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Yale University 2017-18 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

The Requirements: 7 short answer questions; 1-2 additional short essays of 250-300 words each

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Short Answer, Oddball

Yale University 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations

Short Answers dominate the Yale application. So, in brief, they’re looking for confidence. When an essay must clock in at under 100 words, you don’t have time to waffle. There’s no room for for you to circle your main idea with broad statements. You’ve got to get straight to the point, and clearly. The successful applicant will choose precise words that can do double — even triple duty — telling your story (literally), bringing vivid details to life, and highlighting your overall intelligence. Writing a good short answer takes a lot of wordsmithing, so be prepared to spend a great deal of time tooling, trimming, and scrapping your drafts. Weirdly, although the prompts require incisive thought, the application as a whole is long and meandering, with separate sets of questions for students applying through different platforms. So, pay attention and make sure you focus on the right assignment.

Short Answer Questions Applicants submitting the Coalition Application, Common Application, or QuestBridge Application are asked to 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 provided.

There’s only one trick to generating a straightforward list of your academic interests: be honest. If you already know what you want to major in, or have it narrowed down to a few departments, you’re set! Don’t waste time trying to strategize. Choosing anything other than your true interests would be a misrepresentation of who you are and a disservice to you and the admissions office. This assignment will no doubt be most challenging for the undecideds, but to help you narrow your focus, try to tell a story with your choices. How can you use this to reveal something about what you value and what excites you intellectually. You could try to illustrate a general inclination (art history, studio art, and American studies). Or if you really feel like you could go any direction, try to show a balance, picking majors across domains that link to each other in a way that still makes sense (biology, psychology, classics) — you’ll thank yourself when answering the next question.

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

You’ve only got 100 words, but if you chose wisely (and honestly) in the previous question, answering this one should be a cinch. Whether you listed one or several interests, your goal is to tell a cohesive story about your intellectual curiosity. Ideally, you should try to recount an anecdote that illustrates your engagement with your chosen field, or demonstrates your ability to link seemingly disparate fields. Perhaps you’re interested in both religion and astrophysics because each offers a way for you to contemplate our place in the universe. But while you may be tempted to wax philosophical, you should beware of veering into overly abstract territory. This is a great opportunity for you to explain how your intellectual interests relate to who you are as a person. Don’t waste it!

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

This is a short version of the Why essay, the mini Why. Yale wants to make sure you are psyched for the full college experience at their school. So, we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: DO. YOUR. RESEARCH. As a top school, Yale attracts many applicants based on its reputation alone, so it won’t do you any good to go on and on about the world-class education you will receive. Yale admissions officers know — and they know you know. Locate specific opportunities within your department and related programs and centers that really make your heart sing with excitement.

And make sure you talk about yourself! Yale doesn’t need a summary of its website (even if you write about a forgotten page deep in the Math Department website). Talk about your academic and professional goals and how Yale will help you achieve them. What unexpected classes might you want to take to sate your curiosity? How will you drive yourself to succeed? Don’t forget to include details about personal growth. If you think you can accomplish this and that on campus, what experience do you have to back up those claims? What about the Yale experience will enrich your life overall? Which extracurricular activities and organizations will you take advantage of? Do they offer quidditch? If so, you should definitely play. Figure out why you’re applying to Yale over all the other schools out there – and then deliver it with eloquence and confidence.

Applicants submitting either the Coalition Application or Common Application are also asked to respond to the following short answer questions:

What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

35 words is not a lot of words, especially when it comes to a concept as broad as inspiration. You don’t have time to describe what the word means to you, and admissions officers don’t have time for vague answers (“nature”) or trite ones (“my mom”). First and foremost, have fun with this prompt. Think of the 35 word challenge as a game. Then, get specific. What experiences have launched some of your best ideas? Although you won’t have time to relate the whole story, you can draw upon your personal experience for a hyper-specific, memorable answer like “the color of fresh drosophila eggs” or “Goldie Hawn’s crazy eyes in Death Becomes Her.” You get the idea.

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)

Pro tip: your question is more important than your guest. At its core, this prompt is about your curiosity. Being able to ask a good question is probably more important than being able to give a good answer (especially when you are a student). So, what are you curious about? What do you find most puzzling about your chosen field of study? About the last thing you read? About the human condition or the afterlife? Once you have honed in on your area of curiosity, think about who might be a good person to ask. Even if you initial idea feels vague, you can always sculpt it into a more specific question once you know who you’re asking. So, rather than asking Einstein about relativity, maybe you’ll end up pressing him for answers about the future of women in STEM.

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

The previous question asked you what you’re curious about, and this one is asking you what you know. What are you good at? Reach beyond the traditional academic areas towards skills you may have cultivated on your own time — cooking, knitting, vlogging, Esperanto. Then, think about how you might teach an academic course on this skill. Think beyond “Vlogging 101” and probe to a real intellectual issue worth exploring — “The Economics of Vlogging.”

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

This question is just setting you up for a sassy or clever response. So if a funny idea springs to mind, feel free to use it! That said, there’s no need to force humor if you’re drawing a blank. Instead (as we have been saying) stick to the truth! What do you feel you contribute to group situations? What do your friends say about you? When has a teacher or coach praised you for your contribution to a team? Try to stick to concrete examples as you brainstorm. Even in a 35-word response, it’s still better to show rather than tell. “Academic integrity” is a vacuous quality, while “encyclopedic knowledge of the MLA and APA citation handbooks” says a lot about you as a person and what you care about.

Essays – Coalition Application

In 300 words or fewer, write on one of the two essay topics below. In addition to writing on your chosen topic, upload an audio file, video, image, or document you have created that is meaningful to you and relates to your essay. Above your essay, include a one-sentence description of what you have submitted.
Please limit your upload to the following file types: mp3, mov, jpeg, word, pdf. Note that advanced editing of audio/video/image/documents is not necessary. While we are not providing limits to the length of the material you upload, the Admissions Office may not have time to review the entirety of your submission. Sometimes, less is more.
Uploads provided via the Coalition Application will be reviewed by the Admissions Office only. If you wish to submit material that may be evaluated by Yale faculty, please see our Supplementary Material instructions.

If you are using the Common App, rather than the coalition, feel free to skip ahead (although note that the prompts are basically the same). As for you, Coalition folks: woof! This is a doozy of an assignment. Before you even get to the prompts, make sure you read these instructions carefully. Did you notice the part where they suggest admissions might “not have time to review the entirety of your submission.” THANKS A LOT, GUYS. While this inauspicious preface may make this seem like a throwaway task, we ask that you steel your reserve. This is a new challenge: to grab and capture the attention of the admissions officer(s) reviewing your application. Brevity is a piece of the puzzle, but finding the right topic comes first! Since you have a choice between an academically-oriented prompt and a personally-oriented prompt, we recommend working backwards. Look at everything you have shared thus far: what’s missing? Have you been waiting for the opportunity to tell that funny story about making meatballs with your grandma? Or are you just pining to explain just how you taught yourself multivariable calculus? Now’s your last chance to swing, slugger.

What do you most enjoy learning?

This prompt is the perfect option if your chosen topic is academic in nature. The one thing to keep in mind is that it is specifically about learning. So, rather than framing your story as a tale of academic success (“the time I won first place at the science fair”) focus on what you learned. What made the learning process exciting? What made it challenging? What motivated you to push through any difficulties? What made it all worth it? Of course, your answer here doesn’t have to be academic! Maybe you’ve spent time learning karate or developing a meditation practice; now is the perfect time to share your experiences. That said, we like to think of this as the academic prompt because choosing an academic subject may also help you select a media artifact to share on the Coalition platform (as requested). Chances are, you have already done a project or assignment that you can use as the base, which will save you time.

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

This prompt, on the other hand, is perfect for personal storytelling. “A community to which you belong” could be anything: your family, a club at school, your hometown, you get the idea. If you’ve been wanting to spin your 8-bit videogame obsession into an essay, this prompt is offering you the opportunity to describe your community of old school gamers. Whatever community you choose, remember to situate your contribution within it. When have you been a leader? When were you able to affect change? And was it a positive or negative change? As always, try to be as concrete as possible as you develop your story. Just brainstorming your topic may remind you of a video you made or photo you took that you can use as a jumping off point. You might even consider digging through old photos and notebooks as a way to brainstorm!

Optional Engineering and Computer Science Essay

If you selected one of the computer science or 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 computer science or engineering, and what it is about Yale’s program in this area that appeals to you. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer.)

Okay, okay, we know Yale says this prompt is optional, but we firmly believe that you should take every chance you can get to speak to admissions in your own voice. This is (obviously) one of those chances. The prompt lays out its requests pretty clearly, but keep in mind that your central point is this: “I am a good, qualified candidate for Yale’s comp sci or engineering program.” Picking one solid anecdote to focus on will allow you to tell an engaging story that naturally addresses your interest in the field and a core experience you had related to it.

Essays – Common Application

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

If you followed our advice and didn’t skim through the whole lengthy paragraph above here’s the dive back into your prompt. It’s just like we’ve always said about the Common App: when you have your choice of prompts, pick your topic first. What is the most compelling story you can tell? What is missing from your application? What’s an idea you had to scrap in your Common App personal statement? Yale is giving you a second chance to tell a compelling personal story!

What do you most enjoy learning?

This question is also included in the Coalition set, so please see above. 😉

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

Same here – see above!

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

Let’s get real. If you’ve been paying attention to our advice, you know that this is how you should approach every essay no matter the question or word limit. That said, it’s nice that Yale has offered you a truly open-ended prompt. They’re literally asking, “Anything else?” If you’re feeling totally tapped out, consider getting a little weird with it. What makes you laugh? Can you relate a funny story that you always tell at family gatherings? What drives you nuts? If you’ve been itching for a chance to rail on your biggest pet peeve, you’ll have no better opportunity than this one! You’ve already covered all the basics at this point, so take this opportunity to zoom in and get personal.

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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