stand out in the admissions process. For instance, if your football team came together with a rival team to provide hurricane relief and bonded in the process, that would be an out-of-the-box take on community connection to highlight in your essay. 

However you decide to define “community,” make sure to explain why the community you choose is meaningful to you. Before putting pen to paper, consider making a list and reflecting on why this particular community holds meaning for you. What values, traditions, or shared experiences within the community are special to you? How has this community impacted your personal growth? Your beliefs? Your worldview? Answering these questions about your community is a great place to start!

Let your voice shine through in this one and don't be afraid to be creative. Since you have a larger word allotment you can show off some of your prosaic chops. Don't try too hard though! Be yourself—the committee will appreciate you for it.

 

Essay Prompt #3

Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you? (400 words or fewer)


This essay gives you an opportunity to consider your past, explore what you learned and how you grew, and explain how it will help you bring value to Yale. Just like with the last prompt, you have the freedom to pick from a wide range of experiences. This could be an event, a relationship, a passion, or even a challenge you faced.

Once you’ve picked the “element” you want to focus your essay on, take some time to think about how the experience impacted you. Did you learn a lesson from it? Were you able to build any valuable skills? Did it change or help you develop important personal values? You don’t want to choose just anything to write about, here—you want to choose something that had a profound effect on you and who you consider yourself to be.

Last but definitely not least: you’ll need to explain how Yale and its community will benefit from having you on campus. Draw connections between what you learned from your experience and how you’ll encounter classes, peers, teachers, and others on campus. Whether it’s contributing to academic discussions, participating in extracurricular activities, or fostering a positive campus culture, show how your experience will impact your time at Yale in a positive way.

 


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2023-2024 Yale Short Answer Questions

There are three required Yale short answer questions. Every student applying to Yale must answer these three prompts:

  • Students at Yale have 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)

  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

 

 

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Yale Short Answer Questions Analyzed

The longer short answer prompts listed above are required of all applicants. The prompts are the same for both applications. Remember, all three prompts are required. 

We’ll break down how to respond to each Yale short answer prompt next.

 

Yale Short Answer Question 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.

 

First off—follow the directions here exactly. ONLY use areas of study from the list provided in the above link and be sure to mention no more than three.

Here, Yale is giving you the opportunity to show some range in your interests, but keeping your writing brief and honest is key.

Less is more here—don't be afraid to only list one interest. Although it may be unrealistic to choose a major before you enter college, there is no harm in expressing what excites you right now. You will not have to stick to this major throughout your Yale career, unless of course you want to. Since you're just listing one to three subjects from the list provided and nothing more, this "short answer" question is just that: short! 

 

Yale Short Answer Question 2

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)

 

This prompt asks you to show that you have independent intellectual interests and take the initiative to connect them to your academic goals. Your answer to this question should showcase the curiosity, passion, and drive that you’ll contribute to the Yale community!

A good answer to this question will include the following elements: 1) a topic or idea that you're curious about, 2) how you engage with that topic or idea, and 3) which major(s) you think will best help you pursue your topic or idea.

So, start out by describing your topic of interest or idea. For example, say you're interested in how tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons promote key education skills like literacy and mental math. Think about what excites you most about your topic or idea and explain those things in your response.

You'll want to briefly explain how you engage with your topic or idea as well. For instance, maybe you play Dungeons and Dragons at a local gaming store every weekend, and you notice lots of middle-schoolers are dropped off by their parents to play games. These observations could have sparked your questions about literacy learning and tabletop gaming! Including some of the context will help ground your response in a story that admissions counselors can connect with.

You also need to explain why you're drawn to your idea or topic. If it's the tabletop gaming we discussed above, maybe you'll talk about how you struggled with reading as a young student and playing tabletop games helped you develop your skills. Including an explanation of why you're drawn to your topic or idea is an important component of your response.

Finally, make sure you connect everything back to Yale. How will Yale help foster your commitment to studying tabletop gaming and literacy? Which major(s) or minor(s) would best support your intellectual endeavor? How will your curiosity help you make a significant impact as a Yale student? And why is Yale the only school that can foster your creativity and turn it into success? At the end of the day, admissions counselors want to better understand why Yale is the best place for you to explore your interests!

 

Yale Short Answer Question 3

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

 

This short answer question seems simple at first glance—and if you know how to hack it, it can be! Known as the “Why Yale?” essay, the question above is asking you to show Yale admissions why you’re a perfect fit for their school. Essentially, this is Yale's version of a "Why This College?" essay!

So how do you convince Yale that you absolutely belong there in 125 words or fewer? You do your research, take inventory of your future goals, and use your best writing skills to convey that your values are aligned with Yale’s values. 

To write an effective response to the “Why Yale?” question, start out by learning everything you can about Yale. You’ll want to focus your research on discovering things about Yale that really spark your excitement and feel truly meaningful to you. Doing your research on Yale’s identity and traditions will help you explain why you belong there!

Once you’ve done your research, think about the places where your values align with Yale’s values. Your answer needs to show that you and Yale make a perfect match—that you’ll play off of each other’s strengths, and that you’ll bring that missing piece that Yale needs to be complete. 

While you want to be honest and genuine here, the purpose of this essay is for you to convince Yale admissions that you’re prepared to support Yale’s mission and that Yale is the perfect place for you to grow and flourish. So pick a couple of specific, unique-to-you reasons why you want to go to Yale, and explain them in your best, error-free prose in this short answer response. This is your big opportunity to show why Yale is the only school for you!  

 

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Are you using the Common App or Coalition App? There are additional short answer questions for you!

 

2023-2024 Yale Short Answer Questions (Common and Coalition Applications

Every applicant must respond to four Yale-specific short answers if you're using the Coalition or Common App.

The Yale short answer questions are just that: very short. Some only require 35 word answers. We will talk about how to answer these questions later. For now, let's take a look at the prompts themselves:

  • What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

  • If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be? (35 words or fewer)

  • Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence? (35 words or fewer)

  • What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application? (35 words or fewer)


All of these short takes must be 35 words or fewer and 200 characters (letters, spaces, and symbols/numbers) or fewer. That means you'll have to think hard—and edit harder!—to make word count.

 

2023-2024 Yale Short Answer Questions Analyzed (Common and Coalition) 

In this section, we'll be looking at the short answer Yale supplement essays in depth.

Remember, every applicant using the Coalition or Common Application must answer all essay prompts, so you don't get to choose which essay you would like to write. It is important that you answer each of the Yale essay prompts strongly as they are all of equal importance.

Let's take a look at each Yale short essay question and see how to write something meaningful for each.

 

Yale Short Answer Question 1

What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

 

Caution! Due to its small word requirement here, you may be tempted to be witty or sardonic in your answer. Resist the urge! Again, go with authenticity rather than cleverness. If something charming or funny arises from your answer naturally, check with your guidance counselor, English teacher, or another trusted editor before turning it in. Humor can read as flippant and the application committee could think that you are not taking your application seriously.

Good answers to this question range from inspirational people, to remarkable landscapes, to fine dining. There is no correct answer, so have fun answering!

Think about what this prompt is asking: what inspires you? What gets you excited and motivated? Avoid trite answers at all costs. Don't say how inspired you are by "the world in all its vastness." Instead look inward, and think about when you have felt the best about yourself, and most energized to do the things you love. What made you feel that way? Who? And how did you act on that inspiration?

 

Yale Short Answer Question 2

If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be? (35 words or fewer)

 

Another fun one! Once again: no cliches, no obvious answers, and no comedy.

Here’s a chance to show off something you feel you have mastery over. Instead of projecting into the future when you are a famous playwright and have the chops to teach a class or write a book about fantastical realism in modern theater, pick something that you know about right now.

Maybe you speak a second language. Maybe you collect insects or press flowers. Maybe you are an expert at self-care for busy students. This question is not designed to get a better sense of your ambitions or goals. Here the committee wants to learn about the abilities and passions in which you already feel confident. 

 

Yale Short Answer Question 3

Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence? (35 words or fewer)

 


This short answer is a snapshot into your character and the meaningful connections that have shaped your journey. There are two key limitations here: your response has to be 35 words or fewer, and you have to focus on someone you’re not related to. Think hard about influential people outside of your family: mentors, teachers, friends, or even people from your larger community.

For the best response, pick someone who has had an important impact on your life and who you’ve become. Focus on a quality this person has, a lesson they taught you, or an experience you had together that you can use to talk about how they’ve influenced you in an important way. Nothing is off the table here—this could be a piece of advice your academic advisor gave you, a hard-working coworker you modeled your work ethic off of, or a shared experience with your best friend that formed an unbreakable connection.

Whoever you choose to write about, remember to keep it short, authentic, and insightful!

 

Yale Short Answer Question 4

What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application? (35 words or fewer)

 

This question gives you the opportunity to (briefly!) share a part of yourself that you wish had made it onto your application. Maybe it's an event you coordinated that didn't quite fit into any category on the app, or maybe it's something you're deeply passionate about. Resist the urge to say something goofy or lighten the mood, and, instead, dig deep to think of an example that makes you quintessentially you.

 

 

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How to Write a Great Yale Essay

Regardless of which Yale short answer question you're responding to, you should keep in mind the following tips for how to write a great Yale essay.

 

#1: Use Your Own Voice

The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.

You should, then, make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not.

If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Yale wants you to be.

 

#2: Avoid Cliches and Overused Phrases

When writing your Yale essays, try to avoid using cliches or overused quotes or phrases.

These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Strive for originality.

Similarly, avoid using cliches, which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work.

 

#3: Check Your Work

It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Yale essays are the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Yale application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.

Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.

It's a good idea to have someone else read your Yale essays, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.

 

Recap: The Key to Yale Essays That Work

The Yale essays cover a wide range of topics. Regardless of the question you're answering, remember to follow these basic dos and don'ts as you're writing:

 

DO

  • Be authentic and honest
  • Be specific when citing people, places and things
  • Strive for brevity and simplicity; less is more!
  • Be yourself, and do your research—both will shine through in your essays!

 

DON'T

  • Base your essays on what you think the Yale application committee wants to hear
  • Use cliches or broad sweeping statements
  • Try too hard to be funny and original—be genuine and your positive attributes will be visible to the committee.

 

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What's Next?

Trying to figure out what to study in college? Have no fear—our guide will help you choose the best major for you, one step at a time.

Really want to get into Yale? Using an acceptance calculator will help you figure out your chances of getting into the schools at the top of your list so you know how to up your odds.

It's a great time to start researching scholarships. It's never too early to start thinking about how you're going to pay for college!

 


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.



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