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Getting into Yale: the Essays

Getting into Yale: the Essays
Photo by Markus Leo / Unsplash

I haven't promoted the View from JQ extensively, but I am grateful to have one loyal subscriber, whose kid is likely applying to Yale in the fall!

As a special shoutout, I thought I would share the college essays I submitted back in the day (decades ago, wow, how time has passed). I have no idea what the past or current selection process is, or how the quality of my essays measure up for a high school student. However, I do remember working really hard on them and liking my work. I assume the Yale admissions committee did too, or at least didn't find my essays objectionable and accepted me anyway.

Re-reading them now, I realize they might come across as a bit melodramatic. But hey, they were written by an 18-year-old who had zero AI-assistance.

Essay #1

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Perhaps we were doomed from the start. Perhaps I was too young to have committed myself to him, to have allowed him to become that inseparable part of my life.

Wolfgang and I met in the first grade. We were introduced by a neighbor, who after her own piano lessons was always excited to show me how to play. While my repetitions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” never improved, I found the natural flow of Mozart’s music alluring even then, sparking my attraction to classical music.

Under the guidance of Mrs. Chen, I soon flirted with new musical acquaintances and experimented with the staccato styles of Bach and Chopin’s romantic melodies. As musical performance manifested itself as a showcase for my creative talent, Mozart continued to charm me, this time with his sonatas and concertos. Each year, I participated in a myriad of musical evaluations and concerts, and I was often invited to play for music classes and for parents on campus night.

As our relationship deepened, Mozart showed me how to trust him, helping me get past my fears on stage. The initial butterflies I had during a performance faded as we became comfortable with each other. With a deep trust in his tender guidance, I found my hands magically brought to where they were supposed to be on the keyboard, each time with just the right amount of intensity and passion. It was with Mozart that I was introduced to performances and audiences, and it was from him that I later gained confidence in being alone in front of a crowd.

When I joined the Canticum Novum Youth Choir, Mozart enlivened our relationship by bringing me to exciting places. Our choir performed in New York City churches and gave charity benefit concerts at restaurants in the spring. At the height of our popularity, we were even invited to sing at the United Nations and Radio City Music Hall. For eight years, as I invested myself in different musical styles, Mozart and I never had a dull moment together.

The effortless relationship we once had, however, became rocky in high school. As the time I spent with him grew increasingly tedious rather than pleasing, I doubted the trust we once had, and last year, I broke things off. Yet somehow Mozart has always found a way of sneaking back into my life. I still played the violin in school, and was oftentimes asked to accompany the orchestra on the piano. Likewise, whenever I was with my musically talented friend Reuben, we would always end up in lengthy conversations about different composers and the various musical groups in my school.

I still miss the commitment Wolfgang and I once had, but looking back, I think that break was good for us. We have started afresh, and playing has become much more of a personal pleasure— a sincere dialogue between just the two of us in the corner of my living room. As for excitement, it is definitely still there. As a teacher’s assistant for the String Orchestra this year, I have experimented with new musical outlets by teaching myself how to play the viola and cello and learning music theory as part of an independent study course.

So perhaps we were never doomed, but were always meant to be.

Essay #2

You have already told us about yourself in the Common Application, with its list of activities, the Short Answer, and the Personal Essay. While we leave the topic of the second essay entirely up to you, try telling us something about yourself that you believe we cannot learn elsewhere in your application. Please limit yourself to fewer than 500 words.

I lean forward and take a deep breath. “Swimmers, take your mark…” the echo of the buzzer rings loudly as I lunge into the water. Each racer pushes with long, fast strokes as we try to keep our breathing even and our kicks steady.

I am intrigued as to what first drove me to become a competitive swimmer. Until I was sixteen, I struggled with an embarrassing inability to swim. While I could keep myself from drowning, my doggy-paddle skills were not even enough to pass the deep water tests mandatory at many pools. Lifeguards often laughed when they saw a teenage girl struggling to make it across those measly 25 yards.

The summer before sophomore year, my friend Claire suggested the crazy notion that I join the swim team. Because of her incessant provocations, I enrolled as a “Minnow” at the local YMCA. The morning of my first swim lesson, I found myself amidst students half my age and an instructor only one year my senior. I knew I was an incompetent swimmer, but I hadn’t expected to swallow so much water that I would be vomiting by the end. While I wish I could talk about how in these four weeks of lessons I worked hard and miraculously become this amazing swimmer, fully prepared for the Varsity level workouts later that summer, such was not the case. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the season, Claire had made me promise to stick it out on the team for two weeks, and after that, if I hated it, I could quit. I showed up at the first team practice, fully willing to keep this commitment; however, by the end I was lapped so many times that I probably ended up swimming half as much as the other girls. Yet, I had promised Claire two weeks, and for the rest of the season, that always seemed to be the attitude I had— just two more weeks, and then it will all be over.

So when I took that first dive into the water as an athlete of a varsity team, my goal was not to win, but simply not to finish that far behind everyone else. I had an unrelenting enthusiasm to improve— I read books on minimizing drag, watched instructional videos, and enrolled in a clinic the following spring – yet my goal was never to be the best swimmer, but to do my personal best.

With three years behind me, and as the captain of the swim team, I could not be happier that I challenged myself to learn how to swim. I have never been the first person to touch the wall at the end of a race, but my commitment and endurance, and not my skills, are what earned me the respect of my coaches and teammates. Conquering my fear of the water has taught me to never allow the fear of failure to prevent me from seizing opportunities—even when I might struggle to stay afloat.

Short Takes

Please respond in 25 words or fewer to each of the questions below.

1. What would you do with a free afternoon?

I would eat ice cream and play board games with my friends, while discussing world politics and watching YouTube videos.

2. Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come?

Our Junior Class Student Council adviser called me her "go-to girl". She said that I was reliable and always knew the answers to her questions.

3. What two qualities do you admire most in other people?

I admire people who can confidently mock themselves, and people who are willingly to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. What do you wish you were better at being or doing?

Whenever I watch a musical or play, I dream about becoming an actress. I want to take on a different identity and perform on stage.

5. If you were choosing students to form a Yale class, what question would you ask here that we have not?

What aspect of your childhood do you miss the most?