What You Can Take Away from the “Inside the Yale Admissions Office” Podcast

Yale University is in New Haven, Connecticut. Established in 1701, its campus is one of the oldest in the United States.

Yale University is in New Haven, Connecticut. Established in 1701, its campus is one of the oldest in the United States.

Megan Kang

Applying to colleges can be extremely stressful for seniors, and many parents want to be involved. Online research can help to some extent, but many popular sites and forums often have misleading or contradictory information. Undoubtedly, the ones who best know the ins and outs of the complicated process are admissions officers themselves.

Yale admissions officers (AOs) started a side project to reveal their undergraduate process: the “Inside the Yale Admissions Office” podcast. The series is aimed toward people who have little knowledge about college admissions and features clear advice that can be applied to Yale or similar institutions. It is available on Yale University’s website, Spotify, or any other podcast platform.

If you don’t want to sit through each 20+ minute (although entertaining) episode, then keep reading because I’m about to break it down. The series is still ongoing, so I will be covering the most important takeaways from all episodes released up to now.


Episode 1: Reading

Each application is read by an AO. In some offices, AOs read all applications from the geographical areas they are assigned to.


Episode 2: Committee

Proceeding applications move on to be read and discussed in a committee of multiple AOs and other university members. They all decide on the fate of the applicant together.


Episode 3: COVID-19

As people navigate through lives with the pandemic, college admissions has also adjusted. Office work and committee is now remote. AOs take students’ situations into thoughtful consideration when reviewing applications. A student’s school’s or community’s response will not negatively impact them, and it is understood that performance and extracurriculars will be affected. They also take into account that students will have family commitments amplified.


Episode 4: Essays: What Works

For many applicants, the essay does not become the most important aspect, but for some it becomes the centerpiece. Essays are not graded for writing talent, they are to make students stand out–an opportunity to show personality. When conveying who you are, the essay must fit with and tie together the rest of your application. A close friend should be able to pick out the applicant’s essay out of a pile. When you write, show not tell, be reflective, and keep your natural voice. There is no guaranteed formula, but some of the most personable essays follow one of four topics:

  1. Changing your mind about something because something happened. This experience caused you to now think and see things differently.
  2. Reflecting on a relationship (note that the essay should still say more about you than another person in your life).
  3. A passion that gets you animated and excited; Passion with a capital P.
  4. Conveying a sense of place. Where you came from and how it affected your worldview.
  5. An experience that humbles you and makes you feel vulnerable (i.e. being wrong about something, hurting someone’s feelings, having regret, when things didn’t go as expected, etc.)


Episode 5: Essays: What Doesn’t Work

There are some essays that are not received well in the office. Some of the most common mistakes:

  1. Writing in the third person, and then switching point of view with a twist. “That little girl was me.” The big surprise doesn’t work because the AO already knows it’s you.
  2. Drama for the sake of drama. You do not need to over dramatize your story or have a tragic story to stand out, and this leaves less time for reflection
  3. Spending too much time stuck in the past.
  4. Retelling the activities list misses the opportunity to tell something new and does not use the space wisely. You already have space to tell activities. However, you can choose one activity to reflect on.
  5. Writing about the death of a grandparent. This story is very predictable, but it can work if you feature the death early to leave space for reflection and interesting insight connected to it.
  6. When the essay says more about someone else. If you write about your relationship with another person, make sure it reflects back to you.
  7. Bathroom humor.
  8. Going for the shock factor. This will not get the attention of an AO.
  9. The line “Unlike most people . . .” rubs the wrong way. It can make you come across as ungenerous as a peer.
  10. Writing a letter to someone: to a future roommate, to yourself, etc. This topic is too gimmicky and too much content is devoted to propping up the letter.
  11. Telling a story of failure without redemption. So what? AOs want to know where you are now as a result of that. 
  12. Being too wordy. It becomes pretty clear when a student writes the essay with a thesaurus next to them. Students should use their natural language and go for the conversational tone.


Episode 6: Essays: The Little Stuff

Other than the main essay, universities can have multiple required essays with unique prompts. These writings are often relaxed and tell whether the student and the college are a good fit for each other.


Episode 7: Questbridge

Yale and many other universities are partnered with the non-profit Questbridge. Low-income students can get full-tuition by applying through this program to match with universities on their lists.


Episode 8: Interviews

Interviewers are volunteer alumni – they love their school. The interview carries like a conversation, and it does not have a lot of weight on a file.  


Episode 9: Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters further reveal a student’s personality, should tie in with the rest of the application, and are greatly considered in admitting applicants. The best recommendations are from people who are closest with the student (ie. don’t get a recommendation just because the recommender seems impressive) and feature stories and experiences with the student rather than a relisting of extracurriculars.


Episode 10: Supplementary Materials

Students can choose to add arts or STEM supplements to an application. These supplements can be passed off to experts in that area at Yale for further review. When adding research with a mentor, it is best to also have a letter of recommendation from the research mentor to confirm how much the student contributed.


Episode 11: Mythbusters

There are many misconceptions about the college admissions process. Some of the most common are addressed:

  1. Applying restrictive/single-choice early action rather than regular decision at Yale does not create a higher chance of acceptance.
  2. Yale does not have quotas for admitting a certain number of students or denying all students from a certain high school. There is no high school that is the best to get into Yale; it’s more important what the student does at the school.
  3. It is not easier to get into Yale in a rural area or area with few applicants. The applicant pool is diverse and global, and there are no quotas for geographic regions.
  4. Fancy summer programs at colleges do not boost an application for Yale. Spend summers doing what you care about.
  5. Meeting an AO in person or connecting over email will not help you get into Yale.
  6. Other people are not accurate when they try to let you know what your chance of admission is. 


Episode 12: COVID-19 Update

Counselor letters of recommendation have been letting AOs know the school situation. The SAT and ACT were optional for this year, and the decision for the class of 2022’s standardized test scores will be released in the Spring.