How to Write the Yale University Supplemental Essays for 2019-2020–The Short Answers and the Application Portals

This is Part 1 of 3 on Yale for 2019-2020. Who should read this post–Anybody applying to Yale. Topics covered–the supplemental short responses, with examples for how to write them. I will separate the Yale Engineering Prompt and the 250-word essays to discuss in Parts 2 and 3, but if you are eager to start that Engineering essay, it’s very similar to other “Why Engineering” Essays, like the one at Princeton, which I discussed in the post linked here: How to Write the Princeton Engineering Essay. Take a look at that for some ideas on developing a successful engineering essay, and I will return to a specific discussion on it later.

After discussing the Yale short responses, I will review the portals that you may use to apply to Yale as I wrap up this post. Read on for the short answer prompts, with advice for answering them, and some examples:

How to Start Successful Yale Short Responses

We begin with the prompts:

Yale Short Responses for 2019-2020

Applicants submitting the Coalition ApplicationCommon Application, or QuestBridge Application will respond to the following short answer questions:

  • 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.
  • Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

My first recommendation would be to look at these two relatively short responses as two parts of one essay. They total 225 words together, and they are specifically focused on what you want do with your Yale education and “Why Yale” in general, and if you think about relatig them like you think about relating the subtopics of an essay–without using transition words to start the second one, please–that will help create some synergy between this duo.

Your responses should connect with who you are–your interests, what drives you, and what in Yale in particular makes you want to study there. And you should not want to study there for simple prestige and money, even if those are somewhere in the back–or front–of your mind. That’s fair enough, but these are not convincing reasons to admit you . . . emphasize others.

Your research in the list of majors should set both sides of this discussion up, by reading and clicking and then choosing the three academic areas. I have already written about the very similar challenges in prepping for the Brown supplemental essay for this year, so have a look at my Brown Supplemental prompt discussion, here: Brown Supplemental Essays for 2019 and 2020. It pulls together several similar essay challenges.

You will notice some real similarities in your approach to these Yale short responses and the Brown supplement. Though Yale is seeking only two paragraphs for this Why Yale part of the supplement, they are important paragraphs, and you will want to go beyond just the majors to look at classes, and to look beyond classes to who teaches them and to look at what professors of interest you discover there do outside of the classroom as well as in it, such as research that intrigues you. Look for blogs by profs as well, and speeches or other Youtube fare.

Speaking of which, notice this page, which opens up undergraduate research opportunities: Undergraduate Research Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Lest we slight you literary types, for a humanities example, Yale has a department of Comparative Literature (not just Ye Olde English Department for Yale! ) which features a senior essay, that being a research project and paper that generally requires multilingual reading and writing a thesis on your findings–as described here: Comparative Lit Senior Paper.

Why Do All of This Work?

All of this research by you, now, is aimed at a few sentences in two short responses. Seem like a lot of work? I agree, but this is Yale, People. You want to increase that Demonstrated Interest.

But as noted in my post on Brown, they do not want a book report on their university; you blend your own interests and passions into what they offer, convincingly, and hopefully suggest where you want to go with that–changing the world for the better or building cool stuff or exploring the connections of literature and culture . . . whatever is your higher calling.

And I would not spend much time on Yale’s “societies”; in particular, please just do not discuss how cool you think Skull and Bones is; this is a bad focus for a Yale application, in my experience.

It’s about learning, People, and changing the world for the better. At least until these essay are done.

Next up: the even shorter Yale supplemental responses. I call this kind of supplement the “Haiku responses.Or I call them . . .

The Yale Supplement Blurbs

Applicants applying with the QuestBridge Application will complete the questions above via the Yale QuestBridge Questionnaire, available on the Yale Admissions Status Portal after an application has been received.

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will also respond to the following short answer questions, in 35 words or fewer:

  • What inspires you?
  • 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?
  • You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
  • Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?

That 35-word count makes it hard to offer specific advice, so I am going to write some examples. Before I do, here is the advice I can offer: You are presenting a public self here, so it’s not just about what you can say that is authentic; you also want to say things that look good on an application. Note that authenticity and looking good are not necessarily separate categories.

It’s the same kind of thinking that you make using social media–what to say and how to say it is situational. True also in college applications. So what inspires you in posting on Instagram may not be what inspires you here, but it should still be an authentic response in the terms defined by this writing situation.

And now, as the simplest way to suggest what you might do, let me just offer a couple of examples that represent me–

What inspires me:

I am inspired by what is well-made, whether it be a beautifully crafted sentence, a cleverly constructed device, or a work of art that shows craft and inspiration.  Our hands and minds at their best.

35 words, on their own. With the theme at the end. Fragments are fair game in this short response, as shown by my zen-like ending line.

What person would I invite:

With some trepidation, I would invite James Joyce.  Famously diffident with those he did not know, I’d ply him with drink and get him singing in his wonderful tenor, trade jokes—then we’d talk Ulysses.

Again, that’s 35 words. Note the haiku thing I mentionedthe unstated is as important as the stated. Note the dangling modifier, as well–grammar rules are bent when it is necessary, as here. If you cannot see it, its my use of I’d ply him after a modifier that references Joyce, not me. 35 words forces some choices and the dangling modifier allows me to skip some words by dropping a restatement of Joyce’s name.

If you have no idea who he is, Joyce wrote Ulysses, and it is a novel I love. If an app reader knows something about it , I don’t need to explain, and if they don’t know much, they will still recognize the name. This might seem pretentious for you, which is why all of these responses are personal. But perhaps the style of my responses helps you. Take note of how I say it as much as what I say.

As for my proposed course:

Course Title: Your Future according to Climate Change. Bill McKibben and Greta Thunborg would be my co-instructors. The first requirement of the course would be using transport for a week that required no fossil fuels. 

As for what to share with roommates:

Ideas.  I want to talk ideas, argue ideas, shape ideas.  I want to burn the midnight oil rethinking the world, wandering campus and town, talking.  Then I want to act to make those ideas real.

As I wrap up this portion of my Yale analysis for 2019, a plug for my services: If you are struggling with ideas and need help with essay development and editing, Contact Me for rates and to get on my editing schedule. I still have some slots open as we roll into August, but things will fill up quickly. NB.

And now–the Common App versus the Coalition App, versus. . . .

A Short Introduction to College Application Portals

For those of you needing an introduction to application portals–which is how you actually apply to college–here you go:

Before I talk about the short responses, I will give an overview of the ways you can apply to Yale, as well as many other colleges. The Yale prompts for 2019-2020 begin by referencing the application portals you may use for Yale, which are the Common Application, the Coalition Application and the Questbridge Application.

The Common App is the McDonald’s of application portals–it’s everywhere, used by many people; the Coalition Application is its competitor. The schools accepting both application portals do not privilege one over the other; the basic idea of the Coalition App was to make it slightly easier to deal with applying through a (slightly) easier architecture to navigate. However, both the Common App and the Coalition App are free to use, so you set up your account and fill in information without paying anything up front. The application fees come when you actually submit to specific colleges, with the average for a college app this year at about $75 per school.

Having tried the Coalition App out, I can say it is slightly easier to navigate and takes slightly less time. It also posted some of the prompts earlier than the Common App, which is just about to go live as I am writing this on July 31st, 2019. Here is the Coalition App Portal: Coalition for College Application, and for a shortcut, here are the colleges accepting the Coalition Application: Coalition for College Members. The third option for Yale, the Questbridge Portal, is for a specific cohort of students who are registered with Questbridge; these are students who face significant financial and personal struggles while also being very high academic performers–if you qualified, you’d probably already know about it, but if your family makes less than 65 k per year, take a look: Questbridge. And, of course, here is the Common Application Portal, which appears to have just gone live as I have been working on this post and put this link in. The Application Year has now kicked off in earnest.

I do have clients choosing to use the Coalition App this year because they like the essay options a bit better, and others using a third vehicle for Applications, the Universal Application, which has only a few colleges onboard as of now, but those are significant colleges. Here it is: Universal Application.

Yes, the Universal Application features fewer than a dozen colleges, which makes the name “Universal” an oxymoron, but I would check all of the portals out before a making full commitment to the Common App. For example, if your target schools are all on the Coalition and you see variations on the supplemental essays that seem better to you, use it. If not, not. If you just want the three Ivies on the Universal App, you like its writing requirements, and plan only on non-Common App targets like the University of California campuses beyond that, the Universal App makes sense.

As for why the Coalition is there–well the Common App was becoming so large it was almost like dealing with, hmm, Google, and the colleges were nervous about giving so much power to one portal. Then the Common App did a bad job on a reboot some years back and the portal basically did not function properly for weeks; major colleges had to extend their application deadlines. That created a pretty angry client base of colleges.

So that’s your portals. Come on back for my posts on the Yale 250-word essays, which I will write in the first week of August, and for the Yale Engineering essay.

The Coalition Application versus the Common Application–Which One to Use? It Starts with a Look at the Essay Prompts

Who should read this: anybody applying to college in 2019-2020. Post Subjects: The Common Application versus the Coalition Application, A Comparison of Common Application and Coalition Application Essays and for financially challenged families, The Questbridge Application.

The Coalition and the Common Application are the most important college application portals. The Common Application is the Big Kahuna, with over one million students submitting over five million applications, and this year, it handles applications for more than 800 colleges. The only state that has no colleges accepting the Common Application is North Dakota (Why: Most of North Dakota’s colleges are public and use the state’s application portal. If this seems backward, both the University of California and the Cal State Universities use their own portals as well.)

In contrast, the Coalition Application lists 107 colleges for 2019-2020; however, this is a pretty elite list, which includes Stanford, the majority of Ivy League colleges, Cal Tech, Georgia Tech, Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Northeastern . . .

In previous years all of the Ivy League schools were listed as using the Coalition Application, but this year Cornell and Brown are not listed. Could be an error, of course. To which I add, the Coalition Application specifically identifies itself as being designed for students with fewer resources. Here is the full list for you to consult: Coalition Application Colleges

The obvious advantage of the Common Application lies in the number of colleges that use it, roughly 8 times the number of the Coalition Application, but it is also worth comparing the essay questions as you decide which to use, or perhaps if you want to selectively use both portals–so first here are The Coalition Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020:

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

My initial observation is that the Coalition prompts are fewer in number (five, versus seven for the Common App) but also seem to define broader topics. I would agree that in these prompts you can see how the Coalition does, in fact, aim at “lower resourced” students in that way–several of the Common Application Prompts seem slightly better for a well-resourced suburban youth, but there is also a possible overlap in the sense that substance in one can be topic in another. For example, these prompts also do overlap with the Common Application–

Common App Prompt 1 asks about “background, identity or interest or talent” that is “so meaningful” that you need to write about it; there is no direct corollary with the Coalition prompts, but on the other hand the Coalition Application’s first prompt, “a story from your life . . . [that] demonstrates your character” could overlap if it involves an interest, talent or your background and shows something important about you through describing or narrating that. But you can see an interesting difference–the second Coalition App prompt , on making a “meaningful contribution to others,” has no direct corollary in the Common Application (Hmm, is the Common App “All about You?”), unless you could have contributed to others by questioning or challenging “a belief or idea” (Common App Prompt 3), which if you are working with a group like Black Lives Matter, would clearly apply. It’s really about what your examples and content are; keep in mind that you are not “answering a question” in the way you might if an English teacher asks you to write an essay on the theme of a novel or your history teacher asks you to explain the causes of a war. College essay prompts are really aimed at defining areas you write about, and you choose the content that fits the area of the prompt.

Here is a link to the Common Application Prompts if you would like to quickly compare them with the Coalition App: Common Application Essays for 2019-2020.

Another factor to consider is word count. The Common App allows up to 650 words; the Coalition App “strongly advises” no more than 550 words. I find that 100 words is huge if an essay of 650 words is well-written.

My overall take is to tilt toward the Common Application, due to its longer college list and more generous word count. Like the Coalition Application, it does allow you to submit an essay on a topic of your choice. But if you like prompts on the Coalition Application, and you want to emphasize that you are not well-resourced,* you can use both–setting up an account on both is free–and then you could always write a Coalition App essay, and if it is excellent, submit it for the open essay prompt on the Common App. Problem solved. With a bit of extra work to set up two accounts.

*One more thing–if you are not well resourced and are concerned about paying for school, the elite, private schools, like Harvard, do supply excellent financial aid, and you should also look at things like Questbridge to see if you qualify–see here for more: Who Qualifies for Questbridge. If you qualify, you should absolutely pursue a Questbridge application.