October 25, 2018

Yale University Short Answers

Yale University

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
  • Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

So, the first is straightforward, on purpose. Just… indicate… which areas light you up the most? Cool. The next part is where things get interesting. And there’s a giant clue in the prompt to help you NAIL this, but you gotta look carefully…

Yale assumes (as they should) that your interests will evolve, and probably change altogether. That’s their hope anyway. After all, they’re not a trade school, taking your proficiency in one thing, and ADVANCING it along an exact, fixed trajectory. If they do their job correctly, by exposing you to different types of students from different walks of life, who have different perspectives, along with a wide array of courses and activities … they HOPE that that will all sum up to blowing your mind. The whole point is to expand your horizons until you’re poised to pursue… anything, even if it’s different from what you thought it might be back when you were a senior, applying.

So, why go through all that? Because the key isn’t to sell them on your interest in THE AREAS THEMSELVES, but rather, the significance OF that interest. What’s the underlying itch that interest is scratching? That’s what we wanna learn more about – the part that persists even if that surface interest were to look a little different in a few years. When you talk about your interest in Global Affairs or Cognitive Science or Music or … whatever… you need to talk about it abstractly enough that were your “subject” interests to change, your ultimate reasoning stays INTACT, because the ITCH can be applied to many things, the itch is “scalable.” What they REALLY need to be convinced of is that your interests won’t flame out.

In the third piece, the part about “Why Yale,” you need to come up with reasons that aren’t obvious. “Anyone” would wanna attend Yale, cuz, it’s Yale, right? Think about it this way… if you were to get accepted to Harvard and Stanford and Princeton, why might you choose Yale OVER those? What aspects of Yale have convinced you that the combination of You + Yale is more appealing than You + Harvard, or You + Stanford, etc.? Be specific. Be authentic. Your reasoning may even be irrational, emotional, based on gut. The one thing it can’t be is applicable to other folks as well. It’s gonna be some kind of sacred (anticipated) connection between you and Yale.


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

  • What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

Remember, 35 words is a sentence, or two. This isn’t the time to be cute, or burn time on clever setups. The challenge here is to laser into the thing itself, fast. Try to capture both what inspires you, and what that means. X thing has Y impact on me. Or, X thing inspires me to do Y thing differently or in THIS PARTICULAR way. You get the idea.

  • 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 question would you ask? (35 words or fewer)

Please don’t indicate an OBVIOUS person and ask an OBVIOUS question. You can do a BIZARRE/INTERESTING person and ask an OBVIOUS question, or an OBVIOUS person and ask a BIZARRE/INTERESTING question. But not Obvious-Obvious. Also, if it’s not evident from the combination of Person + Your Question WHY you’re asking that of that person, and you feel like you need to explain “because I’d want to hear so-and-so’s take on blahhh…” your combo of person and question isn’t as good as it could be. The cooooolest version here is the one where your choice of Person + Question makes it crystal clear what you had in mind when putting those two things together.

Also consider that whatever this person says in response to your question must be of theoretical value to the Yale community (or any college community). If it’s only of significance to a narrow band of people, it’s not gonna fly. What combo would cause the most meaningful STIR?

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

Here you have enough room to TITLE the course, and then “blurb it.” When we say “blurb” we mean to explain it in terms like “Course will examine BLAH BLAH.” Some advice: um, make sure Yale doesn’t already teach it? Also, make sure it would be of interest and value to someone other than yourself? A very cool version would be something that seems obvious precisely BECAUSE it feels immediately interesting and valuable, but isn’t taught. If the reader has to wonder why this might be an interesting class, you can still win that person over in your “blurb.” But, the coolest version is one where they don’t even need to READ the blurb and they go “Wow, of course, sold, don’t even need to read on.”

  • Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours? (35 words or fewer)

Because you need to address both, and you have 35 words, again, you need to be FAST and to the point. It’s actually a cool question. You can be critical here (of yourself) and point out weaknesses, gaps, things you’re hoping to get from your college experience. Be careful not to suggest something that only a handful of potential roommates could make good on. It should be the kind of thing that almost ANY roommate (or group of roommates, together), by virtue of being students at Yale, should be able to fulfill. Otherwise, what does it say about you that if that group of people CAN’T do the thing you’re hoping… then what? Same works in return. It shouldn’t matter what kind of people your roommates are, the thing that YOU have to offer should be helpful to just about annnnnyone imaginable.


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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