Categories:

How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays: The Champion’s Guide

Get proven college application help. Check out our College Application Boot Camp. Reduce your college anxiety.

Yale University has an acceptance rate of 6.3% and is one of the most recognized names in education, and for good reason. Founded in 1701, the private Ivy League university is a hub for innovative research and has produced countless notable alumni.

Among these notable alumni are 58 Nobel laureates, 20 living billionaires, 19 Supreme Court justices, five United States presidents, numerous heads of state, diplomats, and members of Congress, and recognizable names like Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, and Angela Bassett.

Want to be the next great Yale alumnus?

First, you’ll have to make it past the competitive admissions process.

Fortunately, we’re here to guide you through one of the most challenging pieces of Yale’s application: the Yale Supplement. We’ll give you all the info and tips you need to successfully complete the Yale-specific Questions, increasing your chances of becoming the next great Yalie!

What Are the Yale-specific Questions?

Yale accepts three different applications: the Coalition Application, the Common Application, and the QuestBridge National College Match Application.

As you complete these applications, you’ll also need to answer the Yale-specific Questions. Depending on which application you submit, the questions you need to answer will vary slightly.

Students who submit any of the three applications will respond to the following short answer questions:

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

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)

If you submit the Common App or Coalition App, you’ll also respond to these questions:

What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

Yale’s residential colleges regularly host intimate 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 would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? What do you hope they will add to yours?(35 words or fewer)

Students who submit the Common App are required to respond to TWO of the following essay questions in 250 words or fewer. If you submit the Coalition App, you’ll instead respond to ONE of the following questions in 300 words or fewer:

Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
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.

Students who submit the Coalition App are also expected to upload an audio file, video, image, or document (created by the student) that is meaningful and relates to the essay.

  • Above your essay, you’re required to include a one-sentence explanation of the document you’ve submitted.

And if you select one of the computer science or engineering majors, you have the option of responding to the following question in 300 words or fewer:

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.

As with all “optional” essay questions, we highly recommend responding to this essay topic if it applies to you. The more chances you have to help admissions officers get to know you, the better!

General Tips for the Yale-specific Questions

As you answer each of Yale’s questions, there are a few key tips to keep in mind:

  • Be yourself. Instead of trying to impress admissions officers, focus on helping them get to know you. Answers that best represent you will be far more unique and memorable.
  • Discuss topics that you haven’t already mentioned in your application. The short-answer questions and essays are an opportunity to fill in gaps in your application and share new information with admissions officers.
  • Be sure to proofread, edit, and ask for feedback from others before submitting. (At the same time, remember that you have the final say and that your essays should sound like you.)

Here’s what the university itself has to say about the essays:

  • “We encourage you to take the writing of the essays seriously and to write openly and honestly about activities, interests, or experiences that have been meaningful to you. What is most important is that you write in your own voice. If an essay doesn’t sound like the person who writes it, it cannot serve him or her very well as a personal statement. As with every document in the application, we read essays very carefully and try to get a full sense of the human being behind them.”

The rest of your application will be littered with numbers and lists of achievements, but the essays will help Yale “get a full sense of the human being” behind these statistics.

As you write your essays, keep this goal in mind. Does your voice shine through? Will these essays help you introduce yourself (the human being, not the numbers) to admissions officers?

What Is Yale Looking For?

Of course, in order to know which aspects of your personality and character to showcase, it’s helpful to know what Yale is looking for in prospective students.

According to the university’s website, two main questions guide Yale’s admissions team:

  • Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?
  • Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community?

These questions are answered using transcripts, recommendations, test scores, and—of course—essays. If you can show that you’ve engaged in the opportunities and resources available at your high school, it’s likely you’ll do the same at Yale.

The university also values “the desire and ability to stretch one’s limits.” You may wish to highlight qualities like determination, love of learning and challenges, resilience, persistence, etc.

The main focus of your essays should still be honesty and openness, but incorporate these key characteristics if you get the chance.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the Yale-specific questions.

Need college application help? Check out our College Application Boot Camp. Your first session is free.

Yale Short Answer Question 1

Short Answer #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)

All Yale applicants will answer this question, regardless of which application you decide to complete.

Although you’re allowed to choose up to three majors from the provided list, keep in mind that you only have 100 words to explain why these areas appeal to you.

Due to the limited amount of space, it’s best if you can choose one major and explain your interest more in-depth.

  • Because your space is so limited, you’ll want to dive right into the specifics of what interests you about your intended major. For instance, if you hope to major in psychology, what branch of psychology are you interested in? Why?

(NOTE: The three short paragraphs above total 106 words, so you need to be as specific and concise as possible.)

There’s no need (or space) for a formal introduction or conclusion, but you may want to close with a sentence or two connecting your interests to your future goals.

  • What do you plan to do with this major?
  • How will you use this major to contribute to society?

Yale Short Answer Question 2

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

This classic “Why Yale?” question must also be answered by all applicants.

Again, you have very few words to answer this question, so specificity is key.

  • Instead of writing a laundry list of everything you love about Yale, try to choose one particular characteristic or opportunity that excites you.
  • At most, focus on 2-3 qualities. You may also focus in-depth on one main topic, then include a couple of sentences about additional opportunities that interest you.

Avoid discussing vague concepts like, “Yale is a prestigious institution,” or, “There are many opportunities available at Yale.”

  • Perhaps there’s a particular class, program, or research opportunity that’s piqued your interest.
  • Or maybe you visited campus and something stood out to you.
  • You may need to do a bit of research in order to answer this question concretely.

If you’re having trouble finding elements that attract you to Yale, use this list as a backstop to help your research. You can talk about one of these elements:

  • Projects
  • Internships
  • Professors
  • Classes
  • Programs
  • Departments

Once you’ve chosen your topic, feel free to provide vivid, sensory descriptions to bring it to life. You should also explain why this characteristic or opportunity is meaningful to you, and how you plan to take advantage of it.

Common/Coalition App Question 1

What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

In addition to the two short answer questions above, applicants who submit the Coalition or Common App must answer four more (very) short answer questions. Students who complete the QuestBridge National College Match Application will not answer this question (or the questions that follow).

You only have 35 words here. The paragraph above is 44 words, so understand that your answer to this question must be very brief, probably 1-2 sentences.

Start by brainstorming. This is the best college essay brainstorming guide available.

  • What motivates you?
  • What drives you?
  • Why do you invest time and effort in your schoolwork or other activities?

Once you’ve jotted down as many ideas as you can, read over what you’ve written. Do you notice any patterns or key words? Use your ideas to create a sort of mission statement.

  • What is the guiding mission that connects your accomplishments and your future aspirations or goals?

Try to avoid cliché answers like, “My mom.” And as always, steer clear of vague generalities, like, “I want to be a better person who contributes to society.”

  • In what way do you want to be better?
  • How will you contribute to society?

Common/Coalition App Question 2

Yale’s residential colleges regularly host intimate 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)

Yale presents students with many unique opportunities, and they want students who are curious and driven enough to benefit from them. This is your chance to demonstrate these qualities.

In most cases, your essay questions should convey something new about you, your personality, and goals. But with only 35 words, it can be useful to choose a person who fits well with the rest of your application.

If you’ve written about your enthusiasm for science or technology, find someone who’s on the cutting edge of the latest advancements in these fields.

  • Consider the major(s) you’re interested in, and then find a person who’s an expert in that area.

You probably want to avoid obvious choices like Einstein, Obama, Gandhi, etc. Choose a more surprising answer that admissions officers won’t see over and over.

Next, choose a specific question that demonstrates why you’re interested in this individual.

The question should be directly related to the person you’ve selected, rather than a general question like, “What’s your greatest achievement?” or, “What motivates you?”

Common/Coalition App Question 3

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (35 words or fewer)

This question is creatively asking you, “What are you interested in?” or, “What is your area of expertise?”

Try to think outside the box and go beyond traditional academic subjects. Perhaps you could teach a course on gardening, cooking, or even breakdancing.

Your answer to this question doesn’t have to be extremely serious. This is a fun, creative question and a fun, creative answer is appropriate.

And, we hate to sound like a broken record, but the key here is to be specific. If you look through Yale’s course listings, you’ll notice highly specific titles, such as:

  • Biology of Malaria, Lyme, and Other Vector-Borne Diseases
  • Orientalism in French Literature and Art
  • Sustainable Development in Haiti
  • Truth and Media, Information, Disinformation, and Misinformation

Try to create an equally specific title for your own course. So instead of Music 101, you might call your course History of Drumming in Rock and Roll.

You may also want to combine a few different interests to come up with a unique course title. For instance, let’s say you’re interested in both women’s studies and art history. Maybe you’d like to teach a course on The Portrayal of Women in Classical Art.

Brainstorm a list of your interests, be specific, and get creative!

Common/Coalition App Question 4

Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? What do you hope they will add to yours?(35 words or fewer)

This question is all about your personality, and like Question #3, your response doesn’t have to be particularly serious.

  • You may choose a role you think you’d play in your suite, and then briefly dive into some details.
  • Alternatively, you can generate a list (both silly and serious) of what you would bring to your suite: your grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe, supportive friendship, your fantastic movie-selecting skills, etc.

Yale Common App Essay 1

Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?

A quick reminder about the essay questions: If you’re completing the Common App, you’ll choose two of three topics and respond to them in 250 words or fewer. If you instead complete the Coalition App, you’ll select one of three topics and respond in 300 words or fewer.

Coalition App applicants are also expected to upload a file or document (that you’ve created) related to the essay, along with a one-sentence description of what you’ve submitted.

If you write an essay for this question, it’s most important to convey enthusiasm and passion for learning.

  • What’s a subject that you constantly want to learn more about? One that you explore outside of school, in your free time?

Show admissions officers how you engage with this subject.

  • Do you eagerly participate in class discussions? Talk more with your teacher after class?
  • Order books online?
  • Obsessively watch TED Talks on this subject?

Use vivid details to convey the joy you feel when learning about your selected topic.

You may also want to talk about how your interest in this subject was sparked, or why it’s more meaningful to you than other academic topics.

Additionally, don’t forget to explain your connection to the topic and what inspired your attraction to it. You can quickly add this part in the beginning of the essay and then add how you involve yourself in the subject.

All told, you don’t need to pick an academic subject. As long as you can write about a topic with zeal and detail, it should work for this essay.

Yale Common App Essay 2

Essay Topic #2: Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?

You can view this essay topic as “the leadership essay.”

  • In ways big or small, how have you been a leader in your community?
  • Your community may be your family, neighborhood, church, team or club, school, etc.

Perhaps you organized a canned food drive or had classmates donate prom dresses for students in need. Or maybe you did something on a smaller scale, like resolving a dispute between members of your chess club or spending time with a lonely older neighbor.

Whatever your contribution, start by briefly discussing the issue you resolved, or the state of your community prior to your involvement.

Then explain the specific steps you took to address the problem, as well as the results. How did your community benefit from your actions? Did you mature or grow from this experience? Learn any valuable lessons?

If you want to talk about a broader leadership role, such as “captain of the swim team,” come up with a specific anecdote that illustrates your overall contribution as a leader.

Yale Common App Essay 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.

When thinking about a topic for this prompt, be sure to follow these two guidelines:

  • You truly care for a problem and have read about cogent solutions for it.
  • The issue you choose is broad enough for an outside reader to understand. Don’t choose a minute problem for the sake of irony.

For the most part, thinking of a problem you want to solve shouldn’t be difficult. Open up the Wall Street Journal,  Foreign Policy, or Politico, and you’ll find a number of problems you can choose from.

  • Additionally, you can peruse a copy of your local newspaper and select a problem from there.

What will make or break or essay is your ability to describe how your college experience will help you address it. For starters, don’t describe a quintessential experience in a response that can be used for any school.

Instead, do your research of Yale’s campus and pick departments, professors, projects, and clubs that will help you gain knowledge to deal with the issue you named.

For example:

  • Are you concerned about the rise of “fake news”?
  • Describe a journalism project or program at Yale that will heighten your journalist senses.
  • Moreover, describe what you will do as part of the program. You want to be an active player in your essay.

All in all, this essay is straightforward. An effective essay will execute properly. That means you should demonstrate how you will take advantage of resources at Yale to help you solve or alleviate the issue you describe.

Last, don’t spend too much time describing the problem. Name it, give a little background, and then go right into how you will take action.

Yale Engineering Essay

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.

Although this essay is “optional,” we highly recommend you write it if you’ve chosen one of the computer science or engineering majors.

Once again, it’s important to be specific here.

  • What got you interested in computer science or engineering?
  • If there’s a particular anecdote or moment you can share, great!
  • If not, give vivid, concrete details about what captured your interest.

What experiences have you had in this field? Have you taken relevant AP courses? Have you conducted research or experiments on your own? Grown up with a parent or close relative in the field? Spent time on your own learning more about your area of interest?

Finally, what interests you about Yale’s program?

  • Are there any courses, professors, or opportunities you’re especially excited about?

Convey passion for both computer science/engineering and Yale University, and be as specific as possible when outlining your experiences and interests.

Brainstorming the Yale Essays

We wrote this section to give a friendly push to students having trouble finding a topic.

Think about your journey an story. Find a story that cannot be explained by a standard college essay.

  • For instance, perhaps you want to discuss a major life experience that has shaped or influenced you in significant ways.
  • Or maybe there are extenuating circumstances in your life that admissions officers should know about, and you can explain how you approached and overcame these challenges.

You may also want to think about a more creative essay here, as long as you can connect it to an important aspect of your identity.

  • Is there a funny story you’d like to share?
  • A family tradition that’s extremely meaningful?
  • Something surprising that you’d like admissions officers to know? Here’s your chance to talk about it.

Try to find a major theme that connects you to these topics. Are you passionate about a problem? Is there a reason you’re drawn to a particular field?

Conclusion: The Yale Supplemental Essays

Yale estimates that over 75% of applicants are qualified to study at Yale. The majority of admitted students “stand out from the rest because a lot of little things, when added up, tip the scale in their favor.”

These Yale-specific questions are among the best ways to “tip the scale in your favor.”

Start early, and write essays that are honest, specific, and memorable.

View this as an opportunity to show admissions officers what unique background, skills, interests, and qualities you’ll bring to Yale’s campus.

In a few months, you just might find an acceptance letter in your mailbox!

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions essay writing, check out our college essay boot camp.