How to Get Into Yale: Essays and Strategies That Worked

Learn how hard it is to get into Yale, admissions requirements, and read successful essay examples

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Introduction

As you research, visit, and imagine your child attending an Ivy League or Ivy Plus school, your mind has likely flitted to New Haven, Connecticut, home to Yale University

At Yale, you’ll find gothic spires and aged residential colleges reminiscent of Oxford and Cambridge, a library designed to look like a “cathedral to knowledge,” a whale-shaped hockey stadium home to an NCAA-winning team, one of the oldest and most famous student newspapers in the country, and a campus thrumming with a cappella groups and theater. 

As the third-oldest university in the country, Yale is proud of both its history and its modern evolution. From pre-revolutionary war buildings scattered around New Haven to architecture designed by Maya Lin and Eero Saarenin to state-of-the art labs on “science hill,” including a particle accelerator that even freshmen are allowed to use, Yale’s centuries of campus life truly persist every day. 

Undergrads may study constitutional law alongside students at the top law program in the world, or launch technology startups with the help of world-renowned biomedical engineering faculty members. They can travel the world on reporting trips with the Yale Globalist or international debating competitions with the Model U.N. team.

You don’t need us to tell you what Yalies go on to do: write Pulitzer-prize winning novels and journalism, earn Rhodes scholarships, get elected to public office (everything from New Haven aldermen to the Presidency), play professional sports, work on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, or as magicians in Las Vegas. 

So how can your child be a competitive applicant for this dream school?

Yale University ranking

Yale is always near the top not only of Ivy League rankings, but of all major university rankings.

  • Forbes: 3

  • Niche: 3

  • US News and World Report: 3

  • Wall Street Journal: 3

Where is Yale?

Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut, a small city about 90 minutes via train from New York City, and about 30 minutes from other urban centers in Connecticut including Stamford and Hartford. 

New Haven has its own airport, but it’s small. Students may fly into New York airports (JFK, LaGuardia, or Whiteplains in Westchester), Hartford, or Newark, New Jersey. Shuttles and trains connect to New Haven. 

Setting

Urban. New Haven’s population is about 130,000 people. It’s a diverse city that’s undergone a major renaissance as farmer’s markets, new businesses, and environmental initiatives crop up. Yale has spearheaded much of the urban makeover.

New Haven is a major cultural center in Connecticut, home to theater, restaurants, shops, and cafés.

Undergrad population

6,483

Grad and professional school population

6,491

Yale acceptance rate

6.3% overall (Early action: 13.9% | Regular decision: 4.49%)

Recommended reading: Ivy League acceptance rates

Cost of attendance per year (i.e., tuition, room, board, and fees)

$71,290

Average financial aid award

$53,500

Who gets into Yale?

  • 95% of Yale students self report ranking in the top 10% of their class.

  • Average GPA: Yale doesn’t publish its students’ average high school GPA because there’s much variation based on schools. 

  • Test scores: Yale publishes ACT and SAT ranges

    • Yale ACT ranges

      • 25th percentile: 33

      • 75th percentile: 35

      • 87% of Yale’s class of 2022 scored between 32 and 36 on the ACT.

    • Yale SAT Evidence Based Reading and Writing ranges

      • 25th percentile: 720

      • 7th percentile: 770

    • Yale SAT Math ranges

      • 25th percentile: 740

      • 75th percentile: 790

  • International students: 10.8%

  • First generation students: 18%

  • Legacy: 11%

  • Financial aid recipients: 53%

  • Yale is over 50% white. The largest minority group is Asian-Americans, who make up about 20% of the student body.

  • In the class of 2022, the top intended majors were Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, and English.

Yale admissions requirements

Yale students aren’t just smart, boasting high grades and test scores. They also tend to be passionate about one or a handful of activities, and intellectually vivacious. You might meet anyone from the national debate champion to the national jump roping champion on campus.

That means there are no to few official requirements. Your child can be impressive and excellent in any number of ways. But overall, they should have challenged themselves, taking advanced courses (APs, IBs, or community college classes, for instance), and invested time in extracurricular activities.

In addition to all that, here’s what else your child will need in order to apply. Yale accepts the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Questbridge Application. 

  • Common App Essay

  • ACT or SAT test scores. Yale does not superscore but will review the highest test scores in each section.

  • Optional: SAT subject tests

  • Optional: IB, AP, or AICE test results

  • 2 teacher letters of recommendation

  • 1 counselor letter of recommendation (from the school college or guidance counselor)

  • School report, transcript, and midyear senior year report

  • Optional and not necessarily encouraged: supplemental materials only from students who have outstanding or unusual accomplishments, including musical scores, published research papers, films, etc. 

Applying to Yale early action vs. regular decision

Students can apply to Yale via single-choice early action, submitting all material by November 1st. 

Yale, like many of its peers, shows higher acceptance rates for those who apply early. However, those numbers should not necessarily indicate that your child has a “better shot” at getting in by applying early, because early applicants tend to be an overall more qualified and better prepared pool.

Your child can also apply to Yale regular decision. The Yale regular decision deadline is January 2.

Should my child apply to Yale early?

Applying to Yale early is a good choice if Yale is your child’s top choice school, and if their application is ready. If they need another semester to improve their GPA, or another chance to improve test scores or extracurricular profiles, we recommend waiting to apply regular decision.

Recommended reading: Early Action vs. Early Decision: Pros and Cons and What Your Child Should Do

2019-2020 Yale supplemental essays (examples included)

(Note: While this section covers Yale’s admissions essays specifically, we encourage you to view additional successful college essay examples.)

In addition to the Common App Personal Statement, Yale applicants will answer a series of short answer questions as well as write several supplemental essays

Before seeing some examples, let’s meet a few students, all of whom are closely based on or composites of the applicants we’ve worked with over 15+ years of advising. 

  • Jason is an avid musician and scientist. He participates in piano competitions around New Jersey, and has also pursued independent research in a family friend’s neurology lab over a summer. He’s also interested in computer science.

  • Priya loves dance, theater, and history. She’s drawn to Yale in part because of its reputation in history, literature, and the arts in general.

  • Sergio is concerned and passionate about the environment. He grew up hiking and biking outside in California. He also has a knack for the sciences and has attended some gifted STEM student summer programs.

  • Olivia spent a life-changing year studying abroad in Spain. With her near-fluent Spanish, she hopes to spend much of college immersed in Latin America, with a goal of studying economics or journalism.

For 2019-2020, the Common App Yale supplemental essays are as follows:

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)

Olivia chooses: Latin American Studies; Ethics, Politics, and Economics; and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration.

When I went to Spain as a junior, I was afraid to wrap my tongue around many Spanish words. I couldn’t roll my ‘R’s or lisp “Valencia” without sounding goofy. But by my third month living with a host family in Zaragoza, something had changed. Language grew loose, and with it, new ideas flowed. 

In college and in life, I want to keep using Spanish, and keep exploring the new self I discovered when I first learned to think and dream in another language. By studying Latin America through historical, political, economic, and literary lenses, I’ll keep on discovering.

What’s great about Olivia’s answer?

  • A personal connection. Olivia understands that Yale isn’t just asking her to state her interests. The university wants to understand how she and her personal experiences connect to these possible courses of study. By organically mentioning her own background as a source of this passion, she makes a convincing case for herself as a great future Yalie.

  • A throughline across her interests. Inherent in this Yale supplemental essay prompt is an understanding that in a liberal arts environment, people’s interests change. But Olivia assures Yale that though her disciplinary interests are varied, she still has a fundamental sense of mission and a major driving passion that will guide her through whatever major she chooses. That assures the admissions committee that her growth will have a combination of exploration and direction. 

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

Here’s Priya’s answer.

Walking along the streets of New Haven, I double took. Was that Meryl Streep? Jodie Foster? Lupita Nyong’o? No, that was my imagination. But I felt the presence of so many artists and theater geeks before me. As I dipped into an a cappella show in Battel Chapel, talked to my tour guide about her Ballet Folklorico rehearsals, and sat in on David Kastan’s lecture on Shakespeare with a high school friend, I felt all of Yale was a stage. I don’t just love the lights and applause. I love the history of theater. I want to read great plays, take the Physics of Dance for my science credit, and wake up every day on a campus where the arts thrive.

What’s memorable about Priya’s answer?

  • Creativity. Priya manages a wonderful hook that places her in a scene, reminding the admissions office that she visited Yale, but without saying “I attended a Yale admissions tour and was very impressed.” By throwing out a mini-fictional situation, Priya draws the reader in. 

  • Continuity. Priya’s passion for the theater and humanities bleed through every corner of this essay, from her academic plans to her extracurricular dreams. Without making herself one-dimensional, she nonetheless explains that there’s a very particular aspect to Yale that’s drawn her in. 

  • Specificity without seeming random. And speaking of particularity… one of the worst ways for your child to answer the “Why Us” question that so many universities ask is to list off classes and professors in a rote fashion, indicating that your child has Googled but not really connected with the spirit of the university. Priya’s chosen specific details, from a lecture she attended and loved to a particular show she caught.

    All this is proof, by the way, that it’s a great idea to consider a campus tour for at least your child’s top choice schools.

Quick responses in 35 words or fewer:

What inspires you?

Jason writes: 

My grandmother raised me in Seoul before I emigrated to the U.S. to meet my parents. She taught me how to read and cook. Talking to her reminds me whose shoulders I stand on.

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?

Sergio writes:

Believe it or not, I want to hear from Kanye West. I’d ask him what makes him want to live his life so out there and in public all the time.

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

Priya writes:

The Big Business of Mad Money. A history of the major musical artists of the 20th century, with a look into what made their music and their empires successful.

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?

Olivia writes:

When my friends and I get bored, I play music and get us in the car, dancing, even just to go to a movie. I’ll ensure my suitemates and I have endless dance parties!

What’s awesome about all these short answers?

  • Personality. 35 words isn’t good for much except showing off a bit of personality, humor, and color! This isn’t a place for your child to go staid. Encourage them to be playful.

  • Unpretentiousness. Relatedly, these answers convey intelligence and curiosity without seeming too self-serious. Even Jason’s answer, which isn’t funny or light, manages sobriety without seeming pompous.

Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words)

Jason writes:

“The A.I. Winter.” The first time I heard that phrase, I got shivers. It sounded like a phrase right out of a doomsday science fiction novel. And I learned that it was just about that. A PhD student in the neuroscience lab I worked in explained to me that there was a period when society lost interest in artificial intelligence. Scientists stopped imagining robots walking around, talking, looking like us, and helping us make society better. 

And yet today, we live our lives around robots all the time. We keep artificial intelligence in our pockets and I’m writing this essay thanks to many versions of A.I. My neighbor lost a limb in a car accident and can walk because of a computerized leg. My father can’t wait for a driverless car to replace our commute. What happened between that A.I. winter and the technology boom today?

I’m interested in how society relates to these technologies. What made it possible for us to obsess over A.I. in the 70s, then “forget” about it for a while, and now return to it with new ideas and philosophies driving us? I hope I can use college to study Cognitive Science or even the History of Science and Medicine in order to better understand our brains and the machines that might increasingly resemble them.

What’s great about Jason’s answer?

  • He’s specific. First he hooks us with the term “A.I. winter,” which not every reader may be familiar with, and which shows that he’s thinking about a very specific idea — rather than, say, “I’m interested in technology,” which is too broad.

  • He illustrates the concept in a number of ways. The second paragraph shows that he’s thought about how technology manifests in today’s world and how it might manifest. He’s drawing intellectual connections, which is exactly what a liberal arts education requires. 

  • He spins it forward. By mentioning what he might want to study, Jason carries through his interest to Yale. For a bonus, he might add a line about what makes Yale such a superb place to study Cognitive Science or History of Science and Medicine, but that’s not crucial, and might in fact come off as a little much if done wrong.

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?

Priya writes:

The first time my parents dropped me off at Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, I was furious. I didn’t want to spend my summer in Rochester, New York, with a bunch of other Indian kids. I wanted to go to theater camp. I wanted to play Anita in West Side Story. But by the end of the summer, I’d changed my mind.

Growing up with mostly white friends, I’d never been comfortable wearing a bindi or a salwar kameez. I quit my Kuchipudi classical dance classes when I was twelve and the teacher moved thirty minutes away. I replaced them with tap, jazz, and eventually some hip hop. But at HHSC, the days were filled with Indian things that, for the first time, didn’t make me feel strange. My grandparents had tried to teach me slokas and yoga when I was younger, and I’d always preferred to watch TV. But when I was surrounded by other desi kids my own age, I didn’t mind the prayers and pujas, and I actually loved yoga, the way it slowed down my constantly moving brain. 

HHSC isn’t a constant community, because we always have to leave it. But I’ve gone back to be a counselor since, and I’m always in touch with some of my best friends from each summer. More than anything, HHSC taught me that the Hindu community in the U.S. is a home you can carry with you all year.

What’s great about Priya’s answer?

  • There’s a sense of story. Though there aren’t any specific anecdotes, characters, scenes, or even images in Priya’s essay, there’s still a sense of story. Why? Because she talks about a change she underwent. 

  • She reflects on the community personally. Many people will interpret this question as an opportunity to discuss their community service hours. That might be fine, if your child can really tell as personal of a story about their community service hours as Priya does about her summer camp. But this question is an invitation for the applicant to get intimate, not to talk about the soup kitchen that may or may not have personally affected them. 

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.

Olivia writes:

Freshman year, my Political Thought and Speech teacher decided our final exam would be a United Nations style forum. We’d all represent one country, and we’d discuss issues both serious and silly—from nuclear proliferation to the possibility of alien invasion. Our job was to understand what another country would have to say about a given issue. 

It was funny to watch all of my classmates—myself included—fumble to try on a non-American centric attitude. As China, was I supposed to feel differently about climate change policy, since I might think it was my “right” to pollute? After all, the Western countries had their chance. Was my best friend, aka Russia, right to say Ukraine was “her” territory?

I think before I can even commit to studying a given issue, I want to be a part of a generation that talks about global issues, well, globally. I don’t see how we can begin to solve them if we can’t see how others see them, in other parts of the world. 

I hope I can use my college experience to begin to see new perspectives. Yale’s diverse student body, its study abroad opportunities—yearlong, summer, and even spring breaks, and its extracurriculars, from the Globalist magazine to the Yale International Relations Association, are all amazing chances for me to expand my own borders in order to help break down others.

What’s Olivia done well?

  • She gets personal and provides context—time, place, situation. In other words, she leads with an anecdote. Given this prompt, many students are tempted to dive right into discussing an issue. That can work for some, but this isn’t an invitation to write a policy paper.

    This prompt is a chance for the admissions committee to connect your child’s intellectual interests to their personal story. They’ll remember Olivia’s “issue” better because they’ve got an image of her fumbling to represent China at this forum.

  • She perfectly answers the second part of the question—how her college experience can help her address this. She’s seen herself not only studying abroad, but specifically getting involved in Yale’s international activities.

If your child is interested in engineering, they’ll also tackle this question:

Please tell us more about what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in engineering, and what it is about Yale’s engineering program that appeals to you. (300 words)

Sergio writes:

When I was young, my dad used to bring work home with him. As a high school science teacher (physics and chemistry), he’d ask me questions he’d been teaching his class that day. I learned about velocity and electrovalence sitting around the dinner table. One of my favorite memories is the time he taught me how to make a toy car go in a full circle using just a rubber band. 

As a high schooler I got involved in a summer program called Investigations in Engineering. I learned about what it might actually mean to apply science to everything from making bridges to making driverless cars. 

I’m applying to Yale to study environmental engineering because I think the most urgent thing scientists can pay attention to today is climate change. It’s too late to solve a lot of what’s gone wrong, but there are things environmental engineers will need to fix, like safe passageways in flood zones after natural disasters, or clean drinking water in areas polluted by fracking. 

When I visited Yale, I walked up Science Hill and saw the amazing Kroon Hall. It was my favorite building on the campus. I’m excited about courses like Green Engineering and Sustainable Design and the chance to do research with teachers like Professor Michelle Bell, whose work on climate change’s health impacts really fascinates me.  

What’s Sergio done well?

  • He answers every component of the question. He talks about his past experience with engineering, what he wants to do as an engineer, and why Yale is the right place to do it. 

  • He doesn’t summarize his resumé. Many students will have the impulse to list out every class they’ve taken that relates to engineering. And, indeed, some may have more experience than Sergio does.

    But Sergio realizes that the most important thing is his intellectual passion for engineering. He’s aware that his excellent grades in the sciences will speak to his ability to succeed at Yale, and so he doesn’t waste valuable essay space trying to show the committee that he’s smart. 

  • His Yale-specific details feel authentic and not too showy. Sergio isn’t quite as overtly passionate about Yale as Priya, for instance. But that’s fine. He chooses a more sober tone and nonetheless makes a convincing case for his interest in Yale. Another applicant might use exactly these details and simply sound like they’d Googled “Yale engineering” and cobbled together some interest.

    Sergio, on the other hand, mentions his campus tour, a specific building that Yale is very proud of, and a class and a professor who are directly related to the interests he’s already mentioned.

Conclusion

Yale is a natural choice for any ambitious and precocious high school student. As a large research institution with a liberal arts approach to education, it will offer your child myriad opportunities. Every applicant should focus on getting to know Yale—and every other school to which they’re applying—so they can write with passion and specificity about why they’re the perfect fit.