The Yale University Admissions Process

This year was filled with applicants applying to Yale University single choice early action (SCEA) and all were, of course, in search of information about how they might gain an edge in the application process. What this article intends to supply is as accurate a portrait of what Yale admissions is looking for in a candidate—most of which is taken directly off the Yale admissions website—how applications are reviewed, who makes up the admissions committee, and what elements of the application factor most highly, which, admittedly, is highly subjective. To offset its personal nature we’ll examine admissions factors through the eyes of an applicant who gained admissions to Yale and then four years later, obtained his application with all the admissions officer’s notes, through the FERPA process, and those of an admissions reader.

 What this article does, that is a departure from previous articles, is take excerpts from the Yale Admissions website which gives the best information on the admissions process, along with allied articles that might bring the entire process into even greater clarity. Few candidates, because of time constraints or lack of knowledge, rarely go into the depths of the admissions site to gain a complete picture of how the school of interest conducts its admissions efforts. We did, highlighted the most telling parts and are sharing them with you.

 The article breaks into the following components:

1.      General Advice

2.      Essay Writing

3.      Activities

4.      Interviews

5.      Recommendations

6.      Transcript

7.      Inside Information on the Yale Admissions Process

8.      ‘Under-enrolled’ majors at Yale

9.      Conclusion


General Advice (

 Yale boasts a ‘holistic approach to admissions’.

 The high school transcript is undoubtedly the most important document in the application.

 The admissions committee ‘considers each application as a comprehensive picture of that student. ‘

 “Remember that we are looking for students who will make the most of Yale and the most of their talents. Knowing how you have engaged in high school gives us an idea of how you might engage at Yale.”

 ‘Take a balanced set of rigorous classes. ‘

 Big question: “Are you seeking challenge or avoiding it?’

 What Yale Looks for:

1.      ‘Those with a zest to stretch the limits of their talents.’

2.      ‘Applicants with a concern for something larger than themselves.’

3.      ‘We have to make a hunch as to whether or not with Yale’s help the candidate is likely to be a leader in whatever he ends up doing. ‘

4.      Two key questions

a.      ‘Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?

b.      ‘Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community?’

5.      Academic ability

a.      ‘Look for students who have consistently taken a broad range of challenging courses in high school and done well.’

b.      Reflected in evaluations that detail performance in class

                                                               i.     Intellectual curiosity

                                                             ii.     Energy

                                                            iii.     Relationships with classmates

                                                            iv.     Impact on Classroom environment

6.      A lot of ‘little things’ that add up to a big picture

7.      Kingman Brewster: “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.” STRETCH YOUR LIMITS-and make the stretch interesting.


 The following insights are from: Advice on Putting Together Your Application (


On Essays

 ‘Every applicant brings something unique to the admissions committee table.’

‘Our goal is to assemble a diverse, well-rounded student body, and that means admitting exceptional individuals of all types.’

‘…the part of the application that carries the most weight is different from applicant to applicant.’

 ‘If you sound like yourself and discuss something you care about, your essay will be more effective.’

 ‘It doesn’t matter which topics you choose, as long as they are meaningful to you.’

 ‘Your perspective—the lens through which you view your topic—is far more important than the specific topic itself.’

 ‘Proofread, proofread, proofread!’


On Activities

Yale has hundreds of student organizations, ‘ and we want to admit students who will take advantage of these resources and contribute to Yale’s vibrant extracurricular community.’

 ‘..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 will strengthen your candidacy.’



 ‘…if you are offered the opportunity to interview, we strongly encourage you to take it.’

‘…come prepared to be an engaged conversationalist.’

‘…approach each question as an opportunity to elaborate on various aspects of who you are.’

‘Share whatever additional information  you feel the admissions committee should consider in order to fully appreciate your ideas, intellectual curiosity, character, and values.’

 ‘Interviewer can also learn about candidates from the interesting, thoughtful question they bring to the table.’



 ‘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.’

 ‘..Two letters of recommendation [should come] from teachers who have taught the student in core academic subjects…[preferably] in your junior 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.’



 ‘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? ‘

 ‘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.’


Standardized tests:

 ‘Only retake a test if you feel you will significantly improve your scores. ‘

 ‘…don’t worry about trying to get an extra few points. Instead, spend your time on things that will help you grow as a person: school work, extracurricular, time with friends—the things that will give you a stronger sense of yourself…’


‘Former Yale Admissions Officer reveals Secrets of Who Gets In’ by Ed Boland New York Post (02-07-2016)

 During the initial review, ‘two staff members read each application and assign an overall ranking of ‘1 (take this kid)’ or 4 (no way)’. Several candidates made it directly into the class without the review and debate of the admissions committee. One was a girl who wrote a publishable essay, ‘worthy of Harper’s’, ‘about gender and socialization.’ She had been a ‘phantom serial farter who no one ever suspected because of her gender. She pranced into the class.

 Then the Admissions Committee convened, ‘composed of faculty members, deans, and the most senior admissions representatives.’

 ‘Competition was fierce and time short: ‘you had to make your notes about the kids you were advocating for pithy…’

 ‘Any member of the admissions committee could challenge you to back up your recommendation on any candidate in your region.  After you made your case and answered their questions, the committee of eight or so would decide a candidate’s fate on a wacky voting machine…Any applicant with more than a total of two reject and/or wait-list votes was automatically denied.’

 Because of the volume of applications shortcuts to contend with the load evolved. Rejections of entire schools, pages or states (North Dakota) ensued.

 ‘Once the children of alumni, recruited athletes, underrepresented minorities or regions, and students interested in under-enrolled majors were considered, there wasn’t much room for your generic genius.’


Under-enrolled majors at Yale

 Regarding ‘under enrolled’ majors, it appears that Yale’s major interest is in its weakest offering areas, STEM. It thereby holds the following (taken from College Confidential):

 “So, whatever students select as their "intended major" on the Common Application has absolutely no bearing on their chances."

 Should a student wish to review the complete list of Yale majors offered and enrollment in each over the last decade, this information can be found at

 Yale does make a special effort to recruit what they see as the 100 top HS seniors who are intended STEM majors, paying to fly them out to Yale, and issuing "likely" letters assuring them of acceptance months before the regular decision date. The program is called YES-W, and the event has the feel of an RSI/Intel/Siemens/Science Olympiad reunion weekend with a significant portion of the participants having met before at one or more of the most prestigious national level programs for STEM kids.

 Yale uses the program to "poach" top STEM kids from schools like MIT, Harvard and Stanford.”


In conclusion:

‘The admissions officers that I have talked to have consistently said that the candidates who are successful among the many thousands who are academically qualified are the ones that tell a convincing story of who they are and how they will make the most of Yale and how they will contribute to Yale. To paraphrase a recent discussion, "We know who this kid is, all the pieces add up".