Yale admits just over 6% 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 one or two long essays, 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.
The short answer questions for the Yale essays range in word limit from 35 words to 300 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.
2019-20 Yale Supplement Essay Questions
There are three Yale supplement essay questions, as well as an essay specifically for students applying to the engineering program.
Every student applying to Yale must answer this prompt in 250 words or fewer:
- Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
Students must also choose one of the following prompts and respond to it in 250 words or fewer:
- Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
- Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.
If applying via the Coalition App, you'll also include an audio, video, image, or document file that you have created this is meaningful to you and related in some way to your essay. You'll write one sentence to show how this relates to your essay.
Yale Supplemental Essays Analyzed
There are three longer supplemental essays that applicants submitting the Common or Coalition applications must choose from. The prompts are the same for both applications. Remember, if you're submitting the Common Application, you must respond to two of the three prompts. If you're submitting the Coalition Application, you must respond to two and include a piece of media that's meaningful to you.
Essay Prompt 1
Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
Here you can show off all your nerdy school-related passions with abandon. Well, maybe not too much abandon.
The prompt requires you to discuss one idea or topic, so think carefully about what you want to write about. When thinking of a topic, you can choose anything from your favorite subject in school to a facet of the judicial system that you've been learning about through podcasts. The point here is that whatever you pick should be somehow tied to your academic interests.
In this longer essay you have the chance to show how your interests relate to your ambitions as a Yale student and graduate. Do the best you can to be clear about how your chosen topic or idea could potentially influence your course of study at Yale and maybe even your life in the professional world.
Essay Prompt 2
Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
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—these are all communities and they all have been affected by your presence
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!)
Let your voice shine through in this one and don't be a raid 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
Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.
This prompt is pretty straightforward. Once again, don't write what you think the application committee wants to read. Do research your answer before you write your essay and be honest in your writing.
If nothing comes immediately to mind when you read this prompt, don't panic. Take a moment to make a list of broad issues that interest you. For example, you may be interested in diversity in your hometown, the debate over national health care in America, or drinking water conditions in Africa.
Once you've thought of a general topic, get online and look up a few articles about the issues. In your actual essay answer be as specific as possible. You want to show that you care about the topic, took time to research it, and didn't just scroll through a bunch of trending hashtags related to social justice.
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Optional Engineering Essay
Students applying to Yale's engineering program must also submit the engineering essay as part of their application.
If you selected one of the engineering majors, please tell us more about what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in engineering, and what it is about Yale's engineering program that appeals to you. Please respond in 300 words or fewer.
If you are applying for this program, chances are you have a very real idea of what an engineering degree means in terms of undergraduate study and career opportunities. If you have no real-world experience with engineering, don't make it up. Be sure you have research and real-life examples to back up your claim.
Once more, we'll mention how crucial research and specificity is. Engineering can be a broad area of study, but generally leads to very specific careers. Do your research and plan out this essay in as detailed a fashion as possible. You know, like an engineer would!
2019-20 Yale Short Answer Questions
Every applicant must respond to three Yale-specific short answer questions, plus four more 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.
The prompts answered by all students are:
- 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.
- Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
- What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
The "short takes" prompts answered only by students using the Coalition and Common Application are:
- What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)
- Yale's residential colleges regularly host 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? (35 words or fewer)
- You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (35 words or fewer)
- Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What do you hope to add to your suitemates' experience? What do you hope they will add to yours? (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.
Yale Short Answer Questions Analyzed
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 questions and see how to write something meaningful for each.
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.
Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
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. Just remember that 100 words is not a lot of space, so you may be able to express more if you choose one subject rather than three.
Yale Short Answer Question 2
What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
The best advice we can give you here is to be specific. Do your research before you start in on this prompt. The best answer will have mention of professors, programs and classes that are only available at Yale.
One way to approach this essay is to base it around a conversation you may have had with an alumnus or professor from Yale. The application committee is looking to see how truthful and deep your desire to attend Yale is, so go the extra mile. Reach out to people who have experienced Yale for themselves. Your high school guidance counselor can help you find these connections.
Yale Short Answer Question 3
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 4
Yale's residential colleges regularly host 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? (35 words or fewer)
Here is another prompt you can have fun with. Again, avoid cliches! Don't say "Gandhi" or "MLK"—those are obvious answers that are impossible to achieve.
Choose someone that has truly inspired you—not someone you think will impress the admissions committee. They don't have to be hugely famous, rich or successful. They should, however, have made a tangible impact on your life.
Yale Short Answer Question 5
You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
Another fun one! Once again: no cliches, no obvious answers, and please 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 on fantastic 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 6
Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What do you hope to add to your suitemates' experience? What do you hope they will add to yours? (35 words or fewer)
This question gives you the opportunity to share about different sides of your personality. If you're a great hobby cook, for instance, you can show off those skills here.
The important things to highlight in this question are the unique aspects of what makes you, you. Maybe you'll contribute special edition DVDs of all the Lord of the Rings movies, or an epic poster collection. No matter what, you'll want to show that you appreciate the community.
Finally, you'll want to share what you're looking for in a suitemate—friendship, support, a buddy to go to the Yale-Harvard football game with. Showing how you appreciate others is equally important.
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:
- 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!
- 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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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 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.