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 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.
2020-2021 Why Yale? Essay
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?
This prompt asks you to show that you have independent intellectual interests and take the initiative to nurture them in your life—key characteristics of Yale students. Essentially, this is Yale's version of a "Why This College?" essay!
This means that a good answer to this question will include the following elements: 1) a topic or idea that you're intellectually 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 and Magic: The Gathering 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 also want to briefly explain how you engage with your topic or idea. 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.
Finally, you 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.
And 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 only school for you—so make sure you explain that here!
2020-2021 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:
- 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 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.
- Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?
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
Reflect on your membership in a community. Why is your involvement important to you? How has it shaped you? You may define community however you like.
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 2
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.
Essay Prompt 3
Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?
This prompt is asking you to give insight into how you learn from and collaborate with others. To do this, you'll need to select one mentor or role model from your life who has influenced you in some meaningful way, and describe how their guidance has helped you become who you are today.
A solid answer to this question will start by identifying a single mentor or role model from your life. You could consider choosing a coach, teacher, volunteer coordinator, or a research project mentor. The person you choose should be someone who has helped you grow in a specific way that you can describe in your response here.
When you identify the mentor or role model you want to write about, think carefully about how you want to describe this person's influence in your life. There may be many wonderful things you could say about your mentor, but you want to be selective in what details you include. For example, if you decide to write about your mentor for a biology research project, you might decide to focus on one or two ways that they influenced your development as a researcher.
You won't be able to include every detail of your relationship, so focus on describing the ways in which your mentor or role model most influenced you and how they helped you grow. Think of something that your mentor taught you that was totally new or revolutionary for you, then frame what you learned as something that's molded you into a model student for Yale.
Mentorship is crucial to intellectual growth, research projects, and collaborative learning. Explaining your positive experience with this kind of intellectual collaboration will show Yale Admissions that you're prepared to learn with the guidance of others as a student at Yale.
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Students applying to Yale's engineering program must also submit the engineering essay as part of their application.
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. (250 words or fewer)
Engineering at Yale is competitive, so admissions wants to learn more about what motivates you to pursue this field of study. This means that you'll want to dig into your background and prior experiences with engineering, then connect them to the things about Yale engineering that excite you.
To get started, think about your story: where did your interest in engineering begin or come from? Is there an issue you observed in your life or community that made you want to pursue engineering? Did you have an experience with engineering that made you fall in love with it or that revealed your aptitude for a career in this field? Essentially, tell the origin story of your interest in engineering. This will help Yale understand what truly motivates you to pursue engineering, and give them a sense of how this field of study connects to who you are and your life experiences.
Then, in order to connect your interest in engineering to Yale, you'll want to do some research. Look closely at Yale's engineering program and highlight specific aspects of it that appeal to you. Get the details about engineering professors, engineering courses, and research projects offered at Yale that you would be excited to work with or take. Once you've identified where you think your interests in engineering will fit in with what Yale has to offer, describe those connections in your essay.
Overall, your response needs to show that you'll be an engaged and eager student in Yale's engineering program, with everything it has to offer. Describing your background with engineering and how it motivates you to pursue engineering at Yale will show that you've thought through how you'll fit in this specific program.
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? (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.
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 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.