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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.
The Requirements: 6 short answer questions; 1-2 additional short essays of 250-300 words each
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Yale just won’t let you off the hook. This microscopic prompt contains two questions, and you need to answer both of them. As you brainstorm, aim to find a well-matched pair of answers. To address the first question think about what you contribute to group situations. What positive things do your friends or teachers say about you? 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.
As you move on to the second question, consider how to strike a balance with your answer to the first. Keep in mind that Yale isn’t asking you to choose your suitemates, but to think about what suitemates will add to your experience. So how will you benefit from sharing a space? If you consider yourself an MLA-memorizing rule follower, maybe living with suitemates will teach you to accept others as they are, in all their messiness. Attempting to find balance in your answers to both questions will lend itself to a structurally tight response.
By this point in the Yale supplement, your reader knows what you want to study and why, what inspires you, your intellectual icons, and the kind of course you would teach. They already know a lot about your brain. So how can you excite and surprise them with yet another essay about your intellectual curiosity? Believe it or not, it’s still your job to reveal something new about who you are and what you love. Fortunately, you get to choose from three prompts in this section. So if you think you’ll better distinguish yourself by telling a different kind of story, by all means skip down to the other options. If you stick around, you’ll want to use this prompt to tell a story! While the short answers are good for quips, there really isn’t enough space for narrative. Here you have an opportunity to spin a thread about a meaningful moment in your intellectual development. When have you felt excited and motivated to learn? When have your teachers or peers pushed you to understand the world beyond your (limited) personal experience? When you scroll through Netflix, what kinds of films and documentaries do you just have to watch? Tap into your memories and routines to show admissions what it’s like to be in your head.
“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 video game 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!
If you were considering the first question in this section because you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get up on your favorite soapbox, perhaps this third option will be your perfect prompt. It has the potential to cover similar areas as the Common App’s fourth prompt about a problem you’d like to solve, and the Coalition’s second prompt about work you have done for the greater good. So if you’ve already selected one of these prompts for your main personal statement, this prompt could be redundant. If not, you’re in luck! You’ve got tons of resources at your disposal! The most important thing to remember about a prompt that invites you to consider an issue affecting the world at large is that your essay still needs to be about you. Even if you want to write about an issue that doesn’t affect you directly, you need to be able to explain why it matters to you. What makes it worth fighting for (or against) and why should you enter the fray? And of course, don’t forget to tie your answer back to your future at Yale. Take this opportunity to explore the intersection of your personal, professional, and intellectual interests.