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How to Write the Why Yale essay (and the rest of the Yale Supplement) for 2020-2021

To get into Yale, you’ll have to do a lot of writing, answering big questions like “What inspires you?” It can be daunting, but this guide will help you pick topics and prompts that will let your personality shine through.

(Compared to last year, Yale has made a few changes to their requirements, including giving you three choices instead of just two for the required 250-word essay. You can see our advice for 2019-2020 here.)

Your Academic Goals

Let’s start with the three prompts that will help you explain your goals at Yale.

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

The key to writing this short “Why Yale” essay is to focus on just a few specific details that show why you belong at Yale. Do plenty of research and identify 2-3 aspects of Yale that connect to interests or values of yours.

  • For example, if you’re interested in how different human cultures have interacted with their local environments, and how that has impacted the climate, you might touch on:
    • Anthropology courses with Professor Michael Dove such as “Disaster, Degradation, Dystopia: Social Science Approaches to Environmental Perturbation and Change.”
    • Seminars and lectures at the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies


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.

Your response here is just your backswing setting you up to serve up an ace in the next question. If you are obsessed with one key academic area, think of one or two interests that either relate to or contrast with it. If you don’t have such a single focus, just pick two or three interests that you’ll be able to say the most about in the next prompt.


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

Don’t just say, “Because I want to be a writer.” Give a brief story or some memorable context for your choices.

  • For example: “Ever since I first devoured the Hunger Games books, I’ve wanted to write my own dystopian thrillers to comment on society’s inequality.”
  • Or: “Having type 1 diabetes has inspired me to study biology so that I can develop new ways to treat—and cure!—autoimmune conditions.”

You could also draw a connection between different academic areas in a way that tells the reader something compelling about your life.

  • For example: “As an abstract painter who also studies fractals and chaos theory, I love to explore the intersection of math and art, and search for the beauty behind the numbers.”


Getting to Know You

Now for the very short answers! These are a great way to show your personality. Think of each one as having a who/what component and a why component. Try to give the basic who or what of your answer in just a few words so that you can then focus on showing why the who or what is meaningful to you. Be specific with your why, too—with only 35 words, you can’t afford to be vague.

Let’s look at the prompts and some example answers below.

What inspires you? (35 words or fewer)

Example: “All the new bike lanes near my house excite me. So many people are choosing non-polluting transportation; this inspires me to study how to design and build carbon-neutral cities.”


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)

Example: “Lois Weber. As one of the first female filmmakers and an owner of your own film studio, how do you think women can achieve greater independence and prominence in the film industry?”

  • The question you ask should reflect a passion, interest, or value of yours.


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

Example: “Performing for Change: We’ll examine how buskers (street performers) have fought for and influenced laws protecting free expression at both local and national levels—and why this matters to artists, activists, and people everywhere!”

  • Your course should reflect strengths and interests evident throughout your application, so that it doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere, and is backed up by evidence of your qualifications for teaching it.
  • The surprise for the reader can come from how you connect various aspects of your interests and knowledge.


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)

Example: “I’ll bring my encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons characters and my ability to cheer people up. I hope my suitemates can cook, because I’d love to learn how to make something other than grilled cheese sandwiches!”

  • You can have a bit of fun here, but you’ll want to show that you’ll be an active participant in your shared living space.


Your Place in the World

With these essays, each of , you’ll be able to show admissions readers how you relate to the world you live in. Let's start with the prompt that everyone has to address: intellectual curiosity.

Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it?

This is your chance to talk about an interest to which you’ve devoted significant time. The best topic might be one that connects to your life outside of school, so that you actually wrestle with it on your own free time, not just in class or for homework. In this way, you’ll show that when something intellectually excites you, you pursue it in any way you can!


For these next three prompts, you've got a choice: you only have to write one of these 250-word essays. Let's look at how to pick a prompt that will support the rest of your application.

Reflect on your membership in a community. Why is your involvement important to you? How has it shaped you? You may define community however you like.

Pick this prompt if: you thrive in groups (or in one certain group); you feel that your cultural or family background has influenced you significantly. Discuss why you would be a completely different person without your involvement with this community.


Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?

Pick this prompt if: you've had a meaningful role model or mentor. This question allows you to show off at least three impressive attributes. First, intellectual or practical acumen — the thing that the role model/mentor has helped you to develop. Second, personability — the fact that you like other people, and that someone else likes you (in the case of a mentor). Finally, humility — the fact that you're willing to learn from someone else; that you want to grow into something better than yourself. 


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 might help you address it.

Pick this prompt if: you’re passionate about social justice or making a positive change in the world. Devote about half of your essay to showing why you care so deeply about it. In the other half of your response, identify goals you have pertaining to this issue and ways Yale would help you achieve them. Try to highlight different aspects of Yale than what you discuss in your “Why Yale” essay; here, connect Yale resources to the issue at hand. For example, if your issue is “safe spaces,” you might discuss how the Yale Women’s Center would provide you with a model of a “safe space.”


Important note: the instructions for this "choose one of three" prompt are slightly different depending on which application you’re using. For the Common App you simply write an essay, while for the Coalition app you can also attach an audio file, video, image or document.

Here are the Coalition App instructions:

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.

So if you’re using the Coalition App, what file should you upload? You could create something new after you’ve picked your prompt and written your essay, or you could use some work you’ve already made.

  • Some examples: a song about your family or community, or about a cause you believe in; a short film (perhaps a YouTube video) in which you share some intellectual passion or specialized knowledge; a short story, poem, painting, or photograph that celebrates or illuminates your background.

With your one-sentence description, summarize how the file relates to your essay. Your file should “speak for itself,” and you don’t have to try to explain everything that it means to you, but you’ll want to help readers understand the main connection. For example: “I wrote this song to encourage my peers to vote as soon as they are old enough.”


Click here for our guide to writing the Common App Essay


Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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