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 "Why Yale?" essay and two additional longer 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. It’s important to note that while the Common and Coalition applications require both short answer questions and essays, the QuestBridge application only requires short answer questions and no supplemental essays.
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.
2021-2022 Why Yale? Essay
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!
2021-2022 Yale Supplement Essay Questions
There are three Yale supplement essay questions. The first one is required, and you can choose one of the remaining two prompts to respond to. Every student applying to Yale through the Common application or the Coalition application must answer this prompt in 250 words or fewer:
- Yale's extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it?
Students submitting the Common or Coalition applications must also choose one of the following prompts and respond to it in 250 words or fewer:
- Reflect on a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.
- Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you?
If applying via the Coalition App, you'll also include an audio, video, image, or document file that you have created that is meaningful to you and related in some way to your essay. You'll write one sentence explaining how your creation relates to your essay.
Yale Supplemental Essays Analyzed
The longer supplemental essays listed above are required of applicants who submit either the Common or Coalition applications. The prompts are the same for both applications. Remember, the first prompt is required, and you’ll be able to choose one of the remaining two essay prompts for a total of two essays. If you're submitting the Coalition Application, you’ll also have to include a piece of media that's meaningful to you.
We’ll break down how to respond to each Yale supplemental essay prompt next.
Essay Prompt 1
Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words or fewer)
This prompt asks you to show that you have independent intellectual interests and take the initiative to nurture them in your life. 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) why you're drawn to the 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 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!
And remember: this essay is required for all applicants who submit the Coalition or Common applications. That means you need to let your unique perspective shine through so you’ll stand out from other applicants!
Essay Prompt 2
Reflect on a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you? You may define community however you like. (250 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’ve made meaningful contributions.
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.
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 something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you? (250 words or fewer)
This essay prompt is your chance to give Yale more information about who you are inside. The things that satisfy us are a window into our character, our values, and our goals and desires. That means that it’s important to think carefully about your response here. You can be funny or even a little bit silly, but you want to make sure your response is a true reflection of your character.
This is your chance to tell a story about why that one thing in your life has brought you contentment. If you decide to write about tending your garden, for instance, it’s important to explain why you find great satisfaction there. Maybe your family has a history of farm ownership and you love how your garden honors that tradition. Maybe you donate half of your produce to disadvantaged people in your community and you love the connections that brings.
Whatever you choose to write about, use this as an opportunity to reveal a bit more about your character and passions to show Yale admissions the values you’ll bring to their community. So be authentic and creative, but above all, be true to your values and who you are!
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2020-2021 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? (125 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? would you ask them to discuss? (35 words or fewer)
- You are teaching a new 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 question 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? (125 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)
Remember: this is Yale’s version of the “why this college” question. As we explained earlier, the best thing you can do in answering this “Why Yale?” question 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 would you ask them to discuss? (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 new 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
Yale students embrace the concept of “and” rather than “or,” pursuing arts and sciences, tradition and innovation, defined goals and surprising detours. What is an example of an “and” that you embrace? (35 words or fewer)
This question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your adaptability and ability to embrace nuance in the world around you. Some of the best ideas and innovations have come out of seemingly contradictory situations. The people who are able to envision connections, collaborations, and synergies where others can’t are good at embracing “ands”--and people like that belong at Yale!
The important thing to highlight in this response is a concrete example of a connection you’ve made that may be surprising to outsiders. For instance, maybe you've found your own way to apply classical literature to the medical field. No matter what, you'll want to show that when you get to Yale, you’ll be capable of creating and innovating in the midst of contradictions.
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.