Expert Admissions hosted a webinar to give you an inside look at the college admissions process. Our panelists talked about how they read college applications, from score reports to personal statements and supplemental essays.
Our guests were Corinne Smith, Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, and JT Duck, Dean of Admissions at Tufts University. Read highlights of the conversation below.
How do you read applications?
Yale and Tufts both read applications by region and by committee, though there are a few key differences. At Yale, your regional officer will give the application a first read, and then all applications are sent to a committee for review. Yale’s admissions committees also include faculty and staff members. At Tufts, even the first round of reading applications is done by committee.
Admissions officers at Yale and Tufts aim to read between 25 and 30 applications daily during the busy season! While Yale gave 8-15 minutes as the average time to read applications, Tufts said that some committee discussions could take 15-20 minutes.
Both Yale and Tufts de-emphasized the significance of test scores, especially in light of recent test-optional policies. Applications for Yale and Tufts will ask you whether you want to submit your scores. Even scores reported on the Common App will not be seen if you choose not to have them reviewed. Tufts superscores standardized tests so that your highest scores from each section appear on the front page of your application.
Neither university enrolls by major. At Yale, you are being considered for their one undergraduate college. The application will allow you to indicate areas of academic interest, but a majority of students either come to Yale undecided or change their major. Since Tufts has three undergraduate colleges, you will have to indicate which school you’re applying to. You’ll be admitted to a specific undergraduate college, but not to a specific major. For students who want to demonstrate real proficiency in an area (like dance, music, STEM, etc.), both schools have expert faculty members who will review any supplemental materials you submit. Yale’s website also provides a helpful guide for deciding whether to submit additional materials.
Admissions interviews at Yale are by invitation only. But don’t worry if you’re not offered an interview! Typically, interviews are only offered if the admissions committee feels they need more information about an applicant in order to make their decision. At Tufts, any student can request an evaluative interview after they apply. If you want to request an interview, make sure you do so as soon as possible, because there are not enough alumni to accommodate every request.
What do you look for in applicants’ main essays?
Both Yale and Tufts look for essays that give a clear, vivid picture of who applicants are. Panelists from each school offered examples of memorable main essays by students who were admitted. Importantly, neither of these essays hinged on a topic that was extraordinary or unique. Both admissions reps cautioned against thinking that your topic needs to be unique and urged students instead to be authentic.
Both admissions officers also stressed the importance of getting to know a student through the main essay. They want a picture of who will be coming to campus in the fall. To that end, they recommend resisting certain tropes of academic essays, like the five-paragraph structure. Keep the introduction and backstory very short and get to who you are now as quickly as possible.
What stands out most, according to Yale and Tufts, are students who write in their own authentic voice and display their personality. That authenticity of voice creates a human connection between the student and the admissions officer, which is essential to the officer envisioning the student on campus.
What about supplemental essays?
Supplemental essays are typically where you demonstrate that there’s a good fit between yourself and the schools you’re applying to. An important reminder from Yale is that the supplemental essay questions also give applicants a sense of what’s most important to the school. So, for example, Yale asks about your engagement in a community because they value creating a tight-knit campus community. Use the supplemental essay questions to also ask yourself if you think the college is a good fit for you.
Many colleges, including Yale and Tufts, will also ask some version of the question, “why do you want to attend this university?” Yale shared that they want to see that you understand the school, how you’re going to contribute, and how you will make the best use of their resources. Tufts shared that they’re looking for “Tuftsy” qualities in their applicants. These include qualities like kindness, civic engagement, and a spirit of collaboration. They emphasized that “fit” doesn’t mean there’s one type of person, background, or extracurricular engagement they’re looking for. Both schools are trying to create a class that’s diverse in strengths, interests, and backgrounds while sharing the core values of the university.
Yale and Tufts conduct yearly reviews of their supplemental essay questions to ensure that they’re eliciting the information they care about most.
Both Yale and Tufts ask some very short supplemental essay questions as well (between 100 and 150 words!). The admissions officers explained that these questions are designed to cut through extraneous information and get straight to the point. These short questions also challenge the applicant to read the prompt carefully and address it directly and concisely.
We ended the webinar by asking both admissions officers to answer some of their own supplemental essay questions. For Tufts, this was a question about how your background has influenced you today. For Yale, it was a set of four “quick takes” that should be answered in about 35 words.
For more details from the webinar, including memorable essay topics and how the admissions officers answered their own supplemental questions, watch the webinar at the top of the page.
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