What You Can Learn from the Essays of Yale Quadruplets

June 01, 2017

If you’ve been following college admissions news for the Class of 2021, you’ll no doubt have heard about the Wade Quadruplets. 

All four of them were accepted to both Harvard University and Yale University. How did they do it? Christopher Hunt from College Essay Mentor shares his experience working with the brothers and what you can learn from their essays. 

Quadruplets? All four accepted to both Yale and Harvard? Surely Aaron, Nick, Nigel and Zach Wade are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, a sort of Haley’s Comet in the world of college admissions. As the college essay coach who worked with the Wade brothers, who are all chose Yale, I am confident that the odds of my witnessing similar success are low. Extremely low.

I am also confident that while “quadruplet” grabs the attention of most any reader, none of the Wades was accepted to any college simply because he was part of a four-pack. Each brother had the high grades and the test scores to be a strong candidate at any school in the country. Each also had multiple, demonstrated interests outside of the classroom. In other words, the Wades were like thousands upon thousands of outstanding students from whom admissions officers must form college classes. How to explain their extravagant admissions?

The Wades all understood the importance of an outstanding personal statement. Eager to stand out, they labored over their Common Application essays. Each one fretted over the choice of topic, wrote a passable first draft, and abided by a truth enunciated by Ernest Hemingway: “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Multiple versions and hours of effort brought each one to 650 words that distinguished him not only from his brothers but also from any other applicant.

What might future applicants learn from the Wades? Anyone who takes the time to consider their essays, which are posted on the New York Times website, will find four shining examples of three simple principles.

Identify a True Trait

Some would say that the Wades had it easy. “My Life as a Quadruplet” was a no-brainer topic for a college essay. Right? Not so fast. During our early conversations, four brothers applying to many of the same schools raised the reasonable concern that admissions officers who read all four essays would tire of “yet another” essay about the quadruplet conundrum. I agreed. The “quad thing,” I said, was intriguing but insufficient.

I asked each brother to dig deeper. Janine Robinson, the author of “Escape Essay Hell!” advises students to begin the college essay process by identifying a “defining quality.” I do the same, preferring the term “true trait,” which I define as a force that guides your life. Like any applicant seeking to make an impression on admissions officers, each of the Wades needed to narrow the theme of his essay to a characteristic which represented his personal values.

The Wades’ stories had common roots. “We were four boys who shared one face,” wrote Aaron. A similar sense of forced anonymity inspired each student to become more than “one of the quads.” So each brother wrote about his search for individuality, a trait that is true for many high school students.

Tell a Story

Another reliable rule is to choose the essay structure most likely to have an emotional impact. Far too many students write expanded versions of their resumes. Others try to make their case with a five-paragraph essay, an argument framework that is less likely to provide a sense of a student’s personality. But it is the narrative structure, a form familiar to anyone who reads novels or watches movies, that creates space for the personal details that feed admissions officers’ core desire to get past the numbers and see applicants as people.  Asked how students should approach college essays, Jeff Brenzel, a former Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale, said, “Keep it simple. Tell a story.”

Nigel Wade traced the path from the day his father brought home a human anatomy book to the birth of his decision to become a doctor. Zach Wade wrote about creating an identity as a discus thrower on the track team at Lakota East High School. Nick’s story traced his path from an interest in Arabic to a scholarship to study for a summer in Morocco. Aaron wrote about finding himself the night he danced and sang Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” to a standing ovation at his school’s talent show. Tapping material available to typical high school seniors, each brother crafted an essay with an intriguing beginning, a meaningful middle, and an emotional ending.

Trust Your Voice

A third essential of college essays, a distinctive voice, befuddles students, who wonder what admissions officers “want.” Students search for a style they believe with please the people with the power to admit or deny. Writing multiple drafts takes them even further from language that flows. Sentences written on a sunny Monday may not sync with those scribbled Sunday at midnight, leaving essays with an uneven quality.  

To the Wade brothers I offered a simple solution: read your essay aloud. When spoken, anything written to impress will sound awkward. Words pulled from the thesaurus will sound out of place. Noting the spots where the language loses flow, and inserting phrases that roll off of your tongue, is the best way I know to infuse an essay with the kind of distinctive voice that tempts colleges to say “admit.”

Applying to college next year?
View the application files, essays and advice of accepted students.

Take some time to read their essays on the New York Times website. You can learn something from their essays and maybe even be inspired to write your own. For more application samples, browse through our database!

About The Author

Christopher Hunt, Guest Blogger
Christopher Hunt, Guest Blogger

Christopher Hunt is a college essay coach whose home base is CollegeEssayMentor. He earned a B.A. from Dartmouth and a M.Sc. from London School of Economics before launching a career in writing. As a journalist, he worked at The Economist and the Asian Wall Street Journal. As an author, he published a pair of first-person travelogues: Sparring With Charlie and Waiting For Fidel. Christopher’s work as an essay coach taps his experience as an interviewer and a storyteller, and his intrinsic love for teaching writing. His one-of-kind process for guiding students from blank page to final draft has helped students gain admission to every on of the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, and more!

Browse Successful Application Files

Harvard ‘21

Accepted to Harvard, Dartmouth, UPenn, UToronto, McGill, McMaster

Hey Y'all! I'm a prospective Neuroscience major at Harvard. In my free time, I build computers and recreate Gordon Ramsay's signature recipes (or at least I try to).
Yale ‘21

Accepted to Yale, Tulane, Binghamton

veni, vidi, vici.
Harvard ‘21

Accepted to Harvard, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, Emory, USC

Hi! I'm a Harvard PreFrosh interested in service, economics, math, and philosophy excited to help you.
Harvard ‘17

Accepted to Harvard, UVA, USC

Hi! Harvard senior (brother in class of '19 here as well) studying Economics and East Asian Studies while journalism, wood design, dance, baseball, cultural, & professional groups.

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