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What Yale Looks For

Many years ago, former Yale President Kingman Brewster wrote that selecting future Yale students was a combination of looking for those who would make the most of the extraordinary resources assembled here, those with a zest to stretch the limits of their talents, and those with an outstanding public motivation – in other words, applicants with a concern for something larger than themselves. He said, “We have to make the hunchy judgment as to whether or not with Yale’s help the candidate is likely to be a leader in whatever he [or she] ends up doing.” Our goals remain the same today. Decade after decade, Yalies have set out to make our world better. We are looking for students we can help to become the leaders of their generation in whatever they wish to pursue.

As we carefully and respectfully review every application, two questions guide our admissions team: “Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” and “Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community?”

We estimate that over three quarters of the students who apply for admission to Yale are qualified to do the work here. Between two and three hundred students in any year are so strong academically that their admission is scarcely ever in doubt. But here is the thing to know: the great majority of students who are admitted stand out from the rest because a lot of little things, when added up, tip the scale in their favor. So what matters most in your application? Ultimately, everything matters. The good news in that is that when so many little things figure into an admissions decision, it is fruitless to worry too much about any one of them.

Our advice is to pursue what you love and tell us about that. Be yourself. Ask the teachers who really know you to recommend you. Apply and relax.

Here are a few tips that we hope will help you present yourself as the outstanding person you no doubt are. We wish you all the best and look forward to reading your application.

Academic Ability

Yale is above all an academic institution. This means academic strength is our first consideration in evaluating any candidate. The single most important document in your application is your high school transcript, which tells us a great deal about your academic drive and performance over time. We look for students who have consistently taken a broad range of challenging courses in high school and done well. Your high school teachers can provide extremely helpful information in their evaluations. Not only do they discuss your performance in their particular class or classes, but often they write about such things as your intellectual curiosity, energy, relationships with classmates, and impact on the classroom environment. Obviously it is important to ask for recommendations from teachers who know you well.

No Score Cutoffs

There are no score cutoffs for standardized tests, and successful candidates present a wide range of test results. During the most recent year, test score ranges (25th to 75th percentiles) for enrolled freshman were:

  • SAT-Verbal: 710-800
  • SAT-Math: 710-790
  • SAT-Writing: 720-800
  • ACT: 32-35

While there is no hard and fast rule, it is safe to say that performance in school is more important than testing. A very strong performance in a demanding college preparatory program may compensate for modest standardized test scores, but it is unlikely that high standardized test scores will persuade the admissions committee to disregard an undistinguished secondary-school record.

Bringing Your Application to Life

Just as teacher recommendations are meant to give the admissions committee a glimpse of what you are like in the classroom, the counselor recommendation may provide us with a picture of your place in your high school class and in the larger school community. Your counselor can help us assess the degree of difficulty of your program, tell us what a particular leadership position means at your school, provide information on your background, and, in general, provide the sort of textured comments about you that would help your application come to life.

The Yale application tries to get at the personal side of the applicant through the use of two essays whose scope is broad enough to accommodate most writers. We encourage you to take the writing of the essays seriously and to write openly and honestly about activities, interests, or experiences that have been meaningful to you. What is most important is that you write in your own voice. If an essay doesn’t sound like the person who writes it, it cannot serve him or her very well as a personal statement. As with every document in the application, we read essays very carefully and try to get a full sense of the human being behind them.

Evaluating Applications

We convene a committee of experienced admissions officers, Yale faculty, and Yale deans to select applicants who have shown exceptional engagement, ability, and promise.

Transcripts, test scores, essays, and recommendations help paint a picture not only of a student’s accomplishments to date but also of the ways in which an applicant has taken advantage of the opportunities available to him or her. For example, does your school offer AP courses, an International Baccalaureate program, neither, or both? We only expect you to take advantage of such courses if your high school provides them.

Again, we are looking for students who will make the most of Yale and the most of their talents. Knowing how you’ve engaged in the resources and opportunities at your high school gives us an expectation of how you might engage the resources at Yale if admitted.

In selecting future Yale students, President Brewster wrote, “I am inclined to believe that the person who gives every ounce to do something superbly has an advantage over the person whose capacities may be great but who seems to have no desire to stretch them to their limit.” Within the context of each applicant’s life and circumstances, we look for that desire and ability to stretch one’s limits.

 

Study OC

Students study outside on Old Campus on a beautiful night.

Photograph by Michael Marsland/Yale University