If you’ve decided to attend Yale, “Where are you going to school?” can be a complicated
question. If you’re like most Yale students, you’re so excited about coming to the school that
you’ll want to jump out and say “Yale!” loud and clear, eyes and cheeks aglow. But answering
the question so directly provokes many different reactions, based on Yale’s reputation as one
of the finest universities in the world. So students and even alumni practice several indirect
responses, including “New Haven” (there are a handful of other colleges and universities here; just read the exit sign for “Yale Univ.” and “Albertus Magnus”); “Connecticut” (a state with
MANY colleges), and the even more vague “Back East.”
Like many of the questions that hold great import before you begin college, this one soon
fades into oblivion. A freshman will quickly observe and follow the pattern set by the undergraduate
body: Everyone is too busy taking maximum advantage of the university’s vast
resources to boast or even think about Yale’s reputation. The 1998 yearbook is titled Unlimited
Capacity. Indeed, students are in overdrive most of the time. Yale’s unwavering commitment
to undergraduate education, the residential college system, and the breadth of academic and
extracurricular opportunities are central tenets of the Yale experience. These are the reasons
why Yalies have chosen Yale, not for its reputation, and not for its location in the small New
England city (though it seems more of a town) of New Haven, Connecticut.
Yalies joke about the question “Where do you go to school?” because Yale is not simply
where people go to school. It is a community, and the happiest members of that community are
those who actively participate in it. Many students remember being hit with the Yale fever
almost immediately upon arriving on campus—that’s how tangible the sense of community is.
On my first walk around the campus, I just knew that this was where I
wanted to go to college. Students were rushing to get to class, while I was struggling
to read my campus map that was torn and wrinkled by a strong wind
(which I’ve now come to recognize as a robust sea breeze from the nearby Long
Island Sound). Then a student stopped and asked me if I needed directions. I
wound up going to his English class, where he introduced me to his professor.
Then he took me to Durfee’s Sweet Shop, and directed me to other buildings he
thought I’d want to see. All his enthusiasm and helpfulness got me hooked. Now
I look out for maps blowing in the wind, and am always glad for the chance to
talk to prospective students.
Go to the “front door” of the Yale World Wide Web site (http://www.yale.edu/) and you
may see a Yale campus scene or famous building. As Yale embarks on its fourth century, the
same mingling of past and future is palpable on the campus. For example, students’ increasing
use of e-mail occurs in the computer center located in the basement of Connecticut Hall, the
university’s oldest building, and wireless Internet is available in most dining halls and libraries.
While the university remains committed to perpetuating its traditional strengths, it also allows its
energetic and intellectually enthusiastic student body to lead it toward a new future.
In 1701 ten Connecticut clergymen met in the town of Branford, each with a gift of books
to contribute for the founding of the college in Saybrook on the Connecticut River that would
become Yale. From those forty folios, the university’s holdings have grown to include over
twelve million volumes; the extensive library system is the seventh largest research library in
the world. A library is the heart of any learning institution, and the prominence of Yale’s collections
(not to mention the imposing sight of Sterling Memorial Library’s Gothic tower looming
over the central campus) reminds students that while they may spend countless hours
dashing around to eagerly explore extracurricular interests, their intellectual development is
To foster that development, Yale has always remained committed to the idea of a liberal
arts education. According to one faculty report, “Our object is not to teach that which is peculiar
to any one of the professions, but to lay the foundation which is common to them all…”
Those words were written in 1828, and they still characterize the Yale philosophy today. Simply
put, Yale wants to teach you how to think. The university doesn’t have career-oriented fields of
study—if you want to major in communications or marketing, for example, look elsewhere—
but, instead, aims to provide students with the tools to succeed in any field.
Majors and Workload
What you can major in is any of almost seventy disciplines, from astronomy to film studies
to Russian. Yale also allows you to double-major and, if you can convince a faculty
committee that it’s necessary and that you’re up to the challenge, to design your own major.
In a recent year, there are now over 70 disciplines that students can major in. The most popular
majors, in order, are history (358 juniors and seniors), political science (335), economics
(320), and biology (185).
Students must take two courses in each of these three academic areas: Humanities
and Arts, Social Science, and Science. They must also take at least one foreign language
course (or more—depending on the level they start at), and two courses in quantitative
reasoning and two that are writing-intensive. To ensure that study is neither too narrowly
focused nor too diffuse, the College stands behind the principle of distribution of studies as
strongly as it supports the principle of concentration. It requires that study be characterized,
particularly in the earlier years, by a reasonable diversity of subject matter and
approach, and in the later years by concentration in one of the major programs or departments.
A student working toward a bachelor’s degree takes four or five courses each term,
and normally receives the B.A. or B.S. degree after completing thirty-six term courses or
their equivalent in eight terms of enrollment.
It’s a lot to grasp at first, and it’s no surprise that the structure of a Yale education means
things can get pretty hectic and intense at times. However, the system makes perfect sense
from a liberal arts perspective, giving students the freedom and responsibility to shape their
academic careers, while guaranteeing a certain amount of breadth of study in addition to the
depth one experiences in a major. As an added incentive to explore, some courses can be taken
Credit/D/Fail, which means that a grade of C or above will show up as a “CR” on one’s
transcript. Many Yalies grumble about the various distributional requirements, but if you
press them, most will admit they’re glad they took that English or geology course that
initially seemed so unconnected to their interests, because it exposed them to different people
and different ways of thinking.
“Shopping” for Classes
These notions of academic exploration, freedom, and responsibility are embodied in
Yale’s unique shopping period, the first two weeks of each semester, in which students
shop for classes. Most colleges require students to preregister for classes, but Yale allows its students to attend any course offered at the start of the semester, filling out their schedules
only after hearing the professors and perusing the syllabi. Shopping period is a great
opportunity to shape an interesting schedule while trying to balance the various times,
demands (tests, papers, problem sets), and sizes (seminars, small and large lectures) of
the classes. For some, shopping period can literally be a life-changing experience—one
student dropped in on an introductory architecture lecture sophomore year, found
himself enthralled by the professor, and spent the next two years immersed in blueprints
and models. Many professors dislike shopping period, since they start off the semester with
no idea of how many students will eventually take their classes, but students will tell you
it’s one of the best things about the Yale experience.
The end-of-term equivalent to shopping period is reading week, a week between the end
of classes and the start of finals that makes Yale students the envy of their peers at
most other institutions. Ideally a time to pause, reflect, and study in preparation for finals,
it’s more often a time of late-night paper writing and catching up on reading not completed
on time. Studying, of course, includes study breaks, and reading week is also a time of
catching up with friends before winter break and summer vacation.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Ask students what they know about admissions and you’re likely to hear that the hardest
thing about Yale is getting in. Look past that casual statement, however, to recognize
a deeper truth: There’s no set formula for admission to a place that seeks to maintain a diverse student body. As the Admissions Committee says on its Web page
(http://www.yale.edu/admit/), the two basic questions it brings to the process are “Who is
likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” and “Who will contribute significantly to the
Yale community?” It’s a complex approach, one designed to select a class of motivated,
energetic achievers with broad interests and skills, all of whom are enticed by the opportunities
Yale offers both in and out of the classroom.
Beyond that stated mission, applicants should be aware of several general facts:
- First, admission is extremely competitive, as the committee aims for a class of approximately
1,250 from over 21,000 applicants.
- Second, while there are no official score cut-offs and applicants’ test results vary widely,
medians on the Verbal and Mathematics parts of the SAT generally fall in between 700 and
790, and ACT composites in the low 30s.
- Third, the great majority of Yalies (ninety-five percent) placed in the top tenth of their high
school class; a distinguished record in a demanding college preparatory program may compensate
for modest standardized test scores, but the reverse is usually not true.
- Fourth, the committee is searching for students with some less tangible qualities suggested
by the various documents in their applications. Some successful candidates are well
rounded, while others have specialized talents, some have displayed leadership capabilities
in extracurricular activities while others have shown dedication to an after-school job,
but all, hopefully, show a capacity for involvement, commitment, and personal growth.
- Finally, Yale has a need-blind admissions policy for both U.S. and international students,
meaning that an applicant’s financial circumstances will not be given any weight during
the admission process. You won’t be rejected because you apply for financial aid, as Yale is
strongly committed to the idea of equality of opportunity, seeking to shape a class of students
from all parts of the country and all segments of society. In addition, Yale recently
announced a $7.5 million increase in undergraduate financial aid, which will reduce the
amount that Yale expects a student to contribute to his or her education by $13,780 over
The admissions process produces a class that reflects Yale’s interest in diversity, not only
in academic and extracurricular interests but also in ethnicity and geographical distribution.
Today, minority students comprise nearly twenty-nine percent of the student body, and Yalies
hail from all fifty states and over seventy countries. Be prepared to meet people of all cultural,
social, and financial backgrounds, and also be prepared to meet people who have worn Yale
blue since birth—“legacies” make up around ten percent of each class.
Applicants who are certain that Yale is their first choice may want to take advantage of
the single choice Early Action program. As with Early Action programs elsewhere, an
Early Action application to Yale is not a binding commitment from the student. Interested
students should submit a complete application by November 1. In mid-December the committee
will respond with an acceptance or denial of admission, or a deferral, which postpones
the final decision until April, when all applicants are notified.
Being admitted to Yale signals the Admission Committee’s faith in the applicant’s ability
to be a successful Yale student. Does that mean that admission is, in fact, the hardest part
of Yale? Well, all students have to face that question on their own. Yalies tend to make life hard
on themselves by pursuing their academics and activities so intensely—clearly they have
proven their stamina by the time they graduate.
In its admissions process Yale may be need-blind, but no one should be blind to the
financial realities connected with attendance. The actual cost of attending college varies from
student to student. There are the following usual expenses: tuition and fees, room and board, books, and personal expenses, and a yearly hospitalization coverage fee and other optional and
The basis of all financial aid awards at Yale is the student’s “demonstrated financial
need,” the difference between the estimated cost of attendance and the expected family
contribution. For a recent academic year, more than sixty percent of all undergraduates
qualified to receive financial assistance in the form of scholarships, grants, low-interest
educational loans, and work-study from all sources. Yale does not offer academic or athletic
scholarships or any other type of special scholarship that is not based on demonstrated need.
More than $59.9 million in university-controlled need-based aid was offered to forty-five percent
of the undergraduate student body.
The expected contribution is determined by the Financial Aid Office, which analyzes the
FAFSA, CSS Financial Aid Profile, and other forms submitted by the family, and measures the
family’s ability to contribute toward Yale’s costs.
After consideration of these factors, the university offers financial aid in the form of a
package with two basic components: “self-help” (a combination of term-time employment
and educational loans) and “gift aid,” which covers any need beyond that covered by
self-help. While other types of loans are available, the primary source of long-term,
low-interest loans is the federal Stafford Loan Program, for which citizens or permanent residents
of the United States are eligible. Students who apply for financial aid will
automatically be considered for all types of “gift aid,” which consists of scholarships from the
university, as well as Yale alumni clubs, and from endowed and federal funds, including federal
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, administered by the university.
Additionally, Yale participates in a number of financing options that can assist families in paying
for college, whether or not the family is determined to have demonstrated financial need.
On-campus jobs (available also to students not on financial aid, though aid recipients
have priority) offer a wide variety of opportunities. Students fill positions as dining hall
workers, library clerks, laboratory assistants, research assistants, and aides to residential
college masters. Jobs also abound in various campus offices. Recently, wage rates for university
jobs ranged from $10.90 for entry-level positions to over fifteen dollars per hour for
dining hall workers. A large number of Yale students balance school and employment.
It helped me pay for college, but my job (in a campus office that doesn’t
interact much with students) also became something I really enjoyed. The truth
is, when you spend your whole day surrounded by eighteen- to twenty-two-yearolds,
sometimes it’s nice to be around people who aren’t students or professors,
people who drive into New Haven for the day. It was basic office work, but it
was good to have an enforced break from academics and the intensity of the Yale
For more in-depth information on financing a Yale education, including an example of a
financial aid award, check out http://www.yale.edu/admit/financing.html.
Student Financial Aid Details
The first few days of freshman year lay the groundwork for a rich and intricate life outside
of the classroom.They may begin with a seven-day hiking trip in the Catskills or
Berkshires or a two-day retreat at a nearby summer camp. About a third of the class takes part
in these programs, known as FOOT (Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip) and Freshperson
Conference. In addition to FOOT and Freshperson Conference, other pre-freshman programs
include Cultural Connections (focus on diversity issues), Harvest (5-day work-stay at organic
farms in Connecticut), and Orientation for International Studies. Even though their duration
is brief, and students scatter in all directions once classes begin, many alumni of these orientation
programs have reunions throughout college. The FOOT program has recently started
an electronic listserve for alumni to share their most recent hiking adventures.
The day these programs end, Camp Yale—the official freshman orientation—begins.
Wearing navy T-shirts that announce, “Ask me for help,” freshman counselors—seniors who
have gone through a rigorous training program to serve as peer advisors to the freshman class,
and who live with them—stand outside of the entryways on Old Campus to meet their new
charges. At convocation, the president addresses the freshman class. This is followed by a
reception at his house. Finally, the upperclassmen get their chance to meet and greet, during
a bazaar of undergraduate activities. Before classes have even begun, organization leaders line
the sidewalks of Old Campus to recruit freshmen. The freshman counselors also hold meetings
with their counselees where they go over the course selection process and review many of the
resources available to students, from a twenty-four-hour shuttle bus to free condoms to professional
This flurry of activity during the first few days exemplifies Yale’s commitment to its
undergraduates. As soon as students arrive, they are part of the community, and are asked to
become active in it. There are many different levels of support and orientation; students manage
their way through the array of decisions and opportunities differently. Some will visit their
freshman counselor every day, while others will turn to upperclassmen or to their faculty
advisor. Freedom and choice prevail; Yale expects and relies on students to act responsibly.
The primary way to identify new students at Yale is by the residential college. A couple
of months before school starts, every incoming student is randomly assigned to one of
twelve residential colleges, an affiliation that lasts throughout one’s four years at Yale, and beyond. The college system breaks down each class
of approximately 1,240 students into much smaller
and more intimate units of approximately 100 students
who live and eat together. Ideally, during the
time students live there, this place feels like home,
and has many of the amenities one could wish for:
television rooms, libraries, music practice rooms,
computer rooms, even performance spaces and
Each college has a master, a faculty member who
lives with his or her family in the master’s house. In addition to their professorial duties of
teaching and research, the master oversees the social life of the college—intramural teams,
dances, tailgates, and arts festivals, for instance. The master eats regularly in the dining hall
and invites students frequently into his or her home, sometimes for the relaxed social interchange
of a study break or the chance to meet an author, politician, or other dignitary during
a Master’s Tea (recent guests have included Denzel Washington, Brian Williams, Hillary
Clinton, Tony Blair). The residential college deans also live in the college and oversee the freshman
counselors and the academic lives of students. A dean must approve a student’s schedule,
and is the only person authorized to grant a student a “dean’s excuse” for not meeting academic
While most freshmen live on Old Campus together, and are encouraged to bond as a
class, they also participate fully in residential college life. At the beginning of their
sophomore year, students move into their colleges. There they room with classmates, but live
in a section or on a hallway with juniors and seniors. In randomly assigning students to
residential colleges, Yale’s aim is to create twelve microcosms of the larger undergraduate
community. Students with different interests and backgrounds—and, outside of the residential
college, entirely different lives—live and learn side by side. Students have the option of
transferring to another residential college.
About fifteen percent of students decide to live off campus, though Yale recently instituted
a new policy that requires undergraduates to live on campus for two years.
The residential college system could be described as part of Yale’s infrastructure.
During commencement, all students graduate in a ceremony on Old Campus, but return to their residential colleges to receive their diplomas. Most “class notes” in the monthly Yale
Alumni Magazine, which all graduates of the college automatically receive, identify people
by their college. It is an extremely efficient way to give students the best of both worlds at
Yale—the resources of a large research university, with the attention, support, and sense of
community of a small liberal arts college.
Seven Things You Can Do at Yale
- Climb the steps to the top of Harkness
- Take a walk through Grove Street
- Take a trip to the Whitlocks Book Barn
- Go apple-picking at Bishop’s Orchard
- Picnic on the top of East Rock
- Spend an afternoon reading on the
Divinity School lawn
- Compete in intramural coed inner tube
Clubs and Organizations
Of course, many other communities and affiliations abound at Yale—the ones students
create and choose for themselves. There are twelve possible responses to the question,
“What college are you in?” There are hundreds of possible responses to the next-important
question, “What do you do?” On any given weeknight during dinner, a group of students is
planning their next singing jam, magazine deadline, political debate, student rally, chamber
orchestra recital, juggling demonstration, Habitat for Humanity project, or play auditions.
There’s a club for chess players, engineers, anglophiles, and polar bears (those who
dare to swim in the Long Island Sound during the winter). There’s scripted comedy, improv
comedy, and published comedy, not to mention many student-produced comic strips.
There’s opera, klezmer, and black spiritual music, available live and on CD. It’s exhausting
to even think of how many options are available—and even more exhausting to recognize
that students spend large portions of their time sustaining these organizations. Over 300
groups register with the Yale College Dean’s Office, including fifteen a cappella groups
(from the tuxedoed Whiffenpoofs to the Dylan-inspired Tangled Up In Blue), forty undergraduate publications (including the Yale Daily News, the oldest college daily), and two dozen
You will never lack for something to do on the Yale campus, and if you ever did find yourself
in that position, you would do as many have done before you: start your own group for your
own hobby. If you’re not copyediting final pages into the wee hours of the morning, you’re trying
to figure out how to see your friends in their three separate productions. Most likely, you’ll see
the productions back to back and then do your copyediting. One cannot measure a student’s
devotion, nor can one imagine a limit to a student’s energy. The majority of students aren’t
merely involved in a group, they’re leading one. Only during reading period, the week before
final exams start, does the campus start to settle down. The kiosks all over campus, usually
plastered with posters advertising events, begin to look bare as the libraries swell with
students for the first time all semester.
Sometimes I wish I could take a semester off from classes, given my
other commitments. Blackberries, iPhones, and the like are for professionals, but
many people at Yale have them just to keep track of the meetings and dinners
they take part in. I try to take my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I have
three full free days to work my campus job, do my activities, and study. I feel
wired all of the time, but everyone does. There’s this frenetic energy or buzz on
campus that’s very difficult to escape. If I’m not doing something, I feel like a
slacker. It’s difficult to find time just to hang out, though luckily, I see my friends
regularly, since most of them are involved in the same groups. During vacations,
I sleep. A lot.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
The residential colleges also create an infrastructure for students to participate in athletics.
Intramurals are recreational and everyone in the college, regardless of previous
experience, is encouraged to participate. Competitions between the colleges usually take
place in the afternoon or evening, and results are tallied on a weekly basis as residential
colleges strive for the Tyng Cup, awarded at the end of the year to the college with the most
points. Less publicly fought for but nonetheless a source of college pride is the Gimbel Cup,
awarded annually to the residential college with the highest grade point average. Lastly,
there’s the Tang Cup, awarded to college teams in a one-day competition organized in association
with the fraternities. Because of the residential college system, fraternities and
sororities are not a major social force at Yale, but they do exist, and provide community service
and social outlets for the students who participate.
It’s difficult enough to describe the intense
experience of four years at Yale. Once they enter the
world at large, Yalies go off to do a multitude of impressive
things. Part of Yale’s mission is to train leaders,
and Yale’s alumni do lead, as U.S. presidents (five
attended Yale), company CEOs, academics, journalists,
lawyers, and advocates. Living in New Haven, a
city where volunteerism can make such a difference, is
a life-shaping experience for students, many of whom
later gravitate to public service in government or nonprofit
organizations. The diversity of Yale’s student
body, and the breadth of its academic offerings, prepares
graduates for diverse careers. A sampling of
recent graduates should give you an idea: investment
banker, Peace Corps volunteer, reporter in Indonesia,
computer programmer, book publicist, teacher. When
alumni reach out to one another, they continue to
learn from their classmates’ endeavors.
The Association of Yale Alumni oversees a network of more than 125 local Yale Clubs and
associations that have a mission to connect and reconnect the alumni to the university. These
groups also involve alumni volunteers in the admissions process, as they are charged with interviewing
students in their area and filling out evaluation forms. Many local groups host receptions
for admitted students. Fund-raising is carried out by the Alumni Fund, a separate
organization that can boast one of the highest participation rates of the Ivy League. The university
recently launched a $3.5 billion capital campaign, largely fueled by the generosity of its
alumni. That alumni are devoted and loyal is a good sign of the quality of the experience they
had during their time here.
Yalies enjoy coming back to campus. Twice yearly, over 200 alumni, elected as delegates
by their local associations, convene in New Haven to address the latest news and developments
at Yale and discuss alumni affairs. Some fly in from as far away as Switzerland and Hong Kong.
Reunions bring thousands more back to campus in the spring, for a weekend of dancing, dining,
and catching up. Many current students work during reunions, and have the extra treat of
meeting alums who lived in their residential college or perhaps took a class with the same
instructor. Recently, the university has embarked on “A Day with Yale” program, which puts
administrators and faculty members on the road to share their knowledge and talents with the
An alumni gathering would not be complete without the spirited singing of the alma
mater, “Bright College Years.” The lyrics sum up the immense loyalty and nostalgia shared by
“Bright College years, with pleasure rife,
The shortest, gladdest years of life;
How swiftly are ye gliding by!
Oh, why doth time so quickly fly?
Oh, let us strive that ever we
May let these words our watch-cry be,
Where’er upon life’s sea we sail:
“For God, for Country, and for Yale!
- William F. Buckley, Writer
- George H.W. Bush, U.S. President
- George W. Bush, U.S. President
- Jodie Foster, Actress/Director
- Charles Ives, Composer
- Joseph I. Lieberman, U.S. Senator
- Sinclair Lewis, Nobel Prizewinning
- Maya Lin, Architect
- Henry Luce, Time and Life
- David McCullough, Historian
- Samuel F.B. Morse, Telegraph and
Morse Code Inventor
- Gene Siskel, Movie Critic
- William Howard Taft, U.S.
- Garry Trudeau, “Doonesbury”
- Arthur Watson, IBM Founder
- Thornton Wilder, Pulitzer Prizewinning
Yale’s graduate schools are well respected, but the college remains the physical,
intellectual, and even emotional center of Yale. The student-to-faculty ratio is 7 :1 and
only nine percent of classes have fifty or more students. As a leading research institution
attracting scholars of international renown in every field, Yale expects its faculty to put
time and energy into teaching undergraduates. Faculty members welcome the opportunity
to share their enthusiasm with students, and many of Yale’s most distinguished senior professors
teach introductory courses. Some have attained cult status and attract hundreds of
Yale is not merely a place for academic excellence. In fact, many students won’t
even cite the academic environment as the most important aspect of their college years. It is
academic excellence, however, that makes the Yale experience and reputation so distinctive
and attracts so many applicants each year.