How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays: Guide + Examples 2020/2021

While Yale was founded in 1702, it didn’t become part of the Ivy League until the 1950s … because the Ivy League didn’t exist until the ‘50s, when it was created as an NCAA sports division, though people frequently think the term simply refers to an elite group of schools. Which Yale also definitely is.

The Yale supplemental essay prompts offer an opportunity to show many of the different, complex facets that make you both an interesting human being and a good candidate for acceptance. You’ll want to take advantage of that opportunity by carefully considering your responses and using them to show variety.

If you want to get a clearer sense of all that Yale is looking for, you can explore an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set. And for insights into how the university envisions itself and its role, and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its sustainability plan and global strategy. Reading through these will give you a strong idea of what Yale values.

WHAT ARE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPTS?

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #1

Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #2

What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #3

What inspires you? (200 characters or ~32 words)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #4

What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask? (200 characters or ~32 words) or fewer)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #5

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (200 characters or ~32 words)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #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 or ~32 words)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #7

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)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #8

Please respond to either one of the following prompts in 250 words or fewer.

  1. Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?
  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 could help you address it.
  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?

(Please indicate the number of the prompt you are writing about at the start of each response. – e.g. “Prompt 1”)

YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #9: WHY ENGINEERING

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 answer in 250 words or fewer.

HOW TO WRITE EACH SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT FOR YALE

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #1

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.

– This is just a drop-down menu on the Common App.
– Action Item: Pick your intended major(s).

Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words)

This is a standard (but very short) “Why Major” prompt. For a larger guide to the “Why Major” essay. Below is a condensed version.

One possible approach:

Think of this as a quick origin story.

Step #1: Imagine a mini-movie of the moments that led you to your interest and create a simple, bullet-point outline.

Step #2: Put your moments (aka the “scenes” of your mini-movie) in chronological order, as it’ll help you see how your interests developed. It also makes it easier to write transitions.

Step #3: You’ll likely want to include a specific thesis that explicitly states your central argument—in this case, what you want to study and why. This thesis can come at the beginning, middle, or end of your essay.

Once you have those pieces, you have a few structural options:

Opening

  • A. A quick hook that thematically sets up where you’ll take us, and, ideally, shows an aspect of your intellect/personality (If you do this, it can be stylistically effective to bookend—to end the essay by linking back to what you opened with.)
  • B. An initial moment that sparked your interest
  • C. Your thesis

Body (but to clarify, this essay can be a single paragraph if you choose)

  • The moments of your mini-movie, illustrating both the development of your interest and some of your core values

Ending

  • One option: Go narrower—perhaps link to specific aspects of Yale that will help you continue on your path toward a future goal.
  • Another option: Go wider—name the road you hope to follow (for example, career path, organizations you’d like to work with, the greater value/implications of studying what you want to).

And last, a quick tip: Be sure this essay is consistent with your personal statement if you’ve mentioned aspects of your major/career there.

Here’s a nice example essay (written by Luci Jones).

Yale Essay Example:

Storytelling has shaped me. At four, I read The Lion King until I’d memorized it. I’d snuggle in bed as my dad read Wilderness Champion or Tom Sawyer. Later, I found audio and visual storytelling, mesmerized by This American Life and Whiplash. Now, I create my own stories through newspaper satire, podcasting, and locally-broadcasted radio. 

My major at Yale would be the next chapter in my life of storytelling. I’d explore past narratives and how they can be digitally innovated. Whether exploring media’s disfiguration of truth, developing screenplays, or analyzing mise-en-scene, I hope to pioneer new networks of connection. (99 words)

Tips + Analysis 

  1. (Quickly) hook the reader. The first line performs a few functions here. First, it pulls us in and makes us curious about what exactly she means by claiming that storytelling has shaped her. Second, it gives us a sense of a core aspect of her identity and values. 
  2. Show the development of your interest through moments that connect to core values. She packs a nice amount of detail into 99 words. The details she includes point toward her values and identity, as do her interests in newspaper satire, podcasting, and local radio. The details in the second paragraph show some nice depth and development. 
  3. Describe how Yale can help with the next steps. She links her brief origin story to how Yale can help her on her path, and how it will help her develop both her understanding and her values. 

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #2

What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words)

This is a standard but really short “Why us?” prompt. Because it’s so short, you’ll want to find a few specific reasons that set Yale apart from other schools you’re applying to. As the following guide explains, you’ll want to be sure to think of this as a “Why us?”—as in you + the school, and why you’d be a great fit together, and not simply “why them.” One way we sometimes joke about this is to think about the essay as though you’re helping the school understand why your online dating profile and its online dating profile are perfect for each other, and how you’d probably make great partners.

For a complete guide to “Why us?” essays. Here’s a condensed version:

Five Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays

Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language

Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well known for

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “why them” essay (as mentioned above)

So, if those are things you shouldn’t write about, what should you write about? Here are some steps to figure that out.

Step #1: Do your research.

  • Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why Yale might be a great fit for you (you’ll only use a few of them, but try to find more than you’ll need for the essay so you can choose the strongest).

Step #2: Use chart to map out your research. 

Step #3: Decide on your approach.

Approach #1: The “3-5 Unique Offerings” Strategy

Find 3-5 opportunities that are particular to the school (i.e., available at no other school or no other school you’re applying to) and connect each one back to you.

Approach #2: The “One Value” Strategy

How it works: Identify one core value that links you to the school and tell a story. Like so:

1. Find a way in which you and the school are deeply aligned.

2. Take your time crafting the essay.

3. Find a way to be vulnerable.

Could I create a hybrid approach by focusing on a central theme, but still listing a few reasons?

Yup. 

Here’s a nice example essay (written by Luci Jones): 

My life is the epitome of “and.” I have Chinese roots and am a proud North Carolinian. I am a team player and a leader. A bookworm and a backpacker. A creative thinker and logical problem-solver. I bridge divides. Like me, Yale embraces “and.”

While Yale has the resources of a large research university, its approach to academics fosters the intimacy of a liberal arts education. I could research abroad in Rabat and prepare for post-college work at CIPE, but also engage in small group discussions about world cinema and take an interdisciplinary class connecting creative writing, psychology, and digital media. Yale is a place that closes the gap. A place that offers a whole new world of “and” to explore and create. (123 words)

Tips + Analysis 

  1. (Quickly) hook the reader. As with the first essay, the opening line here pulls us in and makes us curious what exactly she means by this claim. This is a quick way to stand out from the rest. 
  2. Get really specific about the school + you. The second paragraph gets into some nice detail regarding what the school offers, with the contrast between the details illustrating a connection to a core aspect of how she sees herself  (an embracer of “and”). 
  3. Bookending. With any essay, but especially one this short, bookending (using the final line to link back thematically to where the essay opened) can be a nice way to create a sense of closure while allowing you to devote most of your word count to details about the school and yourself. 

Prompts 3-6 are short answer questions.

As you approach these, keep in mind that each offers a chance to show the reader a new piece of yourself. Get really specific with your responses in ways that counterpoint nicely with other elements of your application. And along those lines, try not to repeat things that appear elsewhere.

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #3

What inspires you? (200 characters or ~32 words)

This is a short answer question.

Here’s a nice example: 

Podcasts. Ira Glass and This American Life. Stories that hook you with the small moments, but leave you with the big lessons. Listening to voices and feeling connected to a radio network of humanity. (199 Characters)

Tips + Analysis 

Think about the things people tend to be inspired by. Sunsets. Popular quotes. Songs.  Then don’t write about those things. 

Instead, find something that is as specific to you as possible, and that allows you to share a new side of yourself. And get really specific with the “why.” Plenty of people are inspired by podcasts, but the reflection and focus are what helps us feel like we know this student.

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #4

What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask? (200 characters or ~32 words)

Here’s another short answer. See link above. 

These short answers can present a nice opportunity to show your personality, and allow for some nice juxtaposition against one another to demonstrate depth and complexity. The examples below each do a nice job of showing values, intellect, and personality, and often contain a touch of humor.

Here are a few nice examples: 

Charles Darwin. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? (57 Characters)

— — —

Plato: at first for his smooth, gravelly voice—then I’d keep him for the philosophy. How could a Philosopher King know the wishes of those inside the Cave? Do their opinions matter?

— — —

My favorite poet, Wisława Szymborska. Question: In your poem “Photograph from September 11”, why did you choose not to add a last line?

— — —

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #5

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
(200 characters or ~32 words)

This is also a short answer, so tips above will apply. 

Note: While it won’t apply as much heresince you’re basically answering in just a few wordsit may inspire you.

Here’s a nice example: 

Tweeting on the Golden Toilet: A Historical Look at the Social, Political, and Cultural Implications of Fake News in America (20 words)

Tips + Analysis 

We like that, in just a few words, we get a feel for the author’s sense of humor, her intellect, and her political and social values.

The structure herean interesting, amusing course name, followed by a description that shows us values and intelligenceworks nicely.

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #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 or ~32 words)

  • Another short answer.

Here’s a nice example: 

Two shoulders to lean on, two hands to help, two ears to listen, and 5’2” of friend. Same in return in any size. (23 words)

Tips + Analysis 

Again, effectively concise. Shows compassion and vulnerability, plus a little humor.

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #7

Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words)

Try coming up with 2-3 possible ideas for this one. This is a chance to show your brilliant brain. So pick a specific thing from a specific subject and feel free to geek out a bit. Along those lines, we’re fans of getting a bit jargon-y when justified hereif you’ve done some complex work and thinking on some complex ideas, show us. 

Here’s a nice example:

“I don’t get it.”

I glance over at my sister. We are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at Composition, my favorite piece by Piet Mondrian. Tracing the dark lines, we watch as they meet at vertices to form rectangles. “It’s math,” I reply. “No pun intended, but that’s the point.”

One of the first things we are taught in algebra is how to graph a line on a coordinate plane. Y = MX + B governs us until we learn Y = ax^2+bx+c. We are reminded, time and time again, of the importance of graphical analysis. Like the paintings of Mondrian, though not as gracefully, our lines come together to form shapes. Geometry then teaches us of right angles, the foundation of both structure and society. Calculus asks us to retrieve data from the lines we had graphed when we first learned. Forming an Eulerian cycle, our mathematical world follows a path, hitting off each edge and meeting back at the same vertex.

I was not a math person until I stumbled upon the works of Matt Parker and Noson S. Yanofsky. Staying up late into the night, flashlight in hand, I was introduced to a world of numbers beyond what I’d been taught in school. I began to see mathematical concepts for their beauty, recognizing their influence in art and philosophy. Besides being the bane of schoolchildren everywhere, graph theory underlies the methods with which we perceive our universe — both literally and figuratively, the possibilities are limitless.

Tips + Analysis 

  1. Structure -> complexity and effectiveness. This piece packs some nice layers into 250 words, and does so clearly and well, in part because of the concise but clear structural elements. The intro paragraph sets up the direction nicely, while also giving us a brief sense of her relationship with her sister, and pointing at a complex understanding of art. The body of the essay builds in detail and complexity (see below on scaffolding). The final paragraph does a nice job of giving us something more thesis-ish, and of putting the preceding ideas into a wider context, helping us see the author’s values and intellect through how she sees the scope, importance, and connections she discusses.
  2. Scaffolding. We like that the intellectual discussion grows in complexity from paragraph to paragraph, mirroring the author’s growth. She moves from explaining geometric shapes, to algebraic equations, to finally naming a few of her favorite mathematicians and their contributions to philosophy and beauty. 

Here’s a nice example (written by Luci Jones) that takes a different approach:

Plain Hot Dog: $1.49. Jimmy’s Famous: $1.89. Twenty-five cents for sliced cheese, but cheese sauce is more. We’re out of bologna. The milkshake machine’s broken. The sweet tea needs to be refilled.

On day-one as cashier at Jimmy’s Famous Hot Dogs, I became everything but the cook. My first shift was on July 4th—a long day that left my mind numb. My hair stood straight and old southern ladies eyed me sympathetically, asking oh honey, is it your first day on the job? I wanted to cry. 

But, an hour before closing, Nondis, the eccentric Greek cook, patted me on the back, and, after checking the register, said “Luci Lou, you the best. Look, that was all you.” I peeked, then grinned. We danced around the greasy kitchen in celebration, talking about his brothers in Greece, the right way to cook grilled fish, World Cup soccer, and his painting career. The stories he told transported me from a stressful situation into a whole new world of possibility.

I find joy in connecting to and learning the human story. The quirks, aspirations, secrets, and superstitions of other people. It’s this process of sharing parts of ourselves with one another that makes a hard job worthwhile. Establishing a common humanity is both empathetic and vulnerable. For me, it’s fascinating to contextualize events and places through the lense of human experience. The transformative effect we have when we open our stories for others to read is what continues to engage me. (250 words)

— — — 

And one more example we love:

I often go to nature trails whenever I am bored. I encounter the chirps of birds and the smell of fresh dandelions. I have seen Gaudi’s paintings and skyscrapers, but a perfectly bloomed rose is beyond comparison. This majestic natural intelligence that creates things flawlessly beautiful amazes me. 

I have not seen an absolute blend of colors as those in a sunset. There are eight billion people on this planet, yet none of them are alike. The sun always rises at a particular time and the leaves only start to fall at the beginning of October. What is it that reminds everything about time? What is it that ensures mango grows on a mango tree but not on an orange tree? 

A simple answer could be “It is god or nature,” but I don’t want to settle here. If it is God, I want to know what God is and what its properties are. This curiosity keeps me awake till midnight. I go to libraries and read books on nature. I watch Cosmos, an astrophysics series by Neil Tyson, and read about mystics and learn spirituality. Science calls it consciousness while metaphysics calls it spirit: a different name but the same thing. I learn the Fibonacci sequence and practice yoga asanas. From science to mysticism, I keep swinging to explore the ultimate truth.

Maybe one day I will get enlightened and know everything, or maybe the astrophysicist in me will find God at the corner of the universe playing peekaboo. 

— — — 

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #8

Please respond to either one of the following prompts in 250 words or fewer.

A. Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?
B. 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 could help you address it.

Please indicate the number of the prompt you are writing about at the start of each response. – e.g. “Prompt B”

For Prompt A, here are some general tips:

  1. Don’t repeat things that the reader can find in other parts of your application. Use this essay to show another side of a previously mentioned community or to discuss a community you haven’t mentioned. The second option is more likely the better choice. Additionally, consider including values you haven’t already demonstrated.
  2. Try to think outside the box. Which of your communities might help you stand out among other “community” essays? Being part of a “community” can take a lot of different forms. Don’t limit yourself to a narrow definition. An essay on a strange talent (like juggling while jogging) or an obscure interest (like historically accurate baking, for example) might be more apt to catch the reader’s attention. And, yes, those are real examples from past students.
  3. Details! Be specific. The more visceral details you can give about yourself and the community you’re discussing, the more you distinguish yourself from all the other applicants. Use memorable language and evoke unique images that will stick with the admission officers.

For Prompt B, you’re asked to describe an issue you care about. But readers especially want to know why it matters to you, and how you’ll use Yale’s resources to tackle that problem.

Action Item: Spend 10 minutes writing down 10 issues that matter to you. 

Choose an issue that you actually know and care about, and (if possible) consider choosing a topic that is  somewhat uncommon. Common topics are usually general, like “racism” or “poverty.” While those are definitely noble issues to address, you’ve got a better chance of standing out with a more specific, less common issue or a specific version of that larger issue. (Which part of racism? Whose poverty?) Or consider: Is there something you care about that specifically affects your own culture or community? 

Here’s a nice example:

Example:

During a family barbecue that crowds my house with a hundred hungry relatives, getting a prized lamb chop can be warfare. At one barbecue, my uncle ate every lamb chop straight off the grill. As part of the eldest generation— those who worked in Newark plastic factories to build a life for his children—he could take advantage of the vulnerable without repercussions. The younger generations went hungry and their protests did not survive his public condemnation. 

Though this is perhaps a simplification, I’ve come to see this annual family dilemma as a symbol of voices suppressed by the powerful. The central government in London poses a challenge to educational development in Scotland. In the Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, corrupt judges are a barrier to checking the Mexican president’s power. And right at home, wealthy organizations like the NRA finance campaigns so the interests of the public are not represented in policy. 

A few hours without lamb chops inspired me to listen to people’s voices. To learn about the culture, history, and voices that, ideally, would shape the policy that affects citizens’ lives. There is more to policy than men in suits sitting at a mahogany table. Whether at the micro level of a greedy uncle, or the macro level of a greedy government, the voices of the people define success.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Use specific details. This author brings us into her world through her family’s annual barbeque, describing the family dynamics and a little bit of its history.
  2. Connect those details to your values. This student uses the unfairness of her uncle eating all the lambchops to segue into larger issues (inequality and corruption), demonstrating some of her core values: fairness, justice, and respect.
  3. Use (a little) geeky language. This student knows her stuff. How do we know? She uses a string of quick sentences with a little bit of jargon—but not too much!—to display her breadth and depth of knowledge in political science. You can do the same. 
  4. Answer “so what” at the end. This student clearly states in the last paragraph that her experience losing out on lamb chops inspired a deep dive into political injustice. But notice that her conclusion isn’t simply a recap of what we’ve just read. Instead, she brings in a new value (listening) and ends with a memorable last line: “There is more to policy than men in suits sitting at a mahogany table.” 

HOW TO WRITE THE YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT #9

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 answer in 250 words or fewer.

This is a classic “Why us?” essay.

Example:

From sixth grade onwards I have immersed myself in computer science, teaching myself six programming languages, constructing multiple apps, working as an instructor at a technology school in San Francisco, and starting multiple ventures of my own.

Noticing a lack of formal computer science education at my high school, I started the first CS club, creating curriculum and leading workshops to propel its growth to a thriving club of over 50 members. During my junior year, I discovered sweeping inefficiencies in my school’s parking system: illegal parking was a chronic problem. So I founded Spaces, an enterprise parking solutions company to streamline my school’s parking system. It was adopted this year and is soon to expand to schools throughout the region. 

Although I have programming experience, courses such as Intensive Algorithms and Computational Complexity will bolster my ability to analyze and coax insights from data. I want to explore the opportunities provided by the recent immense investment in the Computer Science department and hope to research the principle of self-learning intelligence alongside Professor Dana Angluin. Further, through working with Professor Martin Schultz in applying machine learning principles to financial analytics, I will be able to explore the untold applications of AI modeling technology in disrupting traditionally slow-moving fields.

I do not just want to become a programmer. I want to use computer science to enhance the human condition, employ technology to make opaque industries more transparent, and influence public policy to spark scientific innovation where it is most needed.

h/t collegeessayguy.com/blog/yale-supplemental-essay

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