Yale University Essay Guide 2019-2020

“CT – New Haven – Yale University: Battell Chapel” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In this essay guide, I will discuss how to best respond to the supplemental essay prompts for Yale. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

*For the 2020-2021 Yale University Essay Guide, click here.

Short Answer Questions

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application, Common Application, or QuestBridge Application will 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.

This is your time to tell the admissions committee about your intended area of study. Keep in mind this is in no way binding and you might completely change your academic path once you arrive at Yale. This is just to get a sense of what you’re interested in at the moment.

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

Don’t feel tricked by these simple questions. The admissions office is just looking for your honest answer. They want to know what you’re passionate about and why. There’s not a lot of room to answer, so make sure every sentence you write is compelling. If you are interested in engineering, is it because you were on your high school robotics team? If you’re interested in Archaeology, is it because of a trip you went on with your family to an ancient city? This question is not meant to fool you, just be frank and make sure your zeal and excitement shine through.

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

Again, you can only answer this question in very few words, so keep it concise and clear. Don’t feel you need to limit your answer to something obvious or academic. Yale is a diverse place in so many ways. You meet people from all over the world who are eager to learn so many different things. The wonderful thing about having Yale College and all majors under one school is that you will make friends from all kinds of backgrounds. You might be an art major while your best friend is a pre-med biology major. Yale also prides itself on the expansive amount of extracurriculars. For example, acapella and theater are two major parts of campus life for those who are interested in the performing arts. There’s something for everyone at Yale, so take time to look through their website, see what kinds of things they offer and choose one or two things that really speak to you. If you have been to Yale before, on a visit or for a summer program, this is the time to speak about why those experiences convinced you that Yale is the place for you.

Applicants applying with the QuestBridge Application will complete the questions above via the Yale QuestBridge Questionnaire, available on the Yale Admissions Status Portal after an application has been received. Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will also respond to the following short answer questions, in 35 words or fewer:

These questions might seem like the most difficult because you have so few words to get your message across. Thirty-five words are only a sentence or two. Keep it simple and go with your gut feeling as you read each question. They change every year, and the admissions committee is never looking for one right answer. Just be sincere, and if sincere for you is silly, serious, quick-witted, emotional, or anything else, then let that show through your answers.

When I applied one of the questions was: “What is something you’ve changed your mind about?” My answer: “I used to hate tomatoes as a child, now I eat cherry tomatoes as a snack!” Another question was: “What’s your ideal day?” Being a Charlottesville, Virginia native I answered: “A sunny day where I can go for a picnic with friends followed by a hike through the Blue Ridge mountains.”

Again, there not looking for a groundbreaking answer, they just want to get to know you as well as they can be based on what they see on paper, and that can be really tough. So take these questions as an opportunity to share a side of yourself that Yale might not otherwise see through your formal essay writing.

What inspires you?

This can be anything: your grandma, a book you read, a public figure, or maybe an abstract idea. It can also be something ongoing. Go with your gut here, and don’t feel you need to elaborately explain why this thing inspires you, they know you only have a few words to answer. Say what it is and very briefly why if you have words remaining, and if you don’t that’s alright too.

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?

Yale prides itself on the diversity of speakers that come to campus from all fields of study — a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, a politician, a musician, an artist, a CEO, the list is endless. This is quite similar to the question, “If you could ask a question to any person dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask?” This can be absolutely anyone, don’t feel that any one person is too obscure. In fact, if the admissions committee isn’t familiar with the person you mentioned, they might be curious to learn more.

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?

No explanations needed here, just think of a class you can construct and what it would be called. Yale has very exciting and catchy names for their classes like an English class entitled “Vikings” or a psychology class called “Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature” that the professor herself abbreviated to “Sexy Psych”. Try to make it something catchy, something that you yourself would see and think, “I definitely want to take that class!”

Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?

This is quite a personal question but again they are looking for an honest answer. For example, if you are from a small town and have never traveled outside of the country, maybe you hope to have international suitemates or meet people from other states that have grown up in very different places from your own hometown. The word limit is short, so don’t forget to be concise.

Essays Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will respond to the prompt below in 250 words or fewer:

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

Be compelling in your answer, even if this idea or topic is very niche or specific to your own interests. Think about how you would promote that idea to someone else to convince them that it’s a very fascinating topic. It can be something you learned in school or something you’ve learned elsewhere. Maybe you read it in a book or heard about it in a lecture. Maybe it’s been a recurring theme in many of your classes or even interests outside of school. Don’t forget to emphasize the why. Why has this topic been so exciting for you? It could be personal or it could be purely academic, just be persuasive!

Applicants submitting the Common Application will also select ONE of the two prompts below and respond in 250 words or fewer:

Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?

In other words, how has this community and your role in it shaped you? This can be your soccer team, a volunteering experience you do on the weekends or in the summer, your church group, the marching band, etc. Don’t force your answer to sound like this community is the most impressive one to which you belong, they already have your resume. Which one excites or moves you in a way you can most captivatingly share? Remember they want to know about YOU. For instance, if it’s a retirement home you volunteer at every Saturday, don’t focus on the place itself but rather how your time there has affected your own personal growth or given you a new perspective.

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 could help you address it.

This is another kind of “Why Yale?” question phrased in a specific manner. Your answer could be something that is present on the news regularly, or it can be something that has affected you on a more local level. In either case, you should take this opportunity to show how the resources at Yale, academic or otherwise, can provide you with tools to take part in resolving your issue of choice. Yale also has an expansive network of faculty and alumni, maybe you know of someone at Yale who is already doing work to engage in this issue that you would like to speak to or work with during your college career. Feel free to mention them in your answer and explain why and how you would like to collaborate with them.

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application will also select ONE of the two prompts below and respond in 250 words or fewer:

  1. Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?
  2. 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 could help you address it.
  3. In addition to writing on your chosen prompt, upload an audio file, video, image, or document you have created. The upload should complement your response to the chosen prompt. Above your response, include a one-sentence description of your upload. Please limit uploads to the following file types: mp3, mov, jpeg, word, pdf. Advanced editing is not necessary. Uploads provided via the Coalition Application will be reviewed by the Admissions Office only. Review the Supplementary Material instructions for material that may be evaluated by Yale faculty.


This essay guide was written by Catalina Chernavvsky Sequeira, Yale Class of 2018. If you want to get more help writing your application essays from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.