How to get into Yale University

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Yale University had an acceptance rate of just 4.6%, meaning that if you’re serious about gunning for a Yale acceptance letter, you’ll need all the possible information about their acceptance process and what they’re looking for. 

In this blog post, we’ll use our decades of experience and the most recent data to break down exactly what you need to do to have a chance at a Yale acceptance. We’ll also do an analysis of the Yale application review process. 

At PrepMaven, the vast majority of our tutors come from Ivy League schools like Princeton and Yale—they know what it takes to get in because they’ve done it. For over two decades, our academic, test-prep, and college essay coaches have helped students get into their own dream schools. If you’re serious about an Ivy admission, we recommend reading our guide carefully, then working with one of our tutors to maximize your chances

Keep reading to increase your chances of admission, and download our collection of real supplemental essays, which includes multiple real essays that got students into Yale. 

Jump to section:
The three pillars of a Yale application
What you need to get into Yale: Academics
What you need to get into Yale: Extracurriculars
What you need to get into Yale: Character
The Three Pillars of getting into Yale: Summary
The Yale admission process
Other elements of the Yale Application
Next steps 


The three pillars of a Yale application

The best way to think about your application to a school like Yale is as consisting of three pillars: 

  • Academics
  • Extracurriculars
  • Character

In the following sections, we’ll break down exactly what you need in each of these categories for a short at Yale. Here, we’ll explain a bit about each of these three pillars and how they come together to support a viable Yale application. 

Academics refers to everything that’s on your transcript, plus your test scores. In other words, the Academics pillar consists of:

  • GPA
  • Rigor of curriculum
  • Dual enrollment/college credit courses
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • AP/IB scores

Extracurriculars are somewhat self-explanatory: these are just about anything you’ve done that isn’t directly connected to your academics. Common examples: 

  • Sports
  • School clubs
  • Service work
  • Research 
  • Gap years
  • Creative projects
  • Paid employment
  • Internships

But it’s Character that can be one of the most important elements of a Yale application, and one of the hardest to pin down. What’s the Character pillar? In a nutshell, it’s your story: what kind of person and student are you? What drives you? What do you hope to accomplish?

All of these big and probably scary questions are what we mean when we discuss Character as part of your application. While all elements of your application come together to showcase Character, the single biggest place where you can convey it is in your college essays. 

Below, we’re going to break down Yale University’s admissions process according to each of these three pillars: what do you need to do when it comes to Academics, Extracurriculars, and Character to have a shot?


What you need to get into Yale: Academics

We want to start with a disclaimer: nobody gets accepted to Yale based on Academics alone. But plenty of applicants do get rejected because their Academics pillar is too weak. 

When it comes to schools like Yale, you should think of Academics as a prerequisite: while there are always rare exceptions, if your GPA and test scores do not line up with Yale’s typical median, your chances of acceptance are very, very slim. 

So, what are the Yale University baselines as far as Academics? Let’s take a look at the 2022-2023 Common App Data set for the stats. 

When it comes to SAT/ACT: 

To put it bluntly, you’ll need near-perfect SAT/ACT scores to have a shot at a Yale admission. We’ll break down some statistics below: 

To break that down quickly: 

  • For SAT-takers, 50% of students who enrolled had an SAT Verbal score at or above 760 and a Math score at or above 780. 
  • For ACT-takers, 50% of students who enrolled had an ACT Composite of 35 or higher.

To put that in perspective: a 35 ACT score is equivalent to a 99th percentile nationally. Meaning that at least half of Yale admits who took the ACT had scored in the top 1% nationally. 

But while people often look at percentiles and medians, there’s another crucial statistic people often miss: how many people actually get in with lower scores? The answer: basically none. Take a look below. 

It’s a lot of numbers, but here’s the TLDR summary: 

  • Only 7.89% of Yale admits had an SAT Verbal score below 700. 
  • Only 4.82% of Yale admits had an SAT Math score below 700. 

The takeaway is simple: it is practically impossible to get accepted to Yale without an ACT or SAT score in the top 1%. 

A note on test-optional policies

Many people see that Yale is test-optional and breathe a sigh of relief: if the policy says “optional,” then surely you don’t have to take the test, right? 

Sadly, that’s not the case. The vast majority of Yale applicants submitted test scores for last-year’s application cycle. The reality of it is that test-optional policies are not meant to apply to everyone.

 If you come from a background where the Yale admission committee could see testing as a real burden—you come from a low-income family or community, you worked a full-time job to support your family, you were dealing with serious health issues in high school, etc.—then test-optional can work for you (though you would still be better off submitting exceptional test scores). 

But if you don’t have anything like that to point to, Yale will expect you to submit test scores. They might not say so, but failing to do so when you don’t have a good reason will signal to admissions committees that you simply didn’t do well enough on the test. 

Regardless of application requirements, at PrepMaven we encourage students to still take the SAT (or the ACT, depending on which test suits their skills). 

Doing so will allow them to keep their options open as they navigate future college admissions cycles, and our philosophy as educators is to give our students as many tools as possible to maximize their future opportunities.

Higher test scores will always give applicants an advantage.

When it comes to GPA: 

According to the stats, it’s just as important to have a sky-high GPA:

97% of Yale admits who submitted class rank information were in the top tenth of their graduating class. 

The takeaway here is similar to that with test scores: if you’re not in at least the top 10% of your graduating class, you’re effectively out of the running for a Yale admission.

Other considerations for Academics: Rigor

We want to add a quick note here: colleges like Yale expect you to take the most rigorous courses offered by your school. While there’s not much exact data on this, we can confidently say that if you only took regular or Honors courses, you won’t be considered seriously as a candidate regardless of GPA. 

Though this depends on your school’s offerings, Yale University will expect applicants to take AP courses wherever possible. Many successful Yale applicants go further, taking dual enrollment or additional courses at local colleges. 

Academics Summary: What do you need to do?

If there’s a shorthand, it’s this: Academics won’t get you into Yale, but they can definitely keep you out. Think of this pillar as a hurdle you have to clear before admissions committees even consider your application seriously. Here’s close to the minimum of what you need for a shot:

  • Take maximally rigorous courses. 
  • Be at least within the top 10% of your graduating class.
  • Achieve an ACT or SAT score at least in the 99th percentile. 

We can’t stress this enough: doing all of the above does not make you a strong candidate for Yale. It is effectively the minimum that you need to accomplish to be considered a candidate at all. 

If you’re serious about Yale, you should start building up your Academics pillar as early as possible. There’s absolutely no substitute for expert academic and test-prep coaching: when everything has to be perfect for you to have a shot, you don’t want to take chances. Our tutors can help you maintain that GPA and work your way up to a competitive test score. 


What you need to get into Yale: Extracurriculars

If your Academics are competitive, it’s time to look at the second pillar: Extracurriculars. Just like with Academics, the exceptional is the norm for a school like Yale. 

Yale University offers three pieces of advice to applicants when it comes to selecting their extracurriculars. They are looking for you to:

  1. engage your community beyond the classroom. Yale is home to 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.
  2. take leadership positions when they are available, and 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.
  3. 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.

So, what makes a strong Extracurricular profile for Yale? In addition to the suggestions from Yale’s site above, we encourage you to focus on four key elements to evaluate how competitive your extracurriculars are—and, if you have time, to begin developing a competitive Extracurricular pillar.

Key elements of a competitive Yale Extracurricular profile, in order:

  1. Excellence
  2. Dedication
  3. Leadership
  4. Initiative 

Let’s take these one at a time. 

  1. Excellence

Yale isn’t looking for someone who dabbles: they want applicants who have proven that they can excel at what they pursue. Whatever your main extracurriculars, there should be some kind of objective proof that you excelled above and beyond the norm in them. What might that look like?

  • If you code: placing high a national or international competition/challenge. 
  • If you play sports: being a high-level competitor on a national competitive team. 
  • If you write: winning state, national, or international prizes. 

The idea here is fairly clear: it’s not enough just to do: you’ve really got to prove you can perform at an incredible level. 

Note the scale as well: winning a school or local competition simply isn’t good enough to matter in most cases. 

  1. Dedication

Whatever you pursue, Yale wants you to prove you’re dedicated to it. Having 1-3 core activities that you have spent years pursuing is the mark of dedication. While it’s totally fine to have a few lighter extracurriculars that you don’t dedicate as much time to, you need to have at least 1 thing that you’ve pursued for a long time with (as mentioned above) proven excellence.

Here, the key is really length of time and commitment: the best ECs are ones you’ve pursued for years, with significant time investment each week. 

  1. Leadership

In addition to excellence and dedication, Yale will expect you to demonstrate some form of leadership in the ECs you pursue. The most obvious example of this is, of course, holding a position like team captain or class/club president. 

While those can serve to demonstrate leadership, it’s clear that you’re able to show what came of that leadership. Many students aiming for Ivies try to join the Executive Boards of as many clubs and organizations as possible in high school, but this is the wrong move

Instead of looking like a dedicated, passionate leader, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t care what they do so long as they have a fancy title. What you want is for your leadership to align with excellence and dedication: if you’ve been a member of a nationally recognized robotics team, it’ll be meaningful to show you also captained it. 

If, on the other hand, you joined four clubs senior year and were president of all four, it’ll seem more like you were trying to build a resume. 

  1. Initiative

This is one people often forget, or misunderstand. When it comes to the Extracurricular pillar, one of the most crucial elements is to show that you sought something out and pursued it because of a real passion. 

In a nutshell, this means that the more work you had to do to pursue your ECs of choice, the better. Joining an existent club at school might show dedication, excellence, and leadership, but it won’t, in itself, show much initiative. Starting a club that grows and becomes self-sufficient, however, does show initiative. Here are some examples of initiative:

  • Starting an organization that will continue to thrive after you leave high school.
  • Seeking out an unusual service, research, or work opportunity. 
  • Making a personal sacrifice to pursue your extracurricular of choice. 

A note of caution: Yale is looking for the exceptional and the unusual. Standard accolades like Merit Scholar, NHS, AP Scholar, or club e-board member are a dime a dozen—in other words, they won’t make you more competitive. Below, we’ve put together a list of ECs that make for a competitive Extracurricular profile for Yale, and another list of ones that don’t. 

Examples of competitive ECs for Yale:

  • You’ve pursued music since childhood, practicing 20 or more hours a week and performing at concerts across the country. 
  • You fell in love with cooking your sophomore year of high school: first you got a job as a busser at a local diner; by the summer of junior year, you were a prep cook at a local restaurant, working 30 hours a week. You also have a growing Youtube channel where you show off recipes.
  • Interested in international relations, you sought out a local professor and helped them as a research assistant for a year. Eventually, you published an original research paper with their help.
  • You love visual art, and have dedicated countless hours each week over the last few years to painting and multimedia art projects. While not a member of any club or organization, you have a website gallery of your work and have even sold a few paintings to local businesses. 

Examples of NON-competitive ECs for Yale:

  • You started an Ultimate Frisbee club with 10 members your junior year of high school that you were President of. 
  • You volunteered sporadically for a local soup kitchen to meet your NHS service hours minimum. You didn’t dedicate a significant amount of time to this activity, nor did you participate for very long.
  • You were a rank-and-file member of several school interest clubs (chess club, coding club, book club, etc.), but don’t have any notable accomplishments or results to point to. 

Do you see the difference? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the activities on the second list. In fact, it’s totally fine if you have a few activities like that on your Yale application, but only if they are small side-projects in addition to your 1-3 main extracurricular activities, which should look more like the things on the first list. 

This probably seems like a lot, and it absolutely is. But this is the kind of excellence that Yale is looking for. So, what can you do to develop the Extracurricular pillar of your Yale application?

  • Start early. The earlier you start pursuing an activity, the more impressive your commitment to it will be. 
  • Keep a record of your pursuits. Websites, Youtube channels, etc., are a great way to maintain a portfolio of any creative projects. 
  • Enter contests and seek out publication/recognition. 

The last point deserves a special mention: as you can see from the list of competitive ECs, most of them take years of dedication. If you’re already a junior, one of the best things you can do is pursue contests, research, and publication, all of which can be accomplished fairly quickly and will add a solid EC to your list. 

On that front, writing competitions and research are great places to start. Many of our tutors come from creative writing backgrounds, and many more are graduate students who’ve published research themselves—by working with one of these coaches, you can develop your own independent creative or research project


What you need to get into Yale: Character

This third aspect of your Yale application is perhaps the most elusive—but it can be the most important. 

What do we mean by Character? You can read our full breakdown of the Three Pillars of a College Application here, but for now we can summarize Character as those personal qualities that set you aside from other applicants who have similar grades and extracurriculars. It’s really that ”extra” factor, the one that doesn’t really show up on a transcript or resume. 

So, where does Character appear on your college admissions applications? Mostly, it comes across in the essays! This is where college admissions committees can actually hear your voice, see your thought process, and get an insight into how you view the world. 

Some people tend to write off the college essay, but for an application to Yale or an Ivy League school, it plays a vital part. You can read our post on how important the college essay is here, but for now you can think of it this way: Yale gets so many incredibly talented applicants, so the college essay is one of the main things that can truly help you stand out. 

What is Yale looking for in terms of Character? Key qualities to convey in your essays are things like: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Community-mindedness
  • Passion
  • Resilience

We’ve got an entire collection of blog posts on how to structure the perfect college application essay—if you’re applying to Yale, we highly recommend you start here. At the end of the day, Character is also a way of capturing your entire story, of connecting all of the different threads into one compelling narrative that presents you as someone who will contribute something to one of the most selective universities in the world. 

Yale’s supplemental essay prompts for 2023-2024

In addition to your main essay, the supplemental essay questions are the perfect place to demonstrate Character. Below are Yale’s supplemental essay prompts for 2023-2024:

  • Students at Yale have 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.
  • Tell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it? (200 words or fewer)
  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

In addition, you’ll have to pick one of the following prompts to respond to in 400 words or less: 

  1. Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful?
  2. Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.
  3. Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you?*

If you’ve been reading our blog posts, you might already notice that we’ve already written extensive guides on how to approach the two questions, which fall into our “Why major?” and “Why us?” categories of supplemental essays. 

If you want to ensure your answers to these deceptively simple questions actually give Yale admissions officers what they want, make sure to read through our guides, and take a look below for examples of real, successful supplemental essays. 

When it comes to Yale, every piece of your application has to be perfect. Your Academics are what gets you considered, and your Extracurriculars are what prove you’ve accomplished something unusual. But it’s your Character—exemplified mostly in your college admissions essays—that can convince college admissions committees you’re someone they want to have on campus for the next four years. 


The Three Pillars of getting into Yale: Summary

So, what does it take to get into Yale, really? 

  1. A near perfect GPA achieved in a maximally rigorous courseload. 
  2. An SAT or ACT score well within the top 1% of test-takers. 
  3. An extracurricular profile that shows remarkable dedication, excellence, passion, and initiative. 
  4. Essays that tie together your story and convince admissions officers that you’re an interesting, unique applicant they want to have around for four years.

If that sounds tough, well, it is! So, what can you do to maximize your chances? Start preparing for all of the above as early as possible. If you want to do everything you can, we strongly recommend our tutors: they can help you ace your courses, prepare for your SAT/ACT, develop interesting extracurriculars, and write the perfect essay. 

Below, we’ll get into some crucial info that can help you prepare your Yale application, including a breakdown of the Yale application process and a guide to the Yale interview. 


The Yale admissions process

What are admissions officers looking for?

Former Yale President, Kingman Brewster, once said 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.” 

The Yale Admissions department states that their goals today are largely the same. They state that “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.”

Yale is specifically looking for applicants who are driven, passionate, and strong leaders. The Yale Admissions department notes that the two questions their admissions team asks themselves when reviewing applications are:

  1. Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?
  2. Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community? 

Their advice for demonstrating this: “pursue what you love and tell us about that. Be yourself. Ask the teachers who really know you to recommend you. Apply and relax.”

Read more on the three pillars to application success and see how admission officers read applications here!

What is the Yale University admission’s process like?

Most admissions team follow the same four steps to reading applications:

  1. Screen and sort: organize the applications and send to appropriate admissions officer
  2. Individual Reads: one or more individuals read through the full application to form initial impressions of the candidate and decide whether or not they go to committee  
  3. Committee Review: group deliberation of the candidates
  4. Final Decision: the final class is selected

There are other similarities across admissions departments such as numerical scoring of applicants and the academic index for recruited athletes which you can read more about in our article, “How Colleges Read your Application.”

For Yale specifically, their admission’s department describes what happens after applications are submitted as follows: 

  1. Applications are sorted geographically: This means that when your first reader reviews your application, they are doing so within the context of your specific area and amongst similar candidates; “we do this not just as a practical means of sorting our many thousands of applications, but also so for every corner of the world there’s someone in our office familiar with the schools and the unique challenges and opportunities our applicants from that place may encounter.”
  2. A first reader holistically reviews your application: First readers read the application “cover to cover”. This means that they are not just skimming for specific metrics (though they will likely take note of some) but are thoroughly investigating the “background, context, accomplishments, potential, interests, and character of each of our applicants.”
  3. Applications are sorted to committees: A first reader, and likely a second or third reader, will review applications and include notes for committees. Yale University admissions states that they strive “to respect the hard work you’ve put into applying to college by giving your application the time and attention it deserves.”
  4. Applications go to committee for voting: Admissions committees run between February and March, and they are composed of senior admissions officers, professors, and Residential College Deans. All applicants go to at least one committee. They discuss and vote on the strongest candidates. 

Other elements of the Yale application

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation give an admissions officer a clearer view of an applicant’s character. Yale requires that these letters are teacher recommendations specifically; the ideal letter of recommendation will be written by someone who knows you well; ideally personally and academically. 

They will be able to dedicate the time needed to writing you a strong, personalized letter so be sure to request your recommendations well in advance of your application deadline.

Yale University requests two letters from teachers in core academic subjects. That means Yale requires that these letters be from teachers in your central academic competencies (English, foreign language, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences or math).

In addition to being teachers who know you well, try to select teachers who will be able to compliment different parts of you. While you can’t read what your recommender writes, it’s a good idea to sit down with them and talk about things you would like them to highlight.

Yale admissions states that, “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.”

A guide to the Yale interview

Unlike other colleges where interviews are either mandatory or offered to all applicants, Yale does not require interviews as part of the application process and instead prioritizes interviews for applicants for whom the “admissions committee needs more information”. The Office of Undergraduate admissions notes that because of the limited interviewing capacity, applicants who are not invited to interview will not be disadvantaged. 

All students who are invited to interview are encouraged to connect with the alumni or undergraduate student interviewer. Yale admissions tells candidates that interviewers are valuable sources of information on Yale such as what it is truly like to live and study there. 

They also note that interviews are “evaluative”. At the conclusion of each interview a report will be written and sent to the Yale admissions committee that will help them learn more about the applicant and how they might contribute to the Yale community. 

Ideally, the interview will glean insights about the following qualities of the applicant: 

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Openness to ideas
  • Concern for others

Some example interview questions that Yale provides interviewers are:

  1. Reflect either on something that doesn’t come as naturally (i.e. English class for the STEM kid) or a particularly difficult experience in the thing you love (i.e. a tough acting role, mastering a new piece, an obstacle in research). 
  2. Tell me about influential person in your lives (teacher, coach, etc.).
  3. What has made you stick with an interest for years?
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. What do you hope to gain from your undergraduate experience?

You can visit their site to read more example interview questions based on student interests. 

There is no script for interviewers, and thus any questions you receive are completely up to their discretion. Even though you are not guaranteed to receive any of the recommended questions, it’s still a good idea to read through them and think about possible responses. 

Particularly, think about aspects of yourself that you want to uplift at the interview. Are there particular extracurriculars you included on your application that you want to demonstrate a strong passion for? Are there specific academic interests that align with Yale programs you are excited to learn more about? Are there personal circumstances that you didn’t write about on your application that would strengthen your story? 

While we can’t prepare for the exact questions asked, we can have an idea of topics you want to hit on while the interview occurs. Walk through some scenarios where you can talk about those items. 

Lastly, it’s always important to be polite, enthusiastic, and well-informed about Yale and why you’re applying. If you keep this in mind and practice some questions, you will likely ace the interview.


Next Steps

With an acceptance rate of just 4.6%, getting into a dream school like Yale University is no easy task. Here are some next steps you can take to better navigate the application process and improve your chances of getting in. 

  • Overall academic success is critical to admissions at Yale University. Check out academic subject tutoring for your student here.
  • Having a top performing SAT or ACT score can only make you a more competitive applicant. We can help you reach that score, consult with a test prep expert to see if individual tutoring or prep courses would be right for you. 
  • Your personal essay can demonstrate your character and highlight your skills better than any part of your application. Our top tutors can also help your students perfect their personal essays. Schedule your initial consultation here.

If you’re in the process of applying, there are few better resources than real sample essays that worked to get other students into Ivy+ schools. Fortunately, we’ve got over 50 real essays for you to use as examples: click the link below to download them for free. 


Top College Essay Posts


Mike

Mike

Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.