Essay Scoop: How to Answer Yale Essays

Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

The Yale essays are not exactly a piece of cake. Like its Ivy League counterparts, Yale only admits a small percentage of its applicants. The short answer component of the Yale application offers students the opportunity to tell the admission committee more about themselves –  activities, interests, or experiences that have been meaningful to you and will make you stand out from the rest. Here is some practical advice on what you should include in your responses.

In this article, we will review the Yale essays as prompts, one by one. We offer some practical framing and advice for each question. So, let’s read through it together!

Why Yale? Why does Yale appeal to you? (100 words or less)

This is a very straightforward “why us” question that requires research on aspects specific to Yale that match your interests. Show that you have done some research on academic programs, professors, courses, clubs, or traditions, and mention your extracurriculars that prove your interest in those specific Yale areas. It is important to talk about both Yale and why you would be a good fit.

Please respond in just a few words (no more than 50 characters) to each of the questions below:

Theses short responses are meant to showcase your personality in your application. Make your personality shine through a powerful written voice. Write about what matters to you. Be authentic. You should find a balance between showing your genuine interests in addition to showing your best self to colleges. The purpose of these short responses are to allow admissions readers to get to know you and learn what matters to you. It is important to strike a balance between the ideas discussed in the other essays and new information related to your personality.

The two qualities I most admire in other people are

This is a mix between desires and appreciation of personality traits/abilities. A strong response will not only explain the connection but tie in an example.

I am most proud of

This can range from winning an award to helping build houses in Haiti. Even simple things, such as volunteering at a nursing home or helping a younger sibling, can be good examples. Worry less about the topic and more about WHY you are proud of this moment or experience. Be thoughtful and reflective.

I couldn’t live without

This can be a favorite food, book, TV show, video game, or anything that comes to mind. Include a list of one main thing or several things, and be sure to provide explanation of why you could not live without those things.  

Who or what inspires you?

This person can be a family member, teacher, famous person, etc. In a concise manner, you want to talk about how someone inspired you while also making an impression on admissions readers based on your actual background, stories, and interest. We recommend students describe the person and how the person inspired them, then reflect on their impact on you today. Many students focus on the person who inspired them rather than the impact – that is the most common mistake on this essay. 

What do you wish you were better at being or doing?

This sounds a lot like the dreaded “what is your biggest weakness” interview question but is actually an opportunity to explain how you’d like to develop a skill/trait for future goals. This can have a loose connection the ‘Why Yale’ prompt or simply reveal another bit of your personal interests. 

Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite?

This is a chance to bring in personal quirks and/or hobbies. It can range from skills you possess, activities, and anything else that inhabits your life. Visualize an assortment of roommates and think about a fun or useful contribution to the social space. Are you a competitive gamer? Do you practice tai chi ritualistically? Focus.

 Please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or goals to interests or intellectual pursuits.

Please answer in 500 words or fewer. We encourage you to visit, where you will find helpful advice.

Focus on something other than what you focused on in your Common Application essay.

According to the Yale website, “It doesn’t matter which topics you choose, as long as they are meaningful to you. We have read wonderful essays on common topics and weak essays on highly unusual ones. Your perspective – the lens through which you view your topic – is far more important than the specific topic itself. In the past, students have written about family situations, ethnicity or culture, school or community events to which they have had strong reactions, people who have influenced them, significant experiences, intellectual interests, personal aspirations, or – more generally – topics that spring from the life of the imagination.”

A personal experience, goal, interest, intellectual pursuit, or anything else can be made most interesting by showing your passion, devotion, and your takeaways. Be specific and use anecdotes. Don’t try to tell us everything that has ever happened to you- use a specific moment or experience. As with all the Yale essays, make it personal. Be thoughtful and reflective. There should be a clear point to your essay- a reason why you chose to write about this topic. Write in your own unique voice, and make it personal. If you choose a topic that many students write about, then you need to write about how YOUR experience with that activity is different from other students.

And of course, don’t forget that Empowerly can help fine-tune your Yale essays to an ideal state. Did you know that in 2018, our students’ admit rate to Yale was 17% compared to the average admit rate of 6%? These numbers are increasing (and developing) each year. We more than double your chances to get into Yale. Click below to book a free consultation with one of our team members to see if Empowerly is right for you.

Questions? Let us know!