Students commonly want to know what part of the college application “carries the most weight.” The truth is, there are many parts to your application, and together they help us discover and appreciate your particular mix of qualities. Academic criteria are important to Yale’s selective admissions process, but we look at far more than test scores and grades.
Every applicant brings something unique to the admissions committee table. Perhaps one application stands out because of sparkling recommendations, while another presents outstanding extracurricular talent; maybe your personality shines through a powerful written voice, or maybe your keen mathematical mind packs more punch. Our goal is to assemble a diverse, well-rounded freshman class, and that means admitting exceptional individuals of all types. You may find this answer unsatisfying, but we assure you that it is true: the part of the application that carries the most weight is different from applicant to applicant.
This section of our website aims to help you submit the very best application possible. We asked admissions officers to weigh in with their own thoughts on each topic and we have compiled their responses below. We know that the application process can be confusing, daunting, even overwhelming, and we hope this page proves helpful as you compile your applications, not only to Yale but to every school on your list.
When you write your essays and short answer responses, write about something that matters to you. Use your own voice. Do not worry about making a special effort to include impressive vocabulary words or overly complex sentences. If you sound like yourself and discuss something you care about, your essay will be more effective.
We know that no one can fit an entire life story into a few short pieces of writing, and we don’t expect you to try. Pick topics that will give us an idea of who you are. It doesn’t matter which topics you choose, as long as they are meaningful to you. We have read wonderful essays on common topics and weak essays on highly unusual ones. Your perspective – the lens through which you view your topic – is far more important than the specific topic itself. In the past, students have written about family situations, ethnicity or culture, school or community events to which they have had strong reactions, people who have influenced them, significant experiences, intellectual interests, personal aspirations, or – more generally – topics that spring from the life of the imagination.
Finally: proofread, proofread, proofread! Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well – such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend – and ask for feedback. Remember that you ultimately have control over your essays, and your essays should retain your own voice, but others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit.
Your record of extracurricular experiences ideally should demonstrate a number of things:
- You engage your community beyond the classroom. Yale is home to over 300 student organizations, and we want to admit students who will take advantage of these resources and contribute to Yale’s vibrant extracurricular community.
- You take leadership positions when they are available, and you invest your energies into the activities you choose. You do not need to be president of a national organization to impress the admissions committee. But, the committee would like to see that you have spent time pursuing meaningful opportunities and that you have had a positive impact on people around you.
- You demonstrate a deep commitment to and genuine appreciation for what you spend your time doing. The joy you take in the pursuits that really matter to you – rather than a resume padded with a long list of activities – will strengthen your candidacy.
Interviews are another way to help your application stand out. If you are offered the opportunity to interview, we strongly encourage you to take it. Share whatever additional information you feel the admissions committee should consider in order to fully appreciate your ideas, intellectual curiosity, character, and values.
Do not be a passive interviewee! Although the interviewer will get the ball rolling with questions, come prepared to be an engaged conversationalist. Rather than answering a question with a one-word, direct answer, approach each question as an opportunity to elaborate on various aspects of who you are. Tell your story, ask questions, and raise any concerns you may have. Interviewers can learn as much about candidates by the interesting, thoughtful questions they bring to the table as they can from the answers they give.
Recommendations tell us a great deal about the way you think and learn, how you contribute to your school community, and what you add to a classroom dynamic. The best recommendations are not always from the teachers in whose class you earned the highest grades, but rather from those teachers who know you best and can discuss the substance of your intellect and character. We are as interested in your intellectual curiosity and resilience as in your innate ability and work ethic. A string of generic superlatives is not as useful as a specific, thoughtful discussion of your strengths.
We prefer these letters to be from teachers who have taught you in your junior and/or senior years. These teachers will best speak to your recent progress, your preparation for rigorous collegiate coursework, and your potential contributions beyond the classroom.
Supplementary materials can provide broader context to some parts of your application, but they can just as often be superfluous and distracting. For example, a letter from someone who supervised your extracurricular research project may answer important questions about the work you’ve done. But a third recommendation that raves about you, just as your other letters do, will not necessarily enhance your application. In fact, it may dilute the effect of the two required recommendations.
Transcript and Testing
Your transcript is a significant part of your application. We look at your overall record, from freshman through senior years. We always remain mindful of context: what courses are available at your school? Did you take a rigorous curriculum given these course offerings? Are there patterns to your transcript that reflect on your academic potential? We rely on school profiles and guidance counselors to give us an understanding of your school and the ways in which you have been academically engaged.
We also consider your standardized test scores. Think of testing as just another part of the application, and certainly do not spend most of your weekends test-taking! Only retake a test if you feel you will significantly improve your scores. If your testing is in the right ballpark, then it probably will not be the deciding factor for your candidacy. In other words, don’t worry about trying to get an extra twenty points. Instead, spend your time on things that will help you grow as a person: school work, extracurricular opportunities, time with friends — the things that will give you a stronger sense of yourself and, as a result, make you a stronger college applicant. (Bonus: they will also prepare you to make the most of your college experience and of life!).