How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays


How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays

Most supplemental essays are carefully selected to help an admissions officer learn if you’re the right fit for their school, and not in terms of grades or test scores. What kind of person are you? What occupies your mind on a daily basis? What motivates you? What do you care about in your friendships and relationships? How do you work, study, and learn best?

Every school wants to know how much you know about their school, and the thought and effort you’ve put into selecting them and applying.

Yale is no exception. Yale is looking for students whose character shows they fit Yale. They’re looking for students who know Yale well and have applied with commitment. If you're wondering how to get into Yale, be aware that your Yale supplemental essays are crucial.

So, how can you best show your personality and commitment through the Yale supplemental essays?

Let’s start with the idea of character. What are some of the personal characteristics Yale admissions readers care about seeing in your supplemental essays?

Leadership. Creativity. Innovation. Impact on your community. True love of learning. Just to name a few.

Yale has a strong reputation both for its rigorous academics and its serious extracurriculars. If your Yale supplemental essays don’t convey a genuine love of learning and knowledge about your field, Yale isn’t the right fit for you, which is why they ask “What do you most enjoy learning?” and “You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?” If your Yale supplements don’t show your willingness to step in and get involved in your community, Yale isn’t the right fit for you, which is why they ask “Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?” And, if your supplemental essays don’t describe specific Yale programs, faculty, courses, research opportunities, or academic resources, then you aren’t using these essays effectively to show your knowledge of Yale as the best fit for you, which is why they ask “What is it about Yale that has led you to apply?”  

Here is a breakdown of the Yale supplemental essays, by question:

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? (Pick up to 3)

First off, know Yale’s majors well.

Yale has many majors that are unique to Yale and emphasize interdisciplinary connections, such as “Computer Science and Psychology” or “Ethics, Politics, and Economics.” Targeting these majors, rather than (or in addition to) common majors like “Economics” or “Computer Science,” will make you seem more informed about Yale.  


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

This question needs to be about YOU. Fill these 100 words with concrete details about your academic commitment to this field. Remember, Yale highly prioritizes academics and intellectual curiosity. This isn’t the right Yale supplemental essay to be silly or quirky, but concrete and academic.


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

This question needs to show your knowledge of Yale. If you haven’t mentioned at least two specific Yale programs by name in your response, you’re answering this wrong. Your answer needs to include specific references to the academic areas listed above. What does Yale offer in those areas that, as you’ve just explained compellingly, appeal to you? Your answer can expand outward slightly from academics to reference a specific extracurricular opportunity or social aspect of Yale, but you should begin your answer with academic information.


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Yale’s Short Takes

Please respond in no more than 200 characters (approximately 35 words), to each of the following questions:

The Yale supplemental essays also include shorter questions called “Short Takes.” The “Short Takes” are your chance to be more quirky. Approach these questions by asking yourself: Is this an answer they’ve heard before? Be careful, though! You never want to come off as anti-social, combative, pessimistic, or negative. There’s definitely such a thing as “too weird” for the Short Takes. Yale is not expecting some of the “outside the box” answers that might fly at a school like Stanford.


1. What inspires you?

Of the Short Takes, this is a more serious one. If you put “coffee” here, your reader is going to be skeptical (unless you currently run a profitable international coffee business). Make sure this answer is something you’re genuinely inspired by. But don’t be cliché or vague! If you put “serving humanity,” your reader is also going to roll their eyes.


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?

This Yale supplemental essay question references one of the coolest perks of Yale: one-on-one conversations with some of the most influential people living today. While at Yale, I attended residential college events for people ranging from Sonia Sotomayor to John Irving. Dream big here! The easiest way to get a good answer is to pick a person clearly connected to one of your interests that you’ve already outlined. That way, this answer requires little explanation (explanation is difficult with the given character limit).


3. You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?

This needs to be a very original answer. It’s an academic question, but it needs to demonstrate a unique approach to your field. The full answer should be the title of the course. Again, something that requires no explanation (beyond the title itself) is an important part of a strategic answer.


4. Most first year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite?

Here is your place to carefully cast yourself in both a genuine and positive light, while still writing something new. That’s a tall order! Yale’s suites are the core of Yale’s social world and a valuable support network for students. Being able to show that you’re a compassionate friend is also important in your answer to this question. If the only thing you’ll bring to your suite is your stylish collection of hair ribbons to share, your reader won’t think you’re the type of friend who will help an international student adjust or support a suitemate who loses a parent.


The Yale Supplemental Essays

Please choose two of the following topics and respond to each in 250 words or fewer.

It doesn’t matter which of the two prompts you choose, so long as you’re not repeating yourself. As a whole, your Yale supplemental essays should immediately show what your main area of academic interest(s) is, but should also show some surprising new details. If your reader doesn’t leave your Yale supplements certain of your primary passion, you haven’t maximized showing both focus and originality.


1. What do you most enjoy learning?

This question can potentially overlap too much with one of the other supplements, such as the question on your future major or what inspires you. Be wary of repetition! However, if you’ve described yourself as a budding Biology major above and you answer here that you most enjoy playing the violin, your reader will be confused. Instead, you could describe your interest in field testing water samples and the joy of applied biology research because it’s a hands-on learning experience.


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

This is the Yale supplemental essay that’s most easily repurposed from other supplemental essays you may have written for other schools. This is a very common supplemental essay topic. What are they looking for? Concrete change. Tangible, measurable change that you’ve made in your community. You can define community any way you want toyour family, your school, your town, your online forum for Lord of the Rings enthusiastsso long as you define it in the first sentence. Short supplemental essays are never the place for essay “hooks.” Make sure your reader knows from the very first sentence what community you’re talking about and what your main contribution has been. Then, back that up with concrete examples from your years in high school (think of these examples as evidence to support your answer to the question given in the very first sentence).


3. Write about something you would like us to know about you that you have not conveyed elsewhere in your application.

This question is very open-ended. One way to approach this question is to return to your Common App Activities List. Is there anything substantial there, any activities where you’ve devoted a lot of time, but you haven’t had the chance to explain further elsewhere in your Yale application? Another approach can be to consider your high school and family context. Is there anything particularly unusual about your experiences learning or growing up? Unless you have important information that you haven’t addressed elsewhere (or can’t fit in by answering questions 1 and 2), I recommend selecting the first two prompts and eliminating choice #3.


Overall, the Yale supplemental essays are the place in your application where your admissions reader gets to know you best and in your own words. These essays are your chance to let your enthusiasm and passion shine through! Be specific. Write about the things that matter most to you. Don’t repeat yourself, but also make sure you demonstrate commitment and focus. Before you start writing, brainstorm what are the most important things about you that your admissions reader needs to know, so that these definitely appear in your Yale supplemental essays!

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