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Command EducationGuide

How to Write the Yale University Essay

Updated for 2023-2024

This year, Yale requires students to answer a series of short questions in 35 words or fewer, then provides the opportunity to choose one from a set of longer form questions to answer. If you're unsure of how to tackle the Yale essays, we have everything you need to know!

Yale’s Main Essay:

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

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Explanation:

The classic “why Yale” question only allows you 125 words to describe both why you want to attend Yale and how you would be a good fit for the school. In order to answer this question, research is going to be vital. With such a short amount of space to work with, you’ll want to pick 1-2 specific opportunities to write about. Include details about unique resources, eminent professors whose work you’re familiar with, extracurricular and academic programs you’re interested in pursuing, or something that draws you to Yale’s student life and community.

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Sample:

Double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy at Yale will enable me to explore my interests in applied ethics: I am particularly interested in how philosophical ethics shape modern political thought and policy. I’m drawn to Yale for its flexible and interdisciplinary academics. Double majoring will allow me the freedom to explore philosophical ethics through the lens of anthropology, history and international relations.

I particularly look forward to working with Scott Shapiro, whose research lies at the intersection of philosophy and politics. Grounding real-world problem-solving in theoretical ideas is my passion and the primary inspiration to continue my education at Yale. As I further my academic journey, I believe that Yale will equip me to use my education to impact social and political change.

Short Takes

Please respond in no more than 200 characters (approximately 35 words or fewer), to each of the following questions:

1. What inspires you?*

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Explanation:

The key to answering all of these 35-word questions is specificity. For this question, stay away from broad, vague or cliched answers such as “world peace” or “my grandmother.” Think of what motivates you every day – what motivated you to apply to Yale, for example – and write about it in specific detail.

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Sample:

Mr. Moore, my history teacher, first encouraged my interest in philosophy, and helped me found a philosophy reading group on campus. I hope to emulate his unabashed curiosity and drive in my college pursuits.

2. If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be?*

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Explanation:

To answer this question, choose a topic about which you are either intensely curious or already very knowledgeable. If you choose a course, stay away from courses that you would see in a standard course listing, such as “Economics 101.” If you choose a book or an original piece of art, don’t worry about it being too serious or too silly, what matters is that it is something really creative and specific to you!

KEY TIP

Starting your course name with both a department label and number that mimics Yale’s course catalog will add specificity and detail that will impress your admissions officer! Classes in the course catalog are labeled with a departmental label, like PLSC and the number representing the class, like 101, 207 or 403, which represents the courses’ rigor. Your example should do the same!

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Sample:

PLSC307: Gorgias, the Sophists, and Their Impact on Modern Politics in the West. This course explores the ways in which ancient Greek philosophy shapes the modern political landscape

3. Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence? *

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Explanation:

While this prompt requires you to write about a person other than yourself, Yale admissions is actually seeking to understand more about you and your values by asking this question. Whose opinions, thoughts or behaviors do you hold in high enough regard that they influence your own? Think critically about why this person has an influence on you: what about them do you value, admire or want to learn from?
When you draft your response, be sure to mention who the individual is, the influence they have had on you and how this influence has modified your behaviors, beliefs or values.

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Sample:

When the macroeconomics elective filled up last year, I found myself in theater. My inspiring teacher Mrs. Li brought out my gregarious side. I now enjoy myself when speaking in front of an audience.

4. What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application?*

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Explanation:

This prompt allows you to share any information that you believe is important to your application, but has not yet been conveyed through your essays, grades, or test scores. Have you started your own passion project or initiative to help others? Perhaps you’d like to elaborate on an aspect of your application that would require more context to fully understand. Whatever you choose to write, be sure to use this answer wisely—you shouldn’t brag about all your amazing accomplishments, but rather, give more context or add information that you think would be valuable to your application. Feel free to let your sense of humor shine through!

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Sample:

I rank everything. Fast-casual restaurants, Taylor Swift songs, NFL draft picks, most resilient plants: you name it, I’ve ranked it. I see competition where none exists, and there’s always room to argue for a winner.

Yales Three Essay Prompt Choices

Please respond to one of the following prompts in 400 words or fewer. Please indicate the number of the prompt you choose.

Prompt 1:

1. Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful?

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Explanation:

With this prompt, Yale admissions officers are seeking to understand how you handle disagreements, conflicts, debate, and internal questioning through a specific encounter you have had. A key word here is meaningful. Yale is looking for students who have a hunger to stretch their own limits—who are teachable and curious about others’ experiences, and yet are still self-assured and confident in their own perspectives and viewpoints. They want to ensure that you not only can get along with people who disagree with you, but understand the educational value and importance of diversity of thought. Think particularly of an experience of disagreement you have had over a belief that is particularly defining for you—strategize how you might convey more about yourself through the experience you choose to share with the admissions committee. Did you recently question one of your core beliefs about racial, religious, or economic tensions? Remember to clearly and fairly portray the other side’s argument, and include plenty of context about how this conversation occurred and the personal significance of the person with whom you discussed the topic.

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Sample:

At the start of junior year, I was thrilled to start junior year Mock Trial season. Despite being the only female member of the six person leadership team, I didn’t initially think much about the gender disparity in the group.

We met after school to assign witness and lawyer roles for the case. I proposed to stick with last year’s successful roster: myself and my fellow leaders would play the roles of lawyers. I was shocked when the leadership team instead voted 5 to 1 to relegate me to the role of witness so that another male teammate could take on two attorney roles.

I was confused, hurt, and frustrated. The previous year, I had relished watching my rookie scores rocket to match those of the experienced members around me. Self doubt crept in and I no longer felt like an equal. I pressed the group for an explanation,

“We just think you’re not aggressive enough, and you seem to be better at the emotional aspects of mock trial.”

As the words washed over me, I realized that they didn’t have any solid evidence to support their claims— breaking one of the most fundamental rules of Mock Trial. They were simply relying on gender stereotypes.

This explanation felt so demeaning that I decided to ask our coach for a mediated discussion. My friends shared their goal—doing whatever it would take to win. While winning was important to me, I brought up other things to consider: fairness, commitment, and team members’ growth.

As we struggled to understand each other’s perspectives, the conversation flourished into an honest discussion about sexism and my experience as the only woman in the group. My friends listened, slowly coming to understand my viewpoint, and offered genuine apologies.

Rather than fracturing the team, the discussion instilled empathy and generated meaningful discussion. We left the meeting discussing other ways we could further gender equality in the team.

Our team was in danger of collapsing, but we chose to find a way to save the season—and, in the process, saved our friendships as well.

Prompt 2:

2. Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.

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Explanation:

This prompt asks you to reflect on the community you come from and why it is meaningful to you. In order to answer, first consider the communities that have shaped you—your immediate and extended family, your religious community, your neighborhood, your political party, your racial or ethnic community. Which would you identify as the most formative and central to your identity today? In which of these spheres are you most active? Once you have chosen the community you want to write about, be descriptive and specific about your work within the community—this is an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you better, so share a particular contribution or effort in the community that is most relevant to your values, personal formation, and worldview. Have you volunteered alongside your religious community? Do you find yourself helping to care for your siblings? Do you spend holidays in the kitchen with your grandmother learning special family recipes? As you tackle the second part of the prompt addressing why these efforts have been meaningful, think about specific insights you have gained from your involvement in the community. This is another opportunity for you to demonstrate your curiosity and show the admissions committee how you contribute to a diverse community and are willing to learn and grow by being a part of that community as well.

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Sample:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” This quote from William Butler Yeats came to serve as my mantra as I founded my organization, RiseUP, which seeks to help students develop media literacy and become more engaged citizens from a young age.

When I started the organization, I was driven by my passion for education and my desire to see students impact positive social change. But as months went by, I became discouraged. It didn’t feel like the middle school students I was working with were making as much progress as I wanted—I had hoped they would take a more active role in leading their peers and getting excited about community events. Instead, students were a bit timid and struggled to build a strong group dynamic. As their leader, I looked to myself to fix the issue.

I realized that, in my eagerness to share my own perspectives and passions, I had not allowed students to share theirs. I had an intended goal for the organization, but I had lost the educational philosophy—expressed so eloquently by Yeats—that inspired RiseUP’s founding in the first place. I needed to give the students the space to explore ideas and discover their own desires for the group without the pressure to meet the goals of the organization.

Now, after four years leading the team, I’ve increasingly seen the power of building trust and encouraging independent thought and expression. Social change begins first with individuals and then with small groups. By overcoming challenges in the organization, both me and the students I work with are better equipped to advocate for positive change in our community.

Prompt 3:

3. Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you?*

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Explanation:

This is a chance to dive in a bit more to your roots. While this question may feel similar to the previous question, it is more focused on how these elements of your personal experience have shaped the way you view the world. How does this make your perspective unique, and how will you bring that perspective with you to the campus? Feel free to interpret “element of your personal experience” broadly: you can choose to write about your geographic or cultural upbringing, or a particular challenge you overcame, for example.

As you begin brainstorming, start by considering aspects of your identity and how they might be expressed in a particular moment or experience that was meaningful to you. Are you the child of an immigrant? Did you grow up in a relatively homogenous cultural community? Are you an oldest child or youngest? Do you identify with a certain group based on your race, gender identity, or sexual orientation? How do these aspects of your identity bleed into the rest of your life?

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Sample:

“NO!” My 外婆 (Mandarin for maternal grandmother) exclaimed as I reached with my chopsticks to turn the fish over in the pan. “If you flip the fish, you flip the boat.”

I look back at the photos of that trip to Qui Lin and cringe, wishing I’d had the cultural knowledge to behave according to my grandmother’s customs and expectations. However, I now consider that trip to China one of the most formative experiences of my life. The strong connection I built with my grandmother on that visit inspired me to truly embrace my half-Chinese identity for the first time.

At the same time, the term “half-Chinese” does not fully describe me. My grandfather was Filipino, and my mother grew up in the Filipino-Chinese community in the Philippines. She was an activist who was tear gassed at protests against the Marcos regime. Only within the last few years did I learn that my mother is considered an “other” in the Philippines because of her Chinese heritage. In the same way that I have felt torn between cultures in the U.S., my mother felt torn between two cultures in the Philippines.

Through conversations with my mother about our shared experiences, I have learned to celebrate the beautiful intersectionality that characterizes our family heritage. The beauty of that heritage is evident at the dinner table—in shared portions of my grandmother’s Chinese lion’s head meatballs, in Mandarin banter and my Mom and Aunties taking us out for Ube ice cream and Halo-Halo afterward.

Now, I sit just as comfortably at meals surrounded by other Chinese friends and family members as meals with my Filipino friends. My favorites however, bring both together; conversations at these meals often surround our cultural similarities and differences. Being a member of the Filipino-Chinese community fills my plate, both metaphorically and literally. Most importantly, it fuels my curiosity to learn about others’ backgrounds, traditions, and unique experiences.