October 25, 2018

Yale University Supplemental Essays

Yale University

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will select from the following topics:

  • Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?

There needs to be some element of “surprisingness” or “unusualness” here. It can either be the idea or topic itself… or the “why you’re drawn to it” piece. If your idea/topic is likely to be chosen by someone else, you MUST present a fresh angle for why YOU’RE drawn to it. It almost HAS to be different from how everyone else’s will read, otherwise, even the best idea and the best reasons behind your interest in it, will fall flat. It’s just human nature. One exercise you can use (not that you’d say this necessarily in your essay, more like, something you do on the side in draft-mode…) is to say “whereas many people are interested in X topic because of A B or C, my interest is a little different. You see… blah blah blah.”

Now here’s the real trick, and most folks are gonna miss this: You need to PROVE that you’re drawn to it. It’s not enough to just claim it. Anyone can say… anything. But where’s the evidence to back it up? What is it you DO in response to being drawn to this thing? You answer should be something we can picture. Something you do that no one told you to do, but that came out of… “being inspired by the thing.” Walk us through the thing that RESULTS of your being drawn to this thing. There is a huge distinction here between just saying “Hey I’m inspired by the debate around climate change. So inspired!” … and “Hey I’m inspired by the debate around climate change, so I poked around and discovered that I could get the attention of local congressmen to sit down and talk to me if I approached them THIS way instead of THAT way. And so I did. I wanted to see what was underneath the debate from both sides, from legislators’ perspectives. And… blah blah blah.” You believe THAT guy’s interest in this more than the guy who just talks about it, right? So your essay here will be a two-parter.

  • Part 1 – Walk us through the thing you’re drawn to. And why. What’s your “unusual” thing or angle? (Remember, either will work.) Emote, let your passion fly here. Make it so that it’s impossible for the reader to not be right there with you by the end of it.
  • Part 2 – But… you’re not finished, that’s just the setup (for most applicants that’ll be everything, and this is where you push past them). Now, take us through the actions this had inspired. Describe actions we can picture that show us that you are truly drawn toward this thing. That action doesn’t need to be exhausting and physical. But it does need to be SOMETHING beyond just the claim THAT you’re drawn toward something. Think about it as “being drawn to this led me to… {do… something}.” What fills that in?

With those two pieces, you’re on your way to a solid first draft.


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

A cool one. But not so easy. First of all, we need to know what your community is, and depending on what that is, an explanation for how you define it. If it’s self-explanatory, no need. But if you define your community in an unconventional way, help us understand how that came to be.

Next up is this idea of contributing. This is all about the “delta.” Imagine this community completely “without you,” y’all never met, period end of story. Now, imagine the real-life version that you know well, the one you’ve lived, where they DO know you, and you have interacted with them however you have. Now, the fun part: How are those two pictures different? This is the coolest way to isolate what it was you, specifically, contributed to this community. Think of a dilemma, or issue, or something, that this community would have dealt with HAD THEY NOT KNOWN YOU. Imagine what they’d say, how they’d react, how they would decide, how they would grapple with it, etc. Now imagine how they would deal with that exact same issue TODAY, given your “contribution” TO this community. How is this second version different? Why is it better? What was it you did that led to this difference? We must understand the delta in a way that’s similar to this to understand what your contribution was, and why that was a good thing.

It should be the case that if it hadn’t been you, it’s not necessarily the case that someone else would have come along and made that contribution eventually. It should be the case that you SPECIFICALLY changed the way someone thought, which had a ripple effect, either through your behavior, or through persuasion, or through some other means, that led to some kind of SHIFT.

  • Part 1 – Quickly define your “community.”
  • Part 2 – Next, establish the status quo. The version of this community that “was” (pre-your-influence). Use an example to illustrate their approach to something, or whatever metric you need to establish the “before.”
  • Part 3 – Now, take us through the way in which you became a CHANGE AGENT. either through action, or simply by being different, however it happened. That led to a SHIFT/EVOLUTION of some kind. This is your contribution. Make us understand what exactly it was.
  • Part 4 – Finally, sell us on why this was a positive/good/meaningful thing. Why should we care that you made this contribution to this community? How might this impact something/someone beyond that particular community?

  • Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.

This assumes that you’re not just gonna THINK about this issue, and debate it for fun with friends and loved ones. This assumes that you’re gonna actually do something about it. And further, that the version of that that occurs through Yale is somehow more appealing to you than anywhere else. (Take a minute to process all that, it’s important.)

Okay, so, with all that above as a PREREQUISITE for this response, let’s dig in a little deeper. First up, imagine tackling this issue… ever, at all, by yourself, as you would today. “Well, go do something about it.” What is it? What might you do? What are the actions? What’s the plan? What will that plan lead to, if you’re successful? (Remember, for this first step, we’re talking about the steps you’d take TODAY, having not gone to college yet.) Kewl. Now imagine a revamped version of that master plan, but this time, you get to attend Yale. Hopefully, that alone made your mouth water a bit. Because that made you say something like “Holy crap, if I could approach this same thing, but I get to go to YALE, well that changes everything… because NOW, I would do THIS STEP differently in THIS WAY, and I’d add THIS OTHER THING which wouldn’t be possible otherwise, and then I’d take advantage of THIS THING at Yale which feeds directly into my plan and then… (and so on).”

See how that works? This is a neat way to, once again, isolate the variable we’re interested in, which is “what is it about an amazing college experience, that will help take your plan to the next level.” This shows us how you’re planning on taking advantage of college. How well do you understand what the opportunities are? The more detailed your plan, the more viable it is (even if you don’t actually pursue it), the more likely the reader is to feel like there’s forward momentum with you, and that’s the name of the game. “This is the kind of kid that’s gonna grab life by the horns.” Our advice? Go smaller, and more bite-sized on the goal/issue itself. Or, let the ultimate goal be HUGE, but focus YOUR efforts on something small enough that you can reasonably pull off. Put differently, the more LIKELY it feels you are to pursue (and succeed at) it, the more credible your case will be.

Applicants submitting the Common Application: Please choose two of the topics above and respond to each in 250 words or fewer.

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application: Please choose one of the topics above and respond in 300 words or fewer. 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.

The best thing you can do here, honestly, is to have ALREADY created this item sometime in your recent past (possibly earlier childhood). Why? Because when you created this thing, you did it without consideraton of the Yale application. You created it because (presumably) you were driven by a real interest in this topic, whatever it is. Sure, it’s possible the thing resulted from an assignment, but maybe that assignment STIRRED something in you and gave birth TO a more lasting interest in this thing. It’s so much stronger to do it that way, and have this essay reflect your CURRENT THINKING, and for the thing you upload simply to demonstrate a real connection between the two… than to have clearly generated some kind of thing purely for the purposes of your college application to Yale. It won’t matter how impressive it is, if the motivation behind it doesn’t stem from something real, it’ll read.

Now, if you can’t find something from your recent past, it’s possible to dip back a little further to show that whatever the theme is inside that creation, still lives within you. There will be times when in fact this is an even STRONGER play than something super recent that might be tied to a high school assignment. Speaking of which, the coolest creations will be the ones that came from pure passion. Things you did for yourself, that might never have been noticed by anyone else. Those often provide the cleanest insights into what’s stirring inside. Which is ultimately what this question is getting at.

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.


Optional Engineering Essay – For Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application

If you selected one of the 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 engineering, and what it is about Yale’s engineering program that appeals to you. Please respond in 300 words or fewer.

{We’re gonna borrow liberally from our analysis from the Princeton engineering question because it’s more or less the exact same thing.}

You may wanna address the elephant in the room, which is… “are you pursuing engineering because your parents made you”? hahah. It’s either gonna be EXACTLY your situation (you wanna be an artist but your parents say “Nuh Unh”), or the exact opposite (your parents want you to be an artist, and YOU say, nope, I like engineering), or it’s somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter which one it is. What matters is emerging with the reader saying “this kid is GENUINE about it.” More often than not, the argument you THINK makes for the most compelling sell on why you’re interested in something (in this case engineering), is the least convincing. Usually, because it makes… too much sense. Sounds too perfect. Is too predictable. The best arguments are the ones that are surprising, unpredictable, off-balance somehow.

“Hey so, both my parents are engineers and have kinda insisted that I also be an engineer and have threatened to disown me if I don’t become an engineer, so that’s part of it. I decided to do it, but I decided that I would HATE it. Because I’m a kid and that’s what kids do in response to anything their parents say. So that’s what I did. I took classes with a “Harumph” arms-folded attitude, cuz it’s all I had. The thing is? No matter how hard I tried, I frickin loved it. DAMNIT! Must. Not. Let. Parents. Win. …” yada yada. It’s possible to take what COULD have been a predictable version (parents said I had to) and turn INTO something a little surprising.

You just need to find the element that’s true to YOUR experience, and bring it front and center. All that selling of YOUR draw toward engineering, your plans, etc., should take up maybe 70% of the thing. The final piece is convincing us that of all the engineering programs out there, somehow the one at YALE snaps into place with you and your interests and skillset… differently and better than others. In order to make that argument, you need to map specific elements of the Yale engineering program to specific aspects of what YOU NEED in order to excel… the most. This isn’t easy. And it’s all about specificity and making those connections. Not simply in IDENTIFYING aspects of the programs which seem promising or noteworthy. Gotta connect to something specific about you.


You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of Yale’s application essays.

Learn more and explore each step of Yale’s undergraduate application process here.

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