How To Write The Yale Supplemental Essays (2021-2022)

From “What inspires you?” to describing your own Yale course, we’ve got you covered when it comes to answering the Yale supplemental essays this year.


Welcome to the Yale supplemental essay prompts for the 2021-2022 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.

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 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 in your Yale supplemental essay.


So you need to give them something. Pick what makes the 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.


Even if you’re not completely sure about the major you’d like to study, use specifics from your research to flesh out your Yale supplemental essay, whether it’s about why you’re interested in a certain topic or your experience.


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


You know the drill—this is the fairly standard “Why College?” essay. Your first priority is to 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—they’ve got dozens of Nobel Prizes for Pete’s sake.


Since this is your Yale supplemental essay, 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, supplemental 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 beach.” 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? Get creative.


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 would you ask them to discuss?


Fun question, but this needs to be authentic—don’t make something up to sound smart. 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.


You are teaching a new 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.


Yale students embrace the concept of “and” rather than “or,” pursuing arts and sciences, tradition and innovation, defined goals, and surprising detours. What is an example of an “and” that you embrace?


This prompt is open to interpretation, specifically the interpretation of the word “and.” One thing is for certain: you want to have a positive spin on the concept. Reflect on where your passions, skills, and interests overlap. Maybe the sportsmanship you learned in field hockey makes you a better team player in group projects or the critical thinking skills you learned in debate make you an excellent English essay writer.


You don’t necessarily have to be a “well-rounded” student with experience in many disciplines to write a great answer to this question. You could write about a time when your interests changed, and you used the talents you had previously developed to succeed in your new endeavor. Use the abstract meaning of “and” to define it to your benefit.


Essays


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? (250 words or fewer)


The tricky thing about answering this question is that you don’t want to write about your senior project, volunteering 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 geopolitical 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 (250 words or fewer):

  • 2A. Reflect on a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.

  • 2B. Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you?


This prompt was 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.


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