Who should read this post: Anybody who wants to write a successful Yale supplemental essay, of the 250-word variety. In addition o analyzing prompts today, I have spliced in an example of a problem essay at the end of the post, on a problem that few applicants write about, but more should be writing about.
With that, we turn to . . .
How to Write the Yale Supplemental 250-Word Essay Prompt One
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will respond to the prompt below in 250 words or fewer:
- Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
Ah, the Intellectual essay, once again. This is an application essay topic you find from Stanford to . . . well, Yale. And Brown. And U Chicago, in various forms. I write about it every year.
For this particular example, you obviously don’t have much space. On the other hand, if you plan to apply to Stanford, that’s okay–their intellectual experience essay is also 250 words.
Unpacking the prompt, notice it’s essentially two-part:
- defining that intellectually exciting area and
- showing why you are drawn to it.
If you are heading for some STEM area and have experience, like research, or building a robotic device, that’s the obvious topic for you. It’s perfectly okay for an essay to expand upon a specific area that you also discuss in your activities–just don’t splice the activities paragraph into this essay. Build around the idea.
Notice that my examples in the last paragraph are not from the classroom per se. That’s my next tip. If you are only able to talk about what happened in a class, you are not showing much motivation outside of the “required reading.”
You could be really passionate about literature and write this essay as you apply to go into a language-based major in the humanities, and you’d still want to do more than talk about that inspirational experience reading MacBeth’s final, great soliloquy in your English class. Plugging that experience in would be fine, but for this essay we’d want you to be doing non-assigned reading as well.
An essay about being inspired about ideas, whether the subject is dark matter, and how incredible it is that most of the universe is made up of something that cannot be perceived directly, or the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, and how he uses words to capture in ineffable beauty and terror of life, in such a way that it’s impossible to actually explain in prose—the key is to show your reader the fascination that you, yourself, feel about this topic. That is, if you want a good essay.
If your strength is doing emphasize that by describing yourself doing, in relation to the topic of your prompt. If your strength is writing, focus on creating a description of your topic that has an impact. And think carefully about your topic. If you write well enough, even something that seems lightweight can work. The key is to choose something that ties into your potential areas of study in college.
An Example of an Intellectual Interest Approach for the Humanities
By way of example, if you are interested in writing or graphic arts, even a pop form like the comic book is legit. The Pulitzer-Prize winning author Michael Chabon showed this (wonderfully) in an essay he wrote for the New Yorker, years back. Specifically, he described how his religion teacher had dismissed comic books as bad, trashy and encouraging an unhealthy tendency to escape reality.
Chabon recounts how his younger self responded by building an intellectual defense, from the heart and from the mind, of comic books and more specifically, of comic-book superheroes. The cape the hero wears occupies a prime position in this defense. Here is a key quote from that essay:
It was not about escape, I wanted to tell Mr. Spector, thus unwittingly plagiarizing in advance the well-known formula of a (fictitious) pioneer and theorist of superhero comics, Sam Clay. It was about transformation.
Chabon then explains how he was transformed by comic books. Of course this essay is thousands of words long, and a 250-word essay might be a single paragraph in a piece of long-for journalism or essay writing. But as an example that expands your potential topics, it’s worth looking at, so here is a link to it:
Returning to our STEM subjects, try to start with some interesting statement on your area of interest and then explain the ways you have engaged with it, with an emphasis on things you have done, when possible, or start with an anecdote showing you engaged in that area, and again show your long-term involvement with it. If you have a deep personal motivation, such as your interest in the genetics of cancer beginning with the illness of a family member, say that (this kind of experience is not uncommon in those pursuing medicine, in my experience). If you are interested in medicine because your parents told you to be, make up a better reason.
Here are the next two Yale topics:
Applicants submitting the Common Application will also select ONE of the two prompts below and respond in 250 words or fewer:
- Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How has this engagement affected you?
- 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 could help you address it.
If you are working with the Coalition portal, you will write the same essay, with the same two prompts to choose from.
The “community” essay and the issue of importance essay are subjects I have written about before. Just search my tags and subject areas by typing in “concern” and “problem” and scan the posts that pop up. But let me end this by offering my own, 500-word draft on a problem. I know that the prompt here only allows 250 words–I just typed this thing up last week after observing a problem, and you are not supposed to be copying somebody else’s work anyhow–this is just meant to be an example of an approach.
Example of an Essay on a Problem of Local, National and International Importance
Racing to Where?
I am a fan of the Tour de France. Being a fan of the Tour could be comparable to being an NFL fan, if being an NFL fan meant watching football for three or more hours every day for three weeks. With two rest days.
The Tour this year was 3,365 kilometers long. The total time of the winning rider in this year’s tour was Egan Bernal. To win this year, he spent 82 hours and 57 minutes on the saddle.
I admit that I did fast forward some of it, but I saw everything that mattered, from Brussels to Paris. But the tour was supposed to be even longer than those 3,365 kilometers. Specifically, it was to be 3,420 kilometers long. And I saw why it was cut short.
It was cut short because, during Stage 20, while the riders were laboring over the top of one of the most famous passes in Tour lore, the Col d’Iseran, on the highest paved road in the Alps, a freak hailstorm was flooding the next valley. A mixture of ice, rain and snow coated the pavement over a thousand meters below the pass and sent landslides of mud and glacial melt across the course, which in one case sent a French man out clad incongruously in shorts, sandals and a raincoat, to guide a bulldozer trying to clear a foot of ice and water off the pavement.
Freakish weather is not all that freakish in the Alps—it snows in the high mountains any month of the year—but this hail-ice-snow-rain storm had an assist: the glaciers above and around the road have been melting for decades, and the weeks before the tour arrived saw a record-setting heat wave settle over Europe. In effect, the storm just hosed the already-melting surface of the glacier onto the pavement.
This is our new abnormal.
The result for the Tour began as its director, Christian Prudhomme, from the red car that leads the riders to the start of each stage, and from which he monitors the race as it proceeds each day, called Stage 20 to a halt. The effects continued as the next and final stage in the Alps was cut short. This is without precedent.
That storm altered the course of the Tour. It determined that Egan Bernal, the great climber, would clinch the tour as its most important stages, foreshortened, ended as two climbs. That image of a freak storm below the riders, as a glacier which has been receding and collapsing for years coughed up a thick gruel across the course, captures where we are today.
And it told me that I could never watch the Tour again without looking at climate change.
That same dome of heat that softened up those glaciers also seared crops, saw parts of Germany declare a drinking water shortage, and killed thousands. As I write this, it is parked over Greenland, setting a new record for glacial melt.
For me, climate change isn’t about writing an argument on cause and effect, or the future. It’s about doing something, now. So I ride my bike, walk whenever possible. And I write.
That is what my future will be about—doing what I can–and writing to convince others to do what they can.
I have yet to have a client this year write an issue of concern essay on Climate Change. Given the impact that this will have on the future of the planet’s seventeen-year-old humans, I do not understand this.
Let me know if you need help with your essays–I do still have some space for new clients as of early August, 2019–Contact Me.