Getting accepted to Yale would be the achievement of a lifetime for not only any student in the world, but any valedictorian in the world. There are 33,000 high schools in America, which means there are 33,000 valedictorians every year. As impressive on paper as these students are, most of them would not get accepted to Yale. After all, with an average class size of only 1,200 students, Yale could reject 31,800 valedictorians and still fill their entire freshman class with the top students in their respective high schools. The students we work with who have gained admission to Yale would all tell you the same thing: Grades matter, but they are only a fraction of the picture.
At Yale, as in most elite universities, there are two rounds of consideration in the admissions process. The first round is all about grades and scores, which are pre-sorted for the admissions committee via an algorithm. Grades are then further broken down by (1) class selection, (2) competitiveness, and (3) class rank, if applicable.
LET’S TAKE A MOMENT TO DESCRIBE HOW THE ALGORITHM LOOKS AT THESE THREE FACTORS.
Class selection is seen as a reflection of your initiative. Have you chosen to challenge yourself in high school -- or just skate by? If, for example, you could have taken a litany of difficult classes and you didn’t seize the opportunity, the Yale admission committee will take note.
Competitiveness is relative to your specific school. If your school offers 12 AP classes and you’ve taken 11, you would rank highly in the competitiveness portion of Yale’s admission process. Your course decisions will already be in the past by the time you apply to college, so this is something to take into account early on in your high school career.
Class rank is an indication of how well you compete with others -- a characteristic the Yale admission committee knows to be important for both the health of its student population and for life after college.
If you’ve gotten through the first round’s sorting, you are already in the top 10% of applicants. Now it’s time to compete with the very best.
YALE’S CRITERIA FOR ITS SECOND ROUND OF ADMISSION
During the first round of the Yale admissions process, you are nothing more than a number. The second round is where you begin to have some control over the outcome of your application. Remember: although impressive, getting a 36 on your ACT does not make you unique. This is why, at The Koppelman Group, we focus so heavily on the essay and long-answer portions of the application.
Even though Yale has their selection process broken down somewhat scientifically, during the second round, it is more of an art. The men and women evaluating your application are looking for certain traits in next year’s incoming class, including motivation, curiosity, leadership ability, and distinctiveness. Understanding what this means is the key to getting in. Creating and communicating your unique personality is much harder than it seems, so let’s take a deeper look.
Most of these characteristics fall under “soft skills,” and since you won’t be at an interview until you pass this round, you will need to demonstrate these traits within the mediums available to you. Those mediums are:
- your counselor evaluation
- your two teacher recommendation letters
- your extracurricular activities
- your admission essays
Below is a breakdown of how the Yale admissions committee values each of these four mediums. (The numbers are rounded, but they are based on our internal data from students who have successfully gained admission to Yale.)
YALE’S SECOND ROUND ADMISSIONS CRITERIA
So how do you give yourself the best chance of getting into Yale using these four mediums?
Counselor Evaluation. This is your chance for the Yale admissions committee to see how someone in an evaluative capacity -- a guidance counselor -- views you. Although you probably haven’t spent much time building a relationship with your guidance counselor, this is the area in which that relationship, whatever it is, actually matters. Start making appointments with your counselor as soon as you can and help them get to know you. The better they know you, the more they can talk about your specific goals in their letter to Yale. In the end, you can’t control what they write... but you can influence it.
Teacher Recommendation Letters. Your recommendation letters are the admission committee’s opportunity to see what people who have spent a lot of time with you, but who are supposedly objective educators, think of you. We’ve found that they are a medium in which you have more to lose than to gain. In short, if you have anything short of an excellent recommendation letter, you might lose points with the committee, and if you have 2 sterling recommendation letters, you will simply pass the test.
You want to ask teachers for recommendations who can speak to your character and genuinely have a lot to say about you. That may not mean that they taught a class you excelled in; sometimes the most meaningful recommendations come from teachers that have watched you put in added effort to succeed in their class. Certainly, if you have a teacher that has been at your school for many years and has never seen someone with your work ethic, ask them to write a recommendation letter. Ultimately, you want the teacher to impress upon the admissions committee that their institution would be lucky to have you.
Activities. Your activities can also help fill in the gaps of your personality, telling the admissions committee what you do in your free time. How you occupy your time serves as one of the biggest reflections of your personality, particularly for Yale, which prizes students that will one day go on to make a big impact.
Essay. Your essay is the tool you have the most control over. It is, in many ways, the most important part of your application to Yale. Everything else is basically set by the second semester of your junior year. However, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, your essay can tip the scales in your favor. If you have the ability to write a unique, thought-provoking, deep, and meaningful essay, you are far more likely to be admitted in the second round.
In our communications with Yale admission officers, we have frequently heard that the essay can be the deciding factor in an application. Simply put, a lot of college applicants have done very well in school and have held similar leadership positions. There comes a time during every admissions season when the officers go into a room and make cases for various students. Almost without fail, the deciding factor is the student’s college essay.
DO YOU MATCH THE YALE PERSONALITY?
It’s hard to characterize an entire school as a personality, but there are certain qualities that seem to be pervasive amongst Yale students. While the following traits are generalities, they come from years of getting to know students who are admitted to all of the elite schools.
Out of the Big Three (Harvard, Princeton, and Yale), Yale is the most humble. Yale students know that they’re smart and typically they don’t have to prove it. They ask a lot of questions and know they don’t know everything.
Yale students tend to be intellectually and academically effortless. These aren’t the kids that work as hard as they possibly can to get an A. They don’t need to stay up all night studying. They are just naturally brilliant. They’re the students who can seemingly review their notes and get an A.
Yale students are likely to get carried away in a fit of passion or go on a passionate tangent. They tend to be more artistic in a quirky way than their Harvard or Princeton counterparts. They like to push the limits of their genre.
Yale students are enigmas. They can’t be categorized easily and feel more like themselves when they’re doing something outside the status quo. You won’t find many Yale students who can identify their future career readily, as they’re more interested in the passion that is currently consuming them than in a straight-and-narrow career.
FIND YOUR THREE LEVELS OF ACHIEVEMENT
While working with high school students who we believe have a real chance of getting into Yale, we stumbled upon a concept we call the Three Levels of Achievement. It is essentially a way of characterizing yourself that Yale and other elite schools find appealing. Here’s a story:
Our client Bruce was admitted to Yale for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most obvious was his involvement in the Entrepreneurial Club at his school. At a young age he would spend hours outside selling Pokemon cards, negotiating with customers to get them to spend as much money as possible. He made fliers advertising “The Rarest Pokemon Cards!” Only after droves of people showed up did he realize he didn’t have enough product. So he made a deal with some of his friends to trade them his cards for a small share of the profits.
When he got to high school, there were no business oriented classes for him to take. He enjoyed all of his subjects, but he would get jittery and impatient sitting in class all day. He needed an outlet. He went to his school’s club fair but found nothing. There was a business club, but it was too finance-focused. Bruce wasn’t interested in dealing strictly with the finance side of business. He wanted a club where he could build and create companies. So, he founded the Entrepreneurial Club. Like most things in his past, he didn’t actually know what he was doing, but he knew he had to do it.
Bruce wanted to use the Entrepreneurial club to help him build a company, but he wasn’t exactly sure how to do it. He began by advertising his Entrepreneurial Club around school in order to get members. Soon, he got emails from other people who wanted to join. In the first meeting, he told them of his plan. The club brainstormed ideas for viable businesses that 14 and 15 year olds could realistically start, and eventually settled on a lawn mowing business for the spring, a leaf raking business for the fall, and a snow plowing business for the winter. Bruce then organized people to go door to door throughout their neighborhoods and tell them about the various packages they were offering. Then, they recruited people who wanted to work. Soon, he and his classmates were making real money.
The next year, after Bruce had figured out how to run the lawn mowing, leaf raking, and snow plowing business without being involved himself, he decided it was time to start his second venture. He gathered the group again and brainstormed. Having recently gotten his driver’s license, he realized he should use it. He brought up the idea of starting a private valet service they could license out to restaurants, country clubs, or private parties. The group thought it was a phenomenal idea. Through a lot of hard work, they created a website, got in touch with local event venues, and started recruiting drivers from nearby schools.
Bruce was written up in the local newspaper for his efforts, and, in his Junior year, received a national award recognizing his entrepreneurial ventures. He went on to attend Yale.
However, starting the club did not get him into Yale. In order to get in, he had to do more: he had to discover his niche within entrepreneurialism. And within that niche, he had to achieve something notable. This is the process that we call the Three Levels of Achievement. And there is a formula: I am the (title) who (achievement) and received (accolade).
The first step is finding the activity, which for Bruce was the Entrepreneurial Club. It doesn’t necessarily mean creating the club or activity, but that certainly won’t hurt. The next step is finding a niche within that activity. For Bruce, it was starting several small companies. The final step is some sort of accolade or recognition, which validates the entire experience and ties everything together.
First step: I am the founder of the entrepreneurial club.
Second step: I am the founder of the entrepreneurial club who started two companies.
Final step: I am the founder of the entrepreneurial club who started two companies and won the Entrepreneur of the year award from a national magazine.
IF YOU HAVE 3/5 OF THE FOLLOWING CHARACTERISTICS, DON’T APPLY
Over the years we’ve gotten to know many Yale students. We’ve also seen many students who have applied to Yale and gotten rejected. In our estimation, highly qualified candidates who did not get into Yale had 3 of the following 5 characteristics.
- You don’t want to influence people; you want to make money and keep it all to yourself.
- You don’t get pleasure out of helping people.
- You consistently act impulsively.
- You doubt that you’ll ever accomplish your dreams.
- You procrastinate.
NOTE: if you have 1 or even 2 of these characteristics, there is no need to worry; so did plenty of the candidates who got admitted. But the majority of those who were rejected from Yale had at least 3.
Students who are admitted to Yale are some of the best and brightest. They have top grades and scores, some of the most impressive extra curricular activities, and truly original essays. They stand out. They excel effortlessly. Many say there is a formula to who gets into top schools, and often times it can seem like there is. But, every year there are students who defy the odds and amaze even the most seasoned college professionals. They do not have the best standardized test scores. They have not started a charity. They do not win numerous academic awards. However, they surprise themselves with their acceptances.
We call these students Exceptional Outliers.
Exceptional Outliers are typically driven and self-reliant, and oftentimes are introverted. They tend to downplay their accomplishments or think of them as nothing special. They usually have a niche. Whether they are passionate about community service or writing plays or building statistical models, they generally have concentrated interests. But, since they are the students who don’t boast about their interests they can be harder to identify.
The Exceptional Outlier is within the bottom 10-25% of Yale’s indicated range. That is, they get 32’s on the ACT and have a 3.8 GPA instead of a 36 and 4.0. We’ve found that Exceptional Outliers tend to be equally good at humanities and math classes, whereas students who we consider shoo-ins tend to excel in a specific subject. EO’s don’t have defined preferences when it comes to classes. Interestingly, they excel in all aspects of their classes except participation, which is one reason why it’s hard to predict who exactly is an EO.
Above all, Exceptional Outliers are often overlooked by their guidance counselors and even independent college consultants as viable candidates for schools like Yale. Their guidance counselors have numbers and quotas that they have to meet, which dissuades them from taking a risk on an EO. Usually, EOs don’t even know that they are EOs. We recommend that students that believe themselves to be in the “Exceptional Outliers” category throw their hats in the application ring. Because when it comes down to being the ideal Yale student, they might just have a chance.
We hope you have found our guide to getting into Yale valuable. If you have any questions or would like to contact The Koppelman Group about our private college admissions service, contact us here.