How “x” does academics: x = Yale

November 4, 2006 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

Posted by Nicole

Entering the academic world at Yale seems like a very daunting challenge at first; the workload definitely requires diligence. However, Yale’s many unique aspects of its academic approach make the task much more manageable and worthwhile.

Yale operates on a semester system. The first semester begins in late August/early September and ends in December (before winter break); the second begins in January and ends in early/mid-May. This allows for more depth in a fewer amount of courses than a quarter system with fewer major assignments.

Students need 36 credits to graduate, averaging 9 credits a year. Most classes are one credit each, with some exceptions (labs, for example, are generally half a credit, while beginning or intensive languages class can be 1.5-2). Many students graduate with over 36 credits under their belts.

There is no “core” curriculum at Yale; instead, students must take two classes in the following categories: humanities, social sciences, sciences, quantitative reasoning, and writing. There is also a foreign language requirement, for which, depending on one’s level of study and AP scores, students take one to three classes. These categories are very broadly defined; logic classes, for instance, count toward quantitative reasoning, while biology courses that require more in-depth research papers fulfill the writing requirement.

Students must declare a major by the beginning of junior year, or can work with their advisor to fashion their own. Advisors are mostly randomly assigned to freshmen; they mostly help you organize each semester’s schedule and try to make sure you don’t overload yourself. In sophomore year, however, you can choose an advisor in your area of interest, who will be more helpful in talking about your major and seeing that you are on the right track. There are no minors at Yale. Instead, students may double major or just take a variety of classes of other interests. Majors generally require 12-20 courses, so double majoring does take some effort and planning; that’s where advising comes in handy.

Also, each of Yale’s residential colleges hosts a dean, who lives in the college and oversees the academic life of its students. The dean is another advisor whose job it is to make sure your schedule is fulfilling the necessary requirements. Students also meet with their dean if they have pressing academic concerns or problems (three final exams in one day, an illness that caused them to miss weeks of class, etc.) and may obtain a dean’s excuse, which is something of a “get out of jail free” card for impending deadlines.

The process for choosing classes is a very unique aspect of Yale. In the summer, students are mailed the “blue book,” a 600+ tome of course listings for the year. Students visit classes during the first two weeks of each semester, known as “shopping period.” This allows students to attend classes they are unsure about, get a copy of the syllabus, see how the professor teaches, and generally take more risks than they otherwise might. No class lists are finalized until after these two weeks, when schedules are due.

Classes themselves range in size from two people to over 400 for large intro courses. Most departments promise to hold a class no matter how many people show up. Classes are either seminars, which usually meet once or twice a week and have fewer than 20 people, or lectures, which meet once or twice a week but have an additional class with a smaller group of students (a “section” of about 10-15 people). Most sections are taught by graduate student TAs, but are sometimes taught by full professors. Whether they teach sections or not, all professors hold open office hours weekly and are, I’ve found, ridiculously easy to meet outside of class.

While most departments have seminars open to all students, there are always seminars that are open only to juniors and seniors who are majoring in the department. To give freshmen more opportunity to be in a seminar environment, Yale instituted the Freshman Seminar program a few years ago; students submit their preferences of 20+ seminars that are offered.

To wrap up, Yale is internationally known for the strength of their graduate departments, but don’t let this deter you from exploring an undergraduate education there. Unlike many schools of its kind, Yale’s first priority is toward undergraduate academics, and the administration does everything in its power to make its undergraduate students seen and heard.


Entry filed under: Academics, Advisor, AP, Biology, Blue book, Books, Classes, College trends, Core, Credit, Deadline, Dean, Department, Double major, Education, Final, Freshman, Graduate school, Humanities, Junior, Language, Lecture, Logic, Major, Minor, Organization, Paper, Professor, Publication, Quantitative, Quarter, Registration, Research, Science, Semester, Seminar, Senior, Shopping, Social science, Sophomore, Syllabus, Vacation, Winter, Writing, Yale.

Ooh, Dee lied… don’t assume they know College, Confidential?

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