Yale University stands as one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the United States, often mentioned in the same breath with luminaries like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. The popular US News and World Report rankings place it in a tie for #3 in the National Universities category, and its alums are well-represented in positions of leadership and excellence in the United States and throughout the world.
Given this reputation, it’s unsurprising that Yale is a popular choice for motivated students applying to competitive colleges. However, Yale isn’t just a big name; it’s also a real place where real people live, work, and learn. The school has its own culture, traditions, and particular character that makes it an especially good fit for certain applicants.
Likewise, getting accepted to Yale isn’t just about proving your academic aptitude. It’s a competitive and challenging admission process that addresses not only your grades and scores, but the potential and perspective you bring to campus and how well you fit with Yale’s approach to college education.
Gathering knowledge is a necessity when you’re crafting a successful application for a college like Yale and deciding whether it’s the right fit for you. Read on for all the basics facts about Yale you’ll need to get started with your research.
Yale: The Quick Facts
Type: Private University
Location: New Haven, CT
Current enrollment: 5,472 undergraduates, 12,458 students in total
Tuition: $51,400 (2017-2018)
Average financial aid award: $48,294 (2015-16)
Acceptance rate: 6.3%
Average SAT score: 1545 (roughly equivalent to 2265 on the old SAT)
An Introduction to Yale
Students and Culture
Yale is well-known for its culture of academic excellence and intellectual rigor. Its students are people who take their education seriously and intend to prepare themselves for leadership roles in the future, though this doesn’t prevent them from having other interests and goals.
Undergraduates make up slightly less than half of Yale’s medium-large student body of over 12,000 students, meaning that graduate and professional students do take up some of the resources on campus. However, you don’t need to worry that undergraduates won’t get their share of attention. Yale takes its commitment to high-quality undergraduate education very seriously, and is ranked in US News and World Report’s top 10 schools for undergraduate teaching.
Tuition and Financial Aid
As with most colleges on this tier, Yale is an expensive place to go to school. The most recent figure for tuition places that charge at $51,400 per year, and the total cost of attendance for most students is around $64,275 per year.
Yale awards only need-based financial aid, meaning it does not provide athletic, academic, or other merit scholarships. However, this need-based financial aid is very generous for students who qualify, and many students end up paying significantly less than their full cost of attendance. Yale’s aid awards are also entirely composed of grant-based aid, meaning that no student is required to take out student loans.
Yale’s main campus is located in the downtown area of New Haven, Connecticut. The university owns various properties, including athletic facilities, that are separate from this main campus, but if you attend Yale, the main campus is where you’ll most likely spend your time.
New Haven is not far from the urban center of New York City, making the larger city a popular destination for students on weekends and breaks as well as a resource for academic and career development. The campus itself, however, has plenty of charms. It’s well-known for its architectural and historical significance, and was even named the most beautiful college campus in the United States in 2011 by Town & Country Magazine.
Academics and Popular Majors
The most popular academic majors at Yale fall within the fields of economics, political science and government, history, psychology, and biology. In recent decades, Yale has produced a large number of alums who have become significant figures in government and politics, giving the school a reputation as a place where future political leaders are formed.
Of course, these aren’t the only areas of academic excellence you’ll find at Yale; the school’s resources and prestige draw well-known scholars and foster top-tier scholarship in many different areas. One area of special interest is Yale’s drama program, which has trained many of today’s leading actors and other media professionals.
Student Life and Activities
Yale students are committed to their studies, but they’re just as eager to pursue challenges and activities outside the classroom. The campus is home to over 380 student groups at present, and new groups and programs are always in the works. If you can’t find your preferred activity, you’ll always have the opportunity to create it for yourself.
Competitive and informal athletic teams at Yale include the infamous sport of “bladderball,” a Yale tradition that has been banned by administrators and revived several times. The well-known a capella group the Whiffenpoofs is only one of many performing arts groups on campus, and other activities include a wide range of cultural groups, political organizations, and the Yale Record, the oldest college humor magazine in the country.
Like Harvard, Princeton, and quite a few other top-tier schools, Yale’s student housing is arranged according to a residential college system. Most students live on campus within these smaller residential communities.
Residential colleges provide students with a place to live, eat, socialize, and find support within the larger Yale community. Each college has associated faculty members and advisors who mingle with students, provide resources, and help organize community events.
Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.
Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut is inextricably linked with its largest rival, Harvard University. Both schools have a lot in common: strong liberal arts curricula, disproportionate representation amongst the nation’s policy-making elite, and more.
But both schools also share a more mundane characteristic: similar supplement essays. Like Harvard, Yale offers students the opportunity to write an open-ended supplement essay on any topic they want, with a 500-word cap. Yale also has a short 100-word “Why Yale” essay, and an optional 500-word essay for applicants to its engineering school.
What in particular about Yale has influenced your decision to apply? (100 words)
This is a standard “Why School” essay, however since the length allowed is just 100 words, you should focus your essay on one specific characteristic of Yale, in particular something unique to the school. For example, if you spent high school participating in myriad debate competitions, discussing Yale’s top-ranked debate squad and its unique culture. Or if you crave close friendships in your personal life, you could discuss Yale’s residential college system, and how you would enjoy forming deep relationships therein. The options are (effectively) limitless, but of course specificity is key. Balancing this prompt with the other two (or three) essays that Yale will see is also important. If your Common App and long essay are both about academics, you should choose a social topic, and vice versa. If the breakdown is one each, you should reinforce your weaker essay (i.e. a supplement essay about your social life) with this one.
In this second essay, please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or interests to intellectual pursuits. (500 words)
This long essay prompt offers you an opportunity to discuss your personal development beyond the bullet points on your resume, as well as beyond your Common App. Your supplement essay should not be redundant with your Common App one; it should have different content and a different tone and writing style. In terms of topics, you can certainly use an extracurricular activity, though if you do, you should try to highlight a less-prominent activity on your resume. It is more important to convey development than competence in this essay, and while discussing your most prominent extracurricular activity is often an excellent way to show off your skills, an activity where you enjoyed less success is often a better tool to discuss challenges you faced or personal development. For example, even if your most successful activity is Science Olympiad, you could discuss the friendships and improved social skills you gained from the debate club.
Beyond extracurricular passions, you could also base your essay on an intellectual topic, such as something that you researched, something that you would like to research, or just a field of academics that you find interesting. However, this strategy can be risky because you risk getting stuck in the weeds. The essay has to be at least 50% about you; your emotional and rational reasons for liking or loving the topic. Writing 500 words about the beauty of nominal GDP targeting might make for interesting reading. But it doesn’t convey enough about you. A less risky option is to discuss a personal growth story, discussing a challenge you faced or an incident that helped you develop. The opportunities here are endless, but you do want to be careful not to write your essay in a way that makes it seem as though you want to elicit sympathy. In particular, tone deaf pathos (for example describing a move two towns over at the age of 7 as a traumatic life-or-death experience) can backfire substantially.
This essay allows you to show why you will add something to the Yale community. The admissions counselors should be able to read it and see how you will fit in. You don’t have to explicitly or even implicitly reference Yale itself, but you do want to convey themes such as citizenship, curiosity, idealism, realism, and acceptance, which will convey your suitability.
Optional essay for prospective engineering majors:
If you selected one of the engineering majors, please write a brief third essay telling us 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. (500 words)
This is a pretty basic “Why Major” essay, and accordingly you can use the same technique that you do for all such essays. As always, you want to make sure that you specifically address Yale engineering, not just engineering as a field. Unless you have a specific vehicle or highly specific interdisciplinary field (such as the economics of amphibious vehicle procurement for the US military), you should use the standard playbook. Start by discussing why you want to pursue the field, making reference to experiences and activities in high school that reinforce your decision and prove your competence, then transition into Yale Engineering-specific factors. Yale Engineering has relatively few “disciplines,” so you should drill down into specific areas of focus (amphibious vehicles in the mechanical engineering discipline being one prominent example). Be sure to focus on specific sets of classes and research initiatives – don’t just name-drop professors.
Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.