A common trend among students is that we all have the drive to do something great - whether it be a future political leader or simply write the best essay ever. The best part about this motivational energy is that it pushes everyone to strive in their own niches. But the thing is, everyone here is just so different (I guess that's what admissions wanted?). Personally, I love the fact that I can walk into a dining hall and sit next to a stranger with a totally different life story and leave with a new friend. Because the atmosphere here is so academically competitive, students use extracurriculars to handle their stresses in proactive ways. As a result, Yale has a host of incredibly influential student groups, all comprised of leaders and resourceful minds. The student groups here have the power to actively participate in local elections, invite prominent guest speakers for Master's Teas (actors, politicians, writers, etc.) and even create non-profit organizations, among many other things.
Technically, the entire purpose of going to college is for the academics. That being said, the academics at Yale are what you make of it. Science majors are typically more difficult than humanities, but that's the usually trend in any school. However, there are just as many students who struggle in the sciences/spend hours in lab who can bust out an English essay in under an hour...they just choose classes that cater to their own abilities. Yale is quite good at upholding their "liberal arts education" approach to academics. Before declaring his/her major at the end of sophomore year, each undergraduate is required to take a variety of courses in different subjects. Thus, the difficulty of each class depends on the student's personal strengths and experiences. I've had a class with 14 students, and another with 200 students. However, in both classes, the professor knew my name. Office hours and class participation are stressed, and it's definitely an asset. If you choose to never speak with your professor, chances are he/she will never know you - but then you miss out on valuable classroom experiences that could influence your future studies and current course material understanding. The goal here is to learn for the sake of learning. There are many students who do not know what their future jobs will be, but trust that their dedication in their activities at Yale will open doors. Many students who do not necessarily consider jobs go to Teach for America after graduation, or apply for graduate school.
Cultural Houses: I spend a lot of my time at the Asian-American Cultural Center, one of Yale's four (soon to be five) cultural houses on campus. The cultural groups here are great - you don't have to be of a certain racial background to participate in any events hosted by the student groups of each house. For example, I've listened to spoken word at the Af-Am (African-American) House and eaten tamales with my friends at La Casa (Latino House). The Game: The annual Yale vs. Harvard football game is probably one of the biggest traditions among the undergrads. It's the one event that brings absolutely everyone together in the biggest display of school pride, ever. The bands and half-time shows are great, and the atmosphere is absolutely fun and crazy in the best of ways. Stay Up Late: Doing homework (lab reports, finishing papers) and just talking to people. Our residential college system is a great way to explore other parts of campus and talk to different groups of people. Student groups and residential colleges also provide study breaks, where you can relax from work and mingle with other people over yummy snacks. Sometimes the best friendships are made when you walk into a common room and just sit down for a two-hour conversation with a then-stranger. The unique stories and experiences of every person on campus are incredible...you just have to take the time to sit down and talk.
Most of the classes here are difficult because of the nature of the students who take them. If the class is an easy course, chances are that there are quite a few over-qualified students who are taking the credit to boost their GPA - which increases the competition. Higher level courses, which are usually restricted to upperclassmen and students who are specifically majoring in that department, are filled with hard-working, competitive students who are taking the class because they have to or because they absolutely love the material. Since Yale requires students to take classes in different subjects (according to their liberal arts education approach), most students will get equal experiences of getting good grades easily and having to struggle to go above the average.
Yale has been a great fit for me. I love the variety of experiences available here that I wouldn't necessarily find anywhere else. There's diversity everywhere - from class sizes, to course topics, to teaching styles, to extracurriculars...even to the students themselves (ethnicity, religion, home country, out-of-the-box abilities). I absolutely love the chaotic harmony of different thoughts, opinions, and backgrounds. The campus is small enough where I will never feel lost in a sea of people, but big enough where I will always discover something new and make new friends. I spent most of my time running around on campus - from Science Hill laboratories, to our dozen coffee shops to meet with friends, to our English department seminar rooms. The change in scenery everywhere I go is wonderful - there are different types of people and thinkers in every niche on campus. To me, the biggest issues on campus have been the Title IX complaints (on sexual harassment) and campus security (New Haven is has often been labeled as one of the most violent cities in the US). Personally, I have been informed enough by administration, student groups, and the police department enough times when incidents have cropped up that I feel pretty safe. These issues shouldn't happen, but they do - and the best way to avoid getting hurt is to stay alert and think smart.
Status: Yale has been stereotyped to have a student population of "preppy, pretentious rich kids." This is absolutely not the case - though there are many affluent students who attend, there is an even greater number of students who are here because they were the hard-working leaders and creative thinkers of their high schools, regardless of financial status. However, the local stores do mostly cater to the prep-style of dress, as some of these stores are established university merchandise sellers. Identity: Out of the "Big Three" Ivy League universities, I've often heard Yale to be the "most liberal", as well as "most gay". With big events like "Sex Week" and an acapella life that is generally more popular than Greek life, this liberal label simply means that Yale allows its students to express themselves and explore their sexual identities in a safe environment. Though the gay pride at Yale is definitely strong, it is not made an issue to make others feel uncomfortable or question their own sexuality. Yale is a place of acceptance, where students can explore and share opinions on all walks of life. Though the system isn't perfect, it's definitely a wonderful place to grow in both knowledge and experience. Academics: There's this myth that only kids who get straight A's in high school get into Yale. Again, this is totally wrong. Though there are certainly a great number of bookworms and excellent test-takers here, there are also students who bring incredible talents to campus - like musicians who've performed in amazing venues, and leaders who helped create non-profit organizations. The true stereotype of Yalies (if there is one) is the same at any competitive college - "dedicated and motivated." Since each student brings their own amazing strengths to the population, every person is pushed to excel in his or her own field.