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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 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: 1 list; 6 short answer questions; 1 additional short essay of 400 words
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.
200 characters is not a lot of characters, 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 200 character 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 your 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.”
This is one of the hardest prompts! What do they want to know?! Where do you start? Birth? School? Puberty? First, take a breath and calm down. Think about why they’re asking you this question and it will all fall into place. While many applications look similar, with impressive grades, extracurriculars, and teacher recommendations, this essay makes it so you can stand out from the crowd with your personality. Do you have a very sarcastic sense of humor? Do you make more dad jokes than your own father? Do all of your friends refer to you as the “artsy” one? Yale wants to know that you’re more than your transcripts, so take this opportunity to share a piece of yourself that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see. This prompt also lends itself to recycling previously written essays for other schools quite well, so you might want to consider revisiting it once you’ve made a dent in writing your supplemental essays for other schools.
Engaging with others in meaningful conversations about important issues can be intimidating and challenging, and the Yale admissions committee knows this. Nevertheless, we have all experienced standing up for what we believe in some capacity, so scroll through your memory to identify a time when you had an uncomfortable conversation with friends, family, or even mere acquaintances. Maybe you engaged your grandparents in a conversation regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Were you able to clearly communicate your perspective? What did you take away from the discussion? Perhaps you learned that one of your friends was a passive supporter of an organization that you vehemently disagree with. How did you broach the subject and what was the outcome of your conversation? You don’t need to have changed someone’s mind (or your own!) to impress admissions here. You just need to show that you’re not afraid to stand up for issues you care about and engage with those who may have different opinions than you. College will present you with a plethora of opportunities to meet and interact with people who are very different from you, so show Yale that you’re game to learn, listen, share, and grow.
When have you contributed to a community that is important to you and why? For some applicants, the answer might be obvious: you are one of the few English speakers in your community and you share your textbooks and homework with elders, so that they can learn too. But whether this prompt seems like it was made for you or is a total head-scratcher, we encourage you to dig a little deeper than your first thought. What about your history, experiences, perspectives, or talents might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? And how can the experience, perspective, or talent you choose enrich the college community at Yale? Maybe you have always been an organizer and you are the glue that holds your summer camp community together during the school year. How did it feel when you all reconvened over winter break? Maybe you were raised on a farm and developed a strong work ethic at a young age as you helped your parents tend to the fields. What’s it like to know you’re helping to provide a community with nutritious food options? Be sure to connect your personal story to a future vision of yourself at Yale.