Keep in Mind that this post was written for the class of 2020 application–if you are graduating high school in 2017, you will be applying for the class of 2021. While some or even most of the information below may be true when you apply, I won’t know for sure until July or August, 2016, at which time my Yale post will update.
The Yale essay is ready for you. Are you ready for the Yale essay?
For most of you the answer will be, I am not ready. The reason is simple: most of you will need to have a pretty good grip on the rest of your application–and will need to have written a more-or-less decent draft of your Common Application main essay–before you will know what to write for this Yale essay. For this year’s Common Application Essay Prompts, see Application Prompts for 2015-2016.
For the Yale topic and more on writing for the Yale prompt this year, including a roughed-out example essay, continue below:
Yale Essay Topic
Please note that the Yale freshman application will be available on the Common Application website sometime in August. (Note from WordGuild: The Common App goes offline July 23rd and erases all accounts on the site at that time; when it goes live again on or just before August 1st, you can open an account and upload essays. My advice: start essays early and upload late, to give yourself plenty of time.)
The Yale-specific questions will include one additional required essay for all applicants, and one optional essay for prospective computer science and engineering majors. The essay prompts for the 2015-2016 Yale Essay Questions are as follows:
Yale’s essay question is required for all freshman applicants:
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).
Yale Essay Prompt Analysis and Advice:
As you can see, it’s tough to say what they might not learn from the rest of your application before you have at least roughed out the rest of your application–remember that you are creating a kind of holograph of yourself composed of basic data (G.P.A., SAT/ACT scores), a list of activities and some short descriptions, accompanied by odds and ends like letters of recommendation–and your essays, which can make or break your application. I talk about this at more length in this post–how college applications are evaluated.
To add a metaphor, you should look at each part of your application as being a chapter or entry in a book about you. So write your Common App essay, complete your activities list/descriptions, then write this essay with an eye on filling in the blanks and/or pulling things together. You want to humanize yourself and, if possible, reveal a passion or strong interest that may help your application. And when you do write this essay, do NOT simply repeat your activities–but also do not assume that you cannot slide them in somewhere. Think of this essay as either . . .
A Network or a Walkabout
There are two basic ways to approach this question–one is The Walkabout, in which you present a stand-alone activity that you think is interesting enough or humanizing enough to merit a solo, one-off focus. More about that in a few moments.
The other way is to write a Network Essay–use an interesting or important activity to connect disparate parts of your resume, or to remind the reader of some aspects of you that you think are important (or persuasive as admissions factors). Let’s say you are into math and physics in school, with some connected activities including a robotics team, while outside of school, you like to go fishing and camping (which you likely cannot do too often as you are an oversubscribed high school student trying to get into college, but let’s say for the purposes of an example essay that you go fishing one or two times a year and are into math and physics and the robotics team).
These do not seem to be connected, but this is a matter of focus–that is the key to and the purpose of a Network Essay. For example: Fishing involves physics in a number of ways, starting with putting a lure or a fly where you want it, and getting its parameters right (depth of bait, etc). This is applied physics and the use of empirical knowledge (How to cast to get the lure to point x, how deep the fish are . . .). So you might start the essay with a focus on fishing and camping, then use it as a network to connect this unknown part of you to the other parts of you that are clear in the application. The person described above might do the following, for example, to get this Yale essay started:
Network Essay Example–The Fishing Physics Fan
Whenever I can, I like to pack up the car and disappear for a few days. I like to cut the electronic tether, escape the ping of texts and pong of e-mail, and go to any one of several locations I cannot disclose.
I cannot disclose these locations specifically because they are the best places to catch fish in the (pick a region). And fisherman may tell a lot of tall tales about the one that got away, but no real fisherman ever gives away his Secret Spot to Catch Fish. And I am a true fisherman.
This might seem an odd thing for a person who spends most of his other free time sitting at a computer coding so that an x can do y (examples not included in this example essay intro) or fiddling with a robot’s arm so it manages to do a instead of b (examples not included in this example essay intro) but in a way it all fits together–fishing is all about physics and trial and error. Trying to get a lure to that spot by the sunken log across the mouth of the stream is a matter of telemetry, a problem with many factors–the wind, the current, how deep the water there is . . . (You would expand somewhat here, using concrete detail.)
When I am out in nature fishing, I am really living in the moment in a way that I do not in my daily life at home, but nature is also really a collection of things we call physics. Take the lightning storm that was approaching Twin Lakes (sorry, can’t tell you which Twin Lakes) the last time I was there . . . . (Again, you would expand here, but notice how I am tying fishing to your other interests, to physics . . .)
And then you might end the essay by literally and figuratively coming home (refreshed and refocused) to your more formal experiments in applied physics).
Notice how I am introducing other activities or interests beyond fishing, but they are put into this essay as context for the fishing focus, while simultaneously reminding the reader of specifics in terms of interests and knowledge from your activities sheet and from your academic life. So the essay emphasizes one thing but shows others by connecting them. This is what I mean by the network essay–it focuses on something new, on an activity that is either not in or only mentioned in the rest of your application but in the essay on this activity, you touch on other things that it does not hurt to remind the reader about. All your many features are somehow included.
Here’s why this network approach can be useful: It does not hurt to remind the reader about some other aspects of your resume or activities because, on average, the app reader will spend about 3 minutes reading each of your app essays–sometimes less–and this rapid reading will come after the app reader has scanned your activities, and is meanwhile thinking about your GPA, etc, and figuring out how to boil it all down to a single number, appended by some comments.
And the app reader is doing this at some point in a day in which he or she has read dozens of other applications and multiple dozens of essays if your application comes up late in the day. So things will tend to get blurry as the app reader takes notes and assesses you, and the artful reminder of things you want them to remember can help your evaluator–and so help you. Thus, the network essay which uses an interesting aspect of yourself to connect other, known aspects of your application in an interesting way can be an ideal add to your application.
Oh, and if you think something like fishing (or whatever it is that you do) is not an interesting topic, it depends on what you say about it. And how you say it. Contact me if you have something you like to do but think it will look boring in your essay, and I will help you develop your words and do so in a way that works with the rest of your app.
The Walkabout Essay
A walkabout was a rite of passage for a young Australian native, a time spent wandering the bush alone and surviving independently–the word has taken on other meanings, but the walkabout was originally a personal journey for the experience to be had on the journey. It was also seen as something necessary and transformative, shaping the person who experienced it and propelling him into adulthood.
If you have an activity that is like this, a stand-alone that is also an important part of who you are, something that you do for its own sake, then you can write a Walkabout Essay exploring this activity.
As an example, are you into math, programming and classical Indian Dance? The closest you could come to a network essay with these would be to say they are all possible areas of creative expression.
But classical dance is embodied, is a way of knowing that is shown by doing in a way that is not true of math and programming, for your physical self is fully engaged, and it might best be explored as such, as a unique activity that humanizes and adds an interesting dimension to you–and that really offers little connection to your other, more purely mental activities. Though you may still mention some other activities with the excuse of showing how different this activity is (and so reminding the app reader, however briefly, of those other aspects of yourself.)
The Key to the Walkabout Essay: Become a Knowledgeable and Interesting Guide
So some level of networking/connection is always a good idea, but the Walkabout essay will really focus on the glories of the activity in the essay. Classical Indian dance, as an example, embodies much of traditional Indian culture: its gestures are symbolic, and it is influenced by or on a continuum with other specifically Indian activities, like what we now call Hatha Yoga, as well as traditional Indian martial arts–if you become a guide, showing things like this in some detail to the app reader, and so showing your passion, you will have a good essay–you want your app reader to have that look of surprise and interest that comes when someone learns something interesting, as you reveal the philosophy and history of the dance through some well-chosen examples, while inserting close description about the people and dances you have done and perhaps an amusing anecdote or two. Inform without lecturing, show by examples and close description instead of simply telling.
And finally–if you are “Saying something more” about an activity or concern that is already on your application/activities, my advice here still applies.
That’s it for now. Get started on your Common App essay while thinking about this essay. And contact me if you would like some professional editing. N.B: Sooner is better than later as things really pick up from August 1st on.