How to Write Yale's Supplemental Essays

Yale's supplement requires 6 short essays and 2 (out of 3) long essays. Here are some tips to optimize your supplemental essays for Yale:

Short Essay #1: Why do these areas [of academic interest] appeal to you? (100 words)

In your Yale application, you will have an opportunity to indicate up to three major fields of study that currently interest you. Obviously, these choices are not binding, but Yale would like a sense of what your academic interests are. After making these drop-down selections, you will have just 100 words to explain why these majors interest you. Although you should focus on your primary area of academic interest, make sure that you dedicate at least a few sentences to each of the areas of academic interest that you choose.

Because your space is very limited, you want to keep your answer very focused and specific. Don't spend a lot of time praising Yale's specific academic programs--the next short essay is where you can spend time talking about Yale. This is more of an opportunity to showcase your own academic interests, background, and experiences. Provide specific and concrete examples of prior experiences and opportunities that sparked your interest in these areas. And try to connect these past things with your dreams and aspirations--specific short-term and long-term goals that you have.

Short Essay #2: What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words)

This is the classic "Why Yale?" essay. With only 125 words to play with, less is more. Aim for quality rather than quantity in your answer. Don't turn this into a laundry list of reasons--aim for just a handful of reasons--at maximum--and make those reasons very specific and personal. Most of my tips regarding these types of essays can be found in my other post on how to write school-specific supplemental essays. With Yale, try not to pick the predictable responses like Yale's legendary residential colleges. Think in a more niche fashion and pick something that really personally resonates with you. It will require you to do some homework on Yale and its culture. Your answer to this prompt will be even stronger if you've actually visited the campus, toured the school, and have explored the extraordinary opportunities. If you've visited, make sure you mention that fact--it will give your response much more credibility.

Short Essay #3: What inspires you? (200 characters, approximately 35 words)

With these string of 200-character (35-word) short questions, Yale is looking for quick substantive responses--your gut reactions. It's a lightning round of questions and answers. Thus, make sure you focus on substance over form. It's okay to use fragments. Don't waste your word count by just repeating the wording of the prompt. Dive right into your answer, and be honest. Don't sound too contrived or scripted. Let your vibrant personality, sense of humor, and academic curiosity shine in these responses.

As you answer this question, reflect not only on the what but also the how and the why. That is, identifying what inspires you is important. But you should also consider how that thing inspires you. What does it inspire you to do? To what extent? In what ways does it inspire you? And also, why does that thing inspire you? Reflecting on the these two other hidden dimensions of this prompt will help you generate the most insightful response for this short essay.

Short Essay #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? (200 characters, approximately 35 words)

For this essay, it is easy to fall into the trap of picking a cliché response--someone very familiar and popular. I would encourage you to pick someone who is not too well known but also not too obscure, someone in the happy middle. If the person is too well known, then your response will be boring. If the person is too obscure, you will have to spend too much time and space trying to explain who this person is and why this person is significant. Thus, you want moderate name recognition because you have limited space.

Why would you want to invite this person to speak? What connection do you have to this person? How has this person inspired or influenced you? What is it about this person that fascinates you? Consider these various questions as you ultimately choose the question that you would ask this person. Your question should reflect your values, character, and curiosity. What do you care about, and what do you hope to learn from this person? Keep your question simple and concise--don't make it convoluted and compound.

Short Essay #5: You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (200 characters, approximately 35 words)

Find inspiration for this essay by browsing Yale's course catalog. Or better yet, browse the course catalogs of other schools to try to find creative and catchy titles of courses. Obviously, don't just copy one of these course titles, but find inspiration for your own course title.

The subject matter of your Yale course should have a meaningful connection to you. Whether it's one of your core academic areas of interest or whether it's an esoteric field that you have independently explored (and geeked out on), the subject of the course should reveal something about yourself and your academic interests.

Picking the title of your course is the most important part of this essay. It will demonstrate your ability to be creative, generate puns, connect different concepts together, and intrigue your reader. I would recommend the colon method. That is, have a catchy and edgy part before a colon and have an explanatory section after the colon. For example, "Taste the Rainbow: Nutritional Myths in the 21st Century." You can have a lot of fun with this prompt--embrace it and show your reader that you had fun generating your course title.

Short Essay #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? (200 characters, approximately 35 words)

Be specific and concrete with your response to this prompt. What do you hope to give? What do you hope to take? Reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses should help you write a response that is insightful to your reader, showing your reader the ways you can positively contribute to communities and the ways in which you hope to grow and be challenged within communities. Because Yale's residential colleges are so extraordinary, Yale wants to see that you would be a vibrant addition to their intimate community life on campus. You will be spending a lot of time with your suitemates as well as other classmates, and Yale wants to make sure that its admitted class is full of diverse individuals who will contribute in dazzling ways. Show what a personable, likable, and interesting suitemate you would be.

Long Essay Option #1 (choose 2 out of 3): Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words)

This is your opportunity to show off your scholarly side. Yale wants to see that you are an intellectually curious and vibrant individual who will contribute not only to the extracurricular experiences of Yale students but also to the classroom, discussion, and laboratory experiences of Yale students. Learning happens in all sorts of indoor and outdoor contexts at Yale, and you should show your reader the best context for your learning and growth.

Whatever idea or topic you choose for this prompt, it should probably relate to your core academic interests, which should hopefully line up with the majors and minors you are considering for Yale. This essay will probably work best if you can select a pithy anecdote that will lead into a discussion of what kinds of ideas or topics excite you and inspire you to be curious and pursue greater knowledge on your own. Explaining why you are drawn to a particular idea or topic is the most important aspect of this prompt.

Brainstorm broadly when you are answering this prompt. Is there a special class or subject that inspires you to learn? Is there a club or extracurricular activity that you founded or participated in that really led you to a deeper understanding and knowledge of a subject that interests you? Is there an online resource that you have found yourself obsessed with as you pursue your intellectual curiosity? Whatever it is, be specific about it and show off your inner nerd.

Long Essay Option #2 (choose 2 out of 3): Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community? (250 words)

Use this essay as an opportunity to highlight one of your most meaningful extracurricular experiences--one that has a deep community element to it. How do you pick a good topic for this essay? I would recommend taking a close look at your Activity List on the Common Application. There, you probably listed 10 or so activities that represent the most meaningful extracurricular experiences of your high school career. Many of those experiences probably involved diverse and dynamic communities. This essay should take one of those experiences (preferably one in the top 5) and elaborate on that experience, focusing on how you have engaged with a particular group, team, collective, or community through that experience. What is your role in this particular community, and how has it changed? You should definitely avoid picking an experience or community that you already discussed in another essay.

Don't just describe what the community is or what your engagement with the community has been. Elaborate also on why and how you are involved in that community. Why did you join or participate in this community experience? Why is it meaningful to you? How have you participated? How has the community experience changed you or made you grow? What have you ultimately put into this community experience, and what have you taken away? Remember that each piece of your application should provide more insight and information about you, and if there is a piece of your application that you have not yet been able to highlight sufficiently, this is your opportunity to explain its significance to your reader and highlight your identity within the context of community.

Long Essay Option #3 (choose 2 out of 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. (250 words)

This essay is an opportunity to reveal something personally meaningful to you. Hopefully, whatever you choose also has some connection to your academic and scholarly aspirations. Maybe it is what is inspiring you to learn and to grow through college. Maybe it is what led you to pursue a particular major or minor. Try to bridge your scholarly and academic side with your personal and compassionate side in this essay.

It will be easy to fall into the trap of writing about cliché topics--big global problems like poverty that have been plaguing society since time immemorial. I would recommend that you limit the scope of your search to the recent past (i.e., the last 5-7 years). Try to brainstorm some of the most significant issues that have arisen in the last 5-7 years that you care about deeply, and try to stay local if possible. What recent changes or developments have prompted those issues? Why have these issues suddenly become so significant or salient?

What's most important in this essay is not identifying the issue. It is explaining why you believe this issue is significant, why you personally care about this issue, and how you hope to address the issue through your college experience, specifically at Yale. Try to connect the issue to your personal values, beliefs, and experiences. Is there anything practical you have already done to try to address this issue? In what contexts have you personally witnessed the effects of this issue? Provide specific and concrete examples of this issue, preferably in your own local community. Also, how will Yale specifically equip you to address this issue?

To pick a good topic for this prompt, try to think about where you spend most of your time, money, creativity, talent, and energy. Start making a list, and narrow it down based on what you have already mentioned in your other essays or other parts of your application. Your topic selection for this prompt will reveal a lot about your values and character. What do you care about? Why do you care about it? How have you concretely and specifically expressed your care regarding this, and how do you hope to continue doing so in the future through your college experience and beyond? Thinking about these core questions honestly and deeply will help you generate the most authentic response to this prompt.

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