Yale University Top Questions

What are the academics like at your school?

jp

We have to study pretty hard here.

Wenzel

Academics can be found in all shapes and sizes. Want to take 7 credits and study in the library all day? No big that's totally cool. Want to relax and socialize and take an easier schedule? Totally doable. Competitiveness is there, but far less than you'd expect. It's kinda weird....

Victor

Professors are friendly, I immediately get back e-mails whenever I have questions. The students are incredibly motivated and it's a GREAT atmosphere to be in. Everyone is excited to be there, to work together, and to accomplish something. It's not competitive, rather it's collaborative. The science department has been making leaps and bounds recently, with incredible funding.

Jess

Classes vary widely, in terms of quality, teaching style, size, etc. Apart from one or two classes that I found boring and poorly taught, the vast majority of the 20+ courses I've taken at Yale have been great. I'm an Anthropology major, and my favorite courses have been European Literature; Culture, Power, Oil; and Journalism. Apart from our majors, Yale students need to fulfill distribution requirements, which entail two classes each in foreign language, quantitative reasoning, writing, social sciences, humanities and arts, and science. Each course at Yale falls into at least one of those categories, so you always have choices about what to take to fulfill your requirements. So to fulfill my science requirement, for example, I took biological anthropology and an astrophysics course. Overall, while it's possible (at least outside the hard sciences) to get by taking only "gut" courses, most students try to challenge themselves and genuinely enjoy classes. After all, that's why we're here.

Josh

People always ask me if Yale is harder or easier than high school. Answer: it's different. At Yale, we take 4-5 classes on average per semester, which is much less than in high school. We're in class for less time than in high school. But the expectations are different. There is rarely attendance in class - you either go or you don't; the responsibility is yours. While Yale is challenging, I think that every students feels the ability to succeed. There are incredible resources to help each student succeed--from deans to peer advisers to faculty advisers, it's very unlikely you'll fall through the cracks here. Everyone here wants everyone else to succeed, and that provides a great academic environment.

Bella

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.

Johanna

Classes at Yale come in all shapes and sizes, and most are designed to maximize the teaching strengths of faculty who are also top researchers. So, a large lecture led by the professor breaks down into sections taught by TAs. As you get into 200, 300, or 400-level classes, they get smaller; office hours are more frequent; and you can ask questions during or after class. You can design your courseload to emphasize papers over exams and problem sets, or vice-versa. And regardless of the current trend toward community service, Yale is life-of-the-mind to the core.

Ryan

Classes are very very hit or miss. I've taken two classes that have been mind-blowingly good: small seminars with David Bromwich and Charles Hill, two veritable legends, where there was great intellectual stimulation every day. And I've even had some great lectures: David Scott Kastan's Shakespeare class springs to mind as a class that really brought the lecture format to life. But many other classes are very uninspired; I've had horrible experiences with math and language, which are commonly cited as poor spots. And there are onorous requirements... I think Yale has great classes if you are committed to the humanities (English, Literature, Art History, Architecture, Fine Arts, German Studies, History, all incredible) and are aggressive about getting into the seminars you want, but there are a lot of people who walk away with very little from their classes.

Ryan

There's quite a diverse range of the amount of work people have. For instance, people taking loads of humanities or social science classes will have much more reading than science or math people, who will mostly have only problem sets. The professors are genuinely extremely excited about their subjects and the prospect of getting the student body excited about what they do. Academic support is apparently extremely easy to access. The academic requirements are unobtrusive, but they're definitely there, and getting them isn't a joke. Yale's administration is also extremely serious about their deadlines - late schedules etc receive a fine.

Betsy

I've heard some Yalies tell people not to lose their head, because even though the work is hard, you will probably get a decent grade in the end if you show up and do the work. All of the people who say this are liberal arts majors. In the liberal arts, in my experience, it is easy to get a B, but hard to get a solid A. However, the sciences are a different story. You might work your a** off, and get a C. It's okay! Not the end of the world. Many Yalies do not realize this and end up switching out to easier majors after a couple of poor midterms. Stick with it, and Yale will reward you with some amazing classes and professors.

PoliSci gal

The academics can't be beat! Professors are engaging, students are passionate, the readings are generally interesting. There are large lecture classes and smaller seminars, and both are a great way to learn.

Amelia

It's an Ivy League university, so obviously the work is very demanding. We all spend plenty of time in the libraries. Getting to know professors is not a given, as it might be at a smaller college. However, if you make the effort to go to office hours or get in touch with your professors, they are more than willing to spend time with you. I've had a lot of really good and inspiring conversations with my professors. There are also a surprisingly large amount of small seminar classes. Our academic requirements are pretty easy to fill, as you have distribution requirements instead of specific class requirements. I think it's a good system. There are some amazing and famous professors here and TONS of cool classes to take. When we all first get our "Blue book" (course book) in the mail over the summer, we make huge long lists of classes we want to take. The first two weeks of class are "shopping period," which means you get to scope out classes and see if you'll like them. There are some pretty incredible classes- I took one in which I got to go to Ecuador over spring break to explore the rainforest and bring back plants to research all summer (and best of all, it was all paid for!)

gavin

hard and lots of it

James

Yale's music department is one of the best in the world. I love it. I've had some other awesome professors, too! In general, I enjoy the friendly, intellectual atmosphere.

Andy

Yale academics are awesome. Something that is notable is that at Yale, there are many students who sacrifice GPA for extracurricular activities that they love.

Micah

Yale academics are incredible. There is an incredibly wide range of topics covered here (though not quite as wide as Brown, for instance, something that annoyed me a little, though not something that made my decision to come to Yale at all regrettable). As a student, you definitely have the opportunities to meet professors and develop personal relationships with them. I was in Directed Studies, a special freshman humanities program which consisted of three seminars each semester, so I of course felt comfortable with my professors in those classes, but I also met a professor of ethnomusicology, my specific area of interest, at a random lecture, and since then she has gone out of her way to take me under her wing, write me recommendations, and will be my advisor next year - all without having even taken a class from her. Work at Yale is hard, but students here are far from consumed by it - hanging out with friends, or involvement in extracurricular activities is just as important for Yalies as are their grades. Yalies are driven - but not driven to compete with others. They are driven because of an inner passion for what they are studying or working on. I don't know the grades or SAT scores of any of my friends, and I wouldn't want to. It simply isn't what matters.

Andy

Outside of the classroom, the professors love spending time with their students. Also, there's a lot of reading involved per course. So be ready to be well disciplined!

Anais

Yale can be as hard or as easy as you make it - no doubt we have some of the most renowned professors in their respective fields and the resources to match. But at the same time, Yale's Credit/D/Fail systems, residential college seminars, and distributional requirements leave a lot of room for taking fun and/or ridiculously easy classes (of which there are many - you just need to look and ask around - they can also incidentally be the most interesting). Honestly, the hard part is getting in - the rest is up to you. One of the best things about Yale's academic atmosphere is how much students are NOT competitive - your biggest rival will be yourself, which is the by-product of very passionate, self-motivated students learning together. I'm actually surprised at how laid back Yalies tend to be - we leave papers and problem sets to the last minute and have cram sessions the night before an exam, but we get it done and done well. The intensity comes out in intellectual conversations outside of the classroom - laid back can also be coupled with VERY opinionated, which is great if you're into debating. Yale, as with any other ivy, may have a knack with churning out I-bankers like a trade school, but is ultimately still a liberal arts school with even more students after learning for learning's sake and a mind to go into academia.

Rhys

The student/faculty ratio at Yale is something like 8:1, which is pretty incredible. Some of the most intense learning I've done has been in small seminars of 5-10 students. This generally results in an atmosphere of interest and discourse, but rarely competition. Especially for a Theater Studies major, students seem to want to help each other, never hinder. At Yale, learning is very much up to you. There are guidelines, but they are in no way restrictive. Professors vary, as humans do, but are in general very accessible and interesting. These are the people at the head of their fields, not just those who follow.

Rachelle

they're hard, but in the end (other than science/math courses), they grade pretty fairly and are not too harsh. good curves. a lot of the courses are really fascinating, once you find what topic you're interested in (you'll think you know this coming into school, but you really have no idea)

Emmerson

Lectures were great. Yale students have lots of intellectual conversations, in and outside of class. Some professors are accessable. It's hard to get a well-paying job after most majors unless it's in computer science.. Most other majors lead to a life of academia or social services. If you're having a tough time, there are TAs you can meet with and even math and writing tutors in each dorm. Students aren't very competitive, but they are all smart, so you'd better do your best. We're mostly competing with ourselves, unless you plan on going to another school afterwards such as law school or med school. The requirements are fine. You get a wide variety of subjects and topics. I enjoyed all the literature, psychology, English, history and so forth although I never did that well in them. I'm not into science, but I didn't have to take any since I was already taking lots of math and computer science classes.

Jesse

Yes, in lectures it is the most difficult to get to know a professor, just due to sheer size and more of an interaction with the TAs, but even then Professors try to get to know as many students as possible. Classes here are nice in that they bring together people of diverse backgrounds and experiences who eventually grow close due to working together so hard. Students study a lot, almost round the clock, when they are not eating, sleeping, showering, volunteering, etc. They make good use of time, and thus simultaneously motivate other students to do likewise. It's almost contagious. Intellectual conversations abound outside the class, to the point that one can sometimes learn so much more outside the class. It is really wonderful to realize how much you learn through the lives of others.

Alexandra

It's hard to say anything definitive about Yale's academics that the general public doesn't already know, because the academics here are pretty much whatever you want them to be. There are large lecture classes where the professor will never learn your name, and there are small seminars whose debates get carried into the dining halls with the students. You can develop close relationships with professors if you seek them out - most of them are ready to spend time on you if they know that's what your looking for. There are Yalies destined to manage hedge funds, whose goal in life is to make money, and there are Yalies who could happily drift in academia forever, experiencing joy in the act of learning. Yale's distribution requirements can be a hassle for students who came to college hoping never to take another math class in their lives, but "quantitative reasoning" is a broad enough category that even these people will find something within it to interest them. The classes themselves are varied and interesting, mostly taught by professors. The freshmen level math classes (up through multi-variable calculus) are often taught by grad students (some with incomprehensible foreign accents) and are graded on a curve (which can hurt you!), making that department the least pleasant experience for many students. I took a program this (my freshman) year called Directed Studies, which studies part of the "western canon" through literature, history of political thought, and philosophy. We have two seminars and a lecture in each of those topics per week. Those seminars are particularly wonderful for students who want to engage in lively intellectual discussions, and the program is a good opportunity for students to meet others with similar academic passions. There is a lot (really a lot) of reading, and everyone writes two papers every three weeks, so the work can be pretty intense. For me, DS was the perfect introduction to philosophy (I am planning on majoring in Physics and Philosophy, a combo option here), which is a strong and eccentric department at Yale. DS is a great way to learn how to think, but it's impossible to digest everything, and it's often disappointing for students when they realize this.

Kirsten

Classes here are completely varied. You can find a class on practically anything. They range in size from ten to two-hundred and hardly any of them start before ten! All the professors are very different. Some make an effort to get to know their students, while others simply lecture twice a week. However, every one of them is guaranteed to be a character! If you search through and find the interesting stuff, you can do some amazing things. This year, my Aztecs of Mexico class went on a field trip to Mexico City!

Shawn

I didn't take as good advantage of professor-student relationships as I could or should have, but I attribute that largely to being younger and not really knowing how to talk to adults. I loved the anthropology major, which introduced me to an entirely new curriculum as well as enabled me to take every class offered with the words "sex" or "gender" in the title. I guess I would have liked to have more of a relationship with some of my professors, especially the really impressive ones, but again, that may have been more my fault than theirs. I feel like the competition level at Yale is really what you bring to it - if you decide you're going to get straight A's and get inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in your junior year, you can certainly do that, though it comes at a price (social consequences, time management). Otherwise, you definitely don't have to get caught up in the competition. I sort of decided that I was going to flourish in these other ways and do my best to keep my grades up - which is why I graduated with an A- average. The education at Yale is definitely geared towards learning for its own sake, more than getting some sort of trade job. I realize that lots of Economics majors get banking and consulting jobs, but I think that's more because people who want to get high-paying jobs major in Econ... sort of a self-perpetuating stereotype. I worked in publishing after I graduated, which had absolutely nothing to do with my major, no matter how creatively I tried to make it seem like it did. That's okay with me, though; I'm a fan of learning for learning's sake, and I think that most of the people who go to Yale who want to get jobs in the real world are the kind of smart, capable people who naturally will do well in any job environment.

Wenzel

Academics are good here in virtue of the class sizes--you can take big lectures, in which case you generally interact with your Teaching Assistants (who are usually awesome), but you can also take seminars with really great professors (about 20 students each) and then the professors really do get to know you. This semester I'm in a seminar with the head of the History department, Laura Engelstein, who is a genius and so dedicated to us each individually. It's a great experience that you can't have at bigger schools. Generally in these smaller classes, everyone participates (though often there are 4 or 5 loud students and 4 or 5 silent ones).

Alex

Some of the intro classes have 100+ students, but most of these classes have sections with TAs, and, if you have questions, you can always email your professor, who'll usually get back to you fairly quickly. Understandably, some of the TAs are bastards, but that's just the luck of the draw; sometimes you can pick which section you want, so just avoid the TAs that everyone else had told you not to get.

Andy

It's Yale, so the academics are as good as they can get. The libraries are incredible, especially the rare manuscripts libraries. I always feel like I have more opportunities for research, study abroad, etc. than I could possibly take advantage of. Every year we get dozens of emails about summer opportunities for research, internships, and trips abroad.

Sandy

I certainly have intellectual conversations outside class, although somewhat rarely with my classmates. I bring what I'm studying to my friends, and they to me- of course, what we're studying at any given time may or may not have anything to do with our classes. I'm sure my professors would know my name if my attendance weren't so bad. The attendance policy here... well, there isn't one (except in foreign language classes); no one's going to bitch at you if you never show up. I often prefer to skip lecture and just do all the readings (by the way, no one does /all/ the readings): this method is incredibly ineffective. Professors care much, much more about what they're telling you than about the readings they assign. Most people DO go to class because they've realized it's easier to get good grades that way. I think the education here is geared towards learning for its own sake; the students take it upon themselves to be career driven. It's certainly not a hostile environment for academics like myself, however, and the incredibly sparse required distribution credits mean there's no excuse for me to take a class I don't like.

Steve

Profs at Yale generally know their students if the student takes the time get to know the professor. Almost all of them keep great visiting hours and many of them were once smart, cool kids themselves. Many Yalies work way harder than they need to once they're at the school, due to their competitive nature. But it's easy to get by on very little as well. My trick was to go to every class, and to take meticulous notes. That way you rarely had to do any of the reading at all, and to someone who reads a little slower than other smarties, there was always WAY too much reading.

Alexandra

Class sizes range. Science classes are big (range from 100-200 students per class). Mid-sized classes (200 level history classes) usually have about 40-80 students. Seminars have no more than 20 students. Everyone knows their profs but class participation is much more likely to take place in a seminar. Yale academic requirement are slightly more stringent than the other Ivys (esp. Harvard which requires four less classes to graduate and has higher grade inflation). Yale education is very un-pragmatic. don't expect a journalism department or business department.

Rory

The academics here are amazing. High school was the most boring place in the world to me, we learned about jus the least interesting things in the slowest, most rote way possible. I worked really, really hard to get good grades so I could go somewhere like Yale, but I never cared about learning for its own sake. Now I’m here and I really don’t care what I’m going to do with any of this. I’m sure I’ll have to start figuring that out soon enough but for now I’m just taking classes that sound interesting and so far that’s been working out amazingly. My professors give fascinating lectures and lead really interesting conversations. Most of them know my name/have formed some kind of relationship with me. And there are definitely some kids here who are only learning to get ahead in life, and some who aren’t even bothering to do that, but most people here are here because they love learning, and that just completely rocks.

Robin

Know my name? Yup. Favourite class? ENGL 114, with Alfred Guy. Least favourite: Chinese L1/Introduction to Cog Sci. Students study all the time, are you kidding? Students don't shut up in class. Intellectual conversations? The common Yalie code-switches from brilliant to mindless to brilliant again in the blink of an eye. Competitive? Like their lives depended on it. Although it depends. I try to avoid those types. Unique class? History of Sexuality. My major: UNDECIDED. Professors? Sometimes. Distributional requirements are like parents. You hate them, but actually they make you into a man/woman. Education? I-BANKING or GRAD SCHOOL, take your pic.

Lindsay

I think that the class sizes here are pretty good. I was surprised, though, because I expected them to be smaller than my classes in high school, but they aren't. I think that there is a wide range, as there would be at any school, of how often students study. I know some people that don't do any work, while others never go out. The nice thing about Yale is that I have not run into anyone who is really competitive. Everyone shares notes and helps each other out whenever possible. I think that Yale's academic requirements are becoming a little too strict. I definitely think that a Yale education is more about learning for the sake of learning. However, the skills that you pick up along the way are extremely useful for any type of work you will encounter after graduation.

Max

Competition is there but it isn't direct or obnoxious as it was in my high school. The education is not vocational but that is, I believe, better. Professor are easy to contact. Many classes I have taken are very small so Profs know you name.

Dawson

Yale's attention to undergraduate academics is unparalleled. As a freshman I have had a Yale Law professor as my instructor for Intro to Ancient Philosophy, and a sophomore I have had a Fields Medal winner as my instructor for Complex Analysis. The caliber and distinction of Yale's faculty is sufficiently great to justify the cost of tuition.

Hannah

Classes are wonderful here. Obviously, we're all into learning and smart people, so classes are very engaging and everyone works hard. I know all of my professors, and for many of my classes they will invite the class to dinner at their house or lunch in a dining hall. They make a real effort to get to know you. Also, other students are always happy to have a real intellectual conversation outside of class, and people are really well-read and knowledgeable about the outside world. The work is hard here, but you can challenge yourself as much or as little (to a point) as you want. Some students study all the time, but most of us have a real life and we only study as much as is necessary. I would say 3 hours or so a day is normal, but it may be a little on the low side. Most majors here are not geared towards getting a job because, let's face it, a Yale grad with a history degree is just as good as any student. That being said, classes here are on really cool topics. I have taken "Social Entrepreneurship", "Immunology," "History of Religious Conversion in Medieval Europe", and a lot of other unique classes. Also, it is not uncommon to have a professor who is the world-authority on the topic he/she is teaching. My math professor this semester literally wrote the textbook, and this is pretty common here!

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