Welcome to the Yale University supplemental essay prompts for the 2020-2021 application cycle! Here's everything you need to know.
(You can refer to the Yale University website if you want to see how exactly they're presenting their essay prompts for this year.)
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? (125 words or fewer)
It’s funny that Yale goes out of its way to acknowledge that many kids change direction in college… and then they ask you to speculate on a potential major and justify your choice.
So you need to give them something. Pick what makes most sense—what “fits most comfortably.” Discuss your qualifications. Normally, I would say that you need to make it clear how the school you’re applying to—Yale, in this case—fits your interests, but don’t spend too much time on Yale, since the next question is going to ask you: “Why Yale?” You don’t want to repeat yourself.
What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
“Why This College?” You know the drill. Do your research. Be specific and mention professors you’d like to work with, classes you’d like to take, clubs you’d like to join, etc. As always, don’t waste any time talking about the beautiful knave in Sterling Memorial Library—get straight to the point, and straight to specifics.
With highly, highly selective colleges, like Yale, it’s more important than ever to avoid trite expressions like, “I am impressed by the excellent economics faculty.” They know how great they are—one of them just won a Nobel Prize for Pete’s sake. Focus on the specifics that matter most to you (rather than to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences). Focus on how Yale is uniquely suited to encourage you as you continue to pursue your ambitious goals both in and outside the classroom. (Remember, you’ve already discussed your major: don’t repeat yourself. The last question was about you. This one is about Yale.)
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will also respond to the following short answer questions, in 35 words or fewer:
First off—35 words! You’ve got to get straight to the point here. No fluff. Plan these four questions out in advance. As I always say, the essays are about providing as complete and coherent a picture of yourself as possible. Make sure these short responses provide meaningful information about your unique qualities and quirks. Make sure your answers are complimentary, but that there’s no overlap. (So, for the first question, don’t say that what inspires you is animal rights, and then for the third question say that you’d teach a class called “Animal Rights.” See what I mean?)
What inspires you?
It’s always a good idea to avoid sounding predictable. Even though it’s a very short response, spend some good time thinking about this. Don’t say “the prospect of world peace” (this isn’t Miss America), and don’t say “long walks on the beech” (this isn’t a personals ad—well, I guess it kind of is, but you see what I mean). Also not a good idea to list your prospective major (“literature,” “physics,” etc.) since you’ve already talked about that. If possible, come up with something that inspires you that probably doesn’t inspire many other people out there. Fulgurites? Fly fishing? Stir-fries? Frampton Comes Alive?
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?
Fun question. This needs to be authentic—don’t make something up to sound smart. But also do your best, once again, to avoid being predictable, and to show a new dimension of your personality. So if you said you want to major in English so that you can write an undergraduate thesis on Maya Angelou, don’t say you’d invite Maya Angelou—it’s repetitive.
When it comes to the question that you’d ask your speaker, be careful. The point here is not to demonstrate just how knowledgeable you are about the speaker you’ve invited in this imaginary scenario. Remember that you’re making this all up. There’s no way to make yourself look like a genius in a situation that you yourself invented. So make sure it’s a real, humble question that you actually want to know the answer to. (I wish people at real academic talks would do this more often.)
You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
See above: don’t repeat yourself. Say something new.
You probably wouldn’t do this anyway, but don’t say you want to teach a class that Yale already offers. It’d be a good idea also to keep in mind that you aren’t really qualified to teach at the college level, so have some self-awareness. Come up with a creative title for your class, since the question is really asking what the name of the course is, and a great title can say a lot.
Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?
This is a creative way to frame the “Community/Diversity” question. Think small, and be humble here. Don’t say you’re going to teach them the meaning of life. For that matter, don’t say you’re going to teach them the meaning of hard work, or that you’ll share your passion for learning. Same goes for what you hope your suitemates will add to your experience. Avoid platitudes. What would you actually like to learn from the people you will live with?
I was a first-year in college eleven years ago, but I can still tell you a couple of the things my roommate and I contributed to each other’s college experience. He was from Louisville, and he taught me how to screen-print on T-shirts, and to dance to arrhythmic music. He also showed me how to get into the labyrinthine basement of the art building, which was quite a place to explore. I was from middle-of-nowhere New England, and I taught him how to birch (like in the Robert Frost poem), and canoe, and I lent him a lot of books—some of which he even ended up liking, and never gave back. All this may sound a bit mundane, but over a decade later, these experience have become memories I won’t forget. What would you like to remember about your suitemates ten years later? How do you hope they’ll remember you? How will the difference in your backgrounds make your experience together meaningful?
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application: use the two short essays (250 words or fewer) below to reflect on topics and personal experiences that will help the Admissions Committee learn more about you.
1. 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?
The tricky thing about answering this question is that you don’t want to write about your senior project, your volunteership at that lab, or anything else that’s already on your activities list. Come up with something new here. And don’t forget to answer the “why” question.
As always, avoid saying that the “idea” or “topic” that motivates you is some massive geo-political issue. Try to think smaller.
Make sure that you can demonstrate your involvement with the idea or topic you choose. Don’t say the primary problem that gets you out of bed in the morning is climate change unless you can say what you’ve done to work on it. Don’t repeat yourself, but make sure you’re building on your narrative.
2. Respond to one of the following prompts:
2A. 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.
For this one, don’t forget that “community” can mean many things. You can talk about your neighbors, an online community, being left-handed, anything you like. The obvious response here—which you should avoid—is: “I volunteer at a local soup kitchen for two hours a month, and this experience has taught me to appreciate all members of my community, regardless of who they are.” While this may be true, it’s simply too predictable and common. And what kind of impact does a two-hour-per-month experience really have? Say what community means for you, and share a unique and personal story about how your participation in that community has affected you.
2B. Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international significance. Discuss an issue that is important to you and how your college experience could help you address it.
The danger here is how the question is phrased. As always, I recommend that you focus on what you have done, rather than what you hope to do. Anyone can write a 250 word essay on how he or she hopes to change the world for the better, but not everyone can get into Yale. If you want to tackle this one, make sure it’s an issue you’ve done something about, and as always, be humble and think small. Remember that most Ivy League students didn’t make an international impact in high school—it’s not a requirement.
Talk about what you’ve done, while avoiding making yourself out to be a hero. Say how you’ll continue your project while at Yale and beyond.
2C. 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?
Yale changed their supplemental essays very little this year, apart from the addition of this prompt, likely modeled after Princeton’s which usually reads “Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.” This one is more specific, asking just how this person has helped you grow. Honestly, I don’t like prompts like this that ask you to write about others. It’s great to acknowledge the role your parents, teachers, friends, and others had in your success, but too many students get caught up and make the other person the sole focus of the essay. See our previous advice regarding How to Write about Someone Else in supplemental essays.
Otherwise, the best advice I can provide is to be conscious of how your writing reflects on you. Spending too much time listing nonspecific praise for someone says little about you other than how much you like them. Writing an essay where a short piece of simple advice from a coach to push through the challenge of football practice or believe in yourself made a fundamental change in your life may seem overly dramatic. Pick something nuanced and meaningful if you choose to tackle this prompt.
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application who select one of Yale’s engineering majors will also respond to the prompt below in 300 words or fewer:
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.
The advice here is the same for discussing your major. Make sure your desire to pursue engineering in college is grounded in your high school accomplishments. Do your research on Yale’s engineering program. Make sure it’s a good fit, and make the case as to why it is.
As always, we're here to help. Don't hesitate to reach out.