Yale University (visited 10/12/16)
Yale, of course, is physically impressive as an institution. Their distinction – and maybe the big claim to fame beyond the reputation – is their Residential College System. Beyond that, I could not find any way to differentiate their academics from many other institutions (even though they tried to say they were different because of small classes, dedicated professors, and even some Nobel Laureates. There are lots of schools that with the very same things). In response to a direct question from a family, the senior giving the info session, even after waxing poetic about how special Yale and the students were, couldn’t actually characterize the students here or what perhaps made them or the institution different from others. She simply said, “Well, all colleges aren’t for everyone. I guess you’ll have to visit and see if you get that vibe.”
Yale College is technically the undergraduate portion of Yale University with 5300 undergrads (there are 11,000 students total); “we’re a liberal arts college within a research university,” so students have access to all the resources of the other colleges. Education here is “student-centered and student-driven. We sit in the middle of the spectrum between Core requirements and an Open Curriculum.” Students must complete distribution requirements in 6 areas, but they simply have to take 2 classes within each distribution from a list of several hundred options.
Yale issues credits differently from many schools; most classes are worth 1 credit (Labs = .5 and languages = 1.5). Students need 36 credits to graduate including 12 in the major and 12 distribution credits. This allows for flexibility for exploring, a double major, study abroad, etc. The directors of undergraduate studies will look at AP or IB credits and will place students in appropriate levels; students can take a placement exam if they want to try to place out of a class.
Being Yale, there are certainly a ton of options for majors, many of which are unusual, such as Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health; and Ethics, Politics, and Economics. Students who don’t find what they’re interested in can create own major such as recent students studying Socio-Linguistics or Sports History. There are no minors but plenty of concentrations in majors.
Students get a 2-week shopping period for classes. All freshmen have 3 advisors to help choose and figure out schedules: the Dean of Residential College, a Freshman College Advisor (a senior within the college who run study breaks, orientation, etc), and a Freshman Advisor. Seventy percent of classes have fewer than 20 students; 30% have fewer than 10. Most classes are taught by faculty, not adjuncts; language classes taught by native speakers tend to be the exception. They have an unusually low student-to-faculty ratio (6:1 over, but 2:1 in engineering and 3:1 in science).
The Residential College System (which, although rare, is not exclusive to Yale) is a housing affiliation that determines where and with whom students live. Students are sorted randomly but “it’s an organized random. They will go back in to check to make sure that they didn’t put the whole hockey team in one place.” Freshmen room together in suites in Old College (the oldest quad on campus) in buildings or halls according to their College affiliation, and then will move to the physical college as sophomores. The Colleges have their own library, dining hall, laundry, fitness center, and a Buttery for late night food: “It’s cheap, student run, and great for jobs,” said the tour guide. Each has something unique such as a pottery or dance studio, a printing press, or half-basketball court; students from other colleges have access to these.
The student giving the info session and the tour guide both played up social aspect of the colleges. Every college has its own traditions such as “Running of the Trumbull” (the name of the college), snowball fights on the first snowfall, annual events when they sneak into other colleges to “steal their trinkets, then we roast a pig and smores, and watch How to Train Your Dragon.” Each college has a Dean of College and Head of College. The Dean is in charge of academics: they sign off on schedules, give passes to push back deadlines if students are sick, etc. The Head is in charge of administrative tasks, planning trips and study breaks, and the Teas where famous people come to College to talk to the students.
Housing is guaranteed all four years. “Why wouldn’t you live here? It’s a castle! And it’s where your food is and the fitness center. It’s great not to have to go outside,” said the tour guide. Currently there are 12 colleges, each housing about 450 students, with plans for two more going up in the next couple years. Yale will be increasing class size by 200 for the next 4 years.
New Haven is “small enough to be intimate but large enough to be interesting.” The city claims the first burger, first Frisbee, and first planned city. It has theater, music, and a “world class dining scene” including a new Laotian restaurant. If that gets boring, it’s a quick train ride into NYC for $15 off-peak.
Beinecke library is their famous Rare Books library. The marble is only 1.5 inches thick so light comes through. It’s stunning from the inside, and they have a Gutenberg Bible.
Music is pretty big on campus with lots of a cappella groups (“Stay away from arches; it’s where they practice!”). Woolsey Jamboree, an annual a cappella concert, draws big crowds, as does the Yale Symphony Orchestra, particularly for the Halloween Movie. They film a silent movie in advance then play along. People come in costume, including the musicians. People are given candy at the door.
Food at the College dining halls is standardized (aka they all serve the same food on same days) but Commons Dining Hall, big enough for a whole class, has more choices (and there’s a separate Kosher dining hall, as well). “Chicken Tender night is a big deal!” The Freshman Christmas banquet every year is held in the Commons every year: “Bring Tupperware for leftovers”