How to answer Yale's supplemental essays

college admissions Common Application supplements

School-specific supplementary essays provide an opportunity for you to share additional insight about yourself that may not have been captured in the main Common App essay. In this post, I will present approaches to Yale University’s supplementary questions. ​​Ideally, these strategies can be applicable for a range of supplementary questions beyond just Yale. 

A note on length: 

These essays must be 200 characters or less. Keep in mind that this is very short - only about 35 words. The readers are looking for whether you can express an idea concisely, clearly, and poignantly. It’s your job to capture their attention and interest in only a few sentences. This will require you to have one clear message and identify the most powerful details to support this message and convey who you are - every word is precious! 

To approach essays with such a small character count, spend some time thinking about what you want to say. Then, answer the prompt without considering a character limit - get all your ideas out. Next, read through your answer and identify the core idea - at the most basic level, what are you trying to say? Write this down. Next, delete anything that doesn’t add anything to this core idea - you’ll be surprised by how much “fluff” we include when we write! Ask yourself, "Is this response equally strong without this sentence?" If the answer is yes, delete it. Keep doing this, and as you refine, continue to ask yourself - what am I saying with this sentence? How is this exposing more of myself and my strengths? Don’t get caught up in stylistic elements, focus on being direct and clearly answering the question. 

Now let's take a look at each of Yale's supplementary questions.

1. What inspires you? 

This question is looking for a glimpse into what makes you excited, what motivates you, what drives you. It should be personal! First, spend some time thinking about what inspires you. Start broad, and write down what comes to mind. It can be abstract, a person, an activity, art, anything. Perhaps there is something important to you that you didn’t include in your Activities list, or you didn’t have enough room to describe. Second, think about which things you identified convey parts of yourself that may not be captured elsewhere in your application - because of the personal nature of this question, there’s a good chance that many of these things did not come across in your application. Third, pick one thing and reflect on how and why it inspires you. How has it influenced your life so far, how has it influenced your goals and desires for your future, how has it influenced how you view the world? Finally, answer the prompt by starting with what it is that inspires you, and adding detail around the above questions. 

2. 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 would you ask them to discuss? 

This question may seem overwhelming at first - it’s similar to the classic “if you could have dinner with anyone who would it be?” question. This question is essentially asking, what issues do you care about, what do you find interesting, and who do you respect/admire? Some people may have people that immediately come to mind, while others may have a very difficult time with this. You can think about approaching this prompt in two ways - one, you can think about specific individuals who have an interesting perspective/experience to share. You can think about people from politics, the arts, academia, social movements, business, and media. Alternatively, you can start by thinking broadly about what type of conversation you would want to have. What perspectives, insights, or experiences would be interesting and/or important for people to hear about? This does not need to be academic, these conversations are designed to give students unique and diverse perspectives from areas they may have no exposure to otherwise, so feel free to be creative! Doing a little bit of research into some past conversations can also help to spark some ideas. Once you decide on a person and topic, mention the person with some description of who they are, the topic you would have them discuss, and your motivation/reason for doing so - why would it be important/interesting for people to hear this talk? Ideally your reader will want to!  

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

This question is an opportunity for you to articulate your academic interests and passions. Ideally, this will align with some other aspects of your application such as your academic history and activities. However, you should also feel free to be creative - how can an academic interest be approached in an innovative way? Perhaps multiple fields of study that you are interested in can come together in this class. First, identify an area/s of study you are interested in. Next, think about how this could translate into a class. What is the setting? Maybe it has elements of classroom-based study and community-based activity. What are the assignments, if any? Who is teaching the course? Next, select a name for the course - don’t stress too much about the name, but try to make it convey what the course is about and also concise. Next, write the prompt by starting with the name of the course and providing some detail around what the course would look like, with the above questions in mind. 

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

This question can be taken in many different directions. It can be an opportunity for you to elaborate on your personality, a unique skill or interest that may not have fit anywhere else in your application, or an experience you had that is meaningful but doesn’t fit into any application “bucket”. It doesn’t have to be overly serious or “impressive”, but it should enhance the picture of yourself painted by your application. Start by thinking about your application, and all the information about yourself you have already provided. Is there anything missing that immediately comes to mind, or that you wish you could have mentioned? You can also think about your interests, hobbies, extracurriculars, family, friends, etc. and see whether anything strikes you as important about yourself that you would like to convey to the admissions committee. This can also be an opportunity to discuss your identity, culture or heritage. This prompt will benefit from some thinking and self-reflection. It is important that what you select gives insight into who you are while also being specific so that you can adequately convey the idea with limited space. Don’t try to combine multiple things together that aren’t in your application - choose one thing, and use your space to show the reader why it’s so important that they know about it! 

Emily graduated from Yale, where she majored in English and was a varsity athlete. She then worked for a technology startup and a human rights nonprofit before pursuing her MD at Columbia University.

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