A Day in the Life at Yale University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Elena graduated from Yale University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in French and the History of Art. She is a New York City tutor specializing in SAT prep tutoring, ACT prep tutoring, Writing tutoring, Literature tutoring, and many other subjects. See what she had to say about her undergraduate experience:


VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Elena: The campus is in the urban city of New Haven! Despite its gritty past, New Haven today feels very safe and the area around Yale is absolutely charming. There are campus buses, but they are often unnecessary as the majority of campus is quite centralized. Science students might want a bike, since the trek up Science Hill can feel arduous. 

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Elena: The professors, academic advisers, and TA’s are incredibly welcoming! All professors have office hours, and students can go and talk to even the most influential of intellectuals. I have had many a coffee date with a professor or TA, and I have been known to email them frantically, receiving a response in the same day with a kind word or two. My academic advisers have written me recommendation letters, and one of them I have known for all four years—we even met up in Paris when I was studying abroad there!

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Elena: Quite honestly, the best way to describe dorm life at Yale is to relate it to Hogwarts. Hilarious, I know—but true! Like Hogwarts, Yale has “houses”; at Yale, these are called residential colleges. Each freshman is sorted into a residential college before arriving on campus. Each of them is meant to be a microcosm of Yale, so they are highly diverse. Your freshman year, ten residential colleges out of the twelve house their students on Old Campus, a huge quadrangle where all the freshman live. The dorms are all suite style. I lived with five other roommates; we shared a bathroom and a common room among us. Your sophomore year, you move into the residential college, where you can stay for the next three years if you would like to. Each residential college has a dining hall, a library, a gym, and tons of other facilities: a beautiful common room, music practice rooms, often extra libraries, and perhaps a dance studio, basketball court, climbing wall, photography dark room, or pottery studio. They’re quite amazing; each college also has a central courtyard and many have Neo-Gothic architecture, lending to their resemblance to castles. Each residential college has a lot of pride, but they are also all unified under Yale College, and all undergrads can access the other residential colleges and eat in their dining halls. There is also the main Commons dining hall which is huge (and very Hogwarts Great Hall-like). These automatic communities provide an incredibly easy way to meet people and make friends, not to mention all the extracurricular activities that provide social opportunities outside of the colleges.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Elena: Yale has historically been known for its Humanities and Social Sciences programs. These remain incredibly strong, but recently the Sciences have been gaining traction as well. I double majored in French and the History of Art. Both of these programs are one of the best if not the best of their kind in the country. The faculty in both were incredibly strong and welcoming. The French department especially has a very strong endowment, so I received grant money on two occasions to travel for study and research in France. The Art History department was also well supported, and I took an Art History class the fall semester of my senior year; we were able to travel to Italy to recreate the Grand Tour about which we were learning. 

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Elena: As I mentioned when discussing the residential college system, Yale makes it very easy for freshmen to make friends via these built-in communities. All freshmen live together on Old Campus and there are residential college events just for freshmen toward the beginning of the year. I made close friends immediately through my college, and I also made friends through the dance troupe that I joined in September of my freshman year. In the second semester of my freshman year, I joined the Pi Beta Phi sorority in order to expand my social circle. Greek life, however, does not play a huge role on campus, and I later disaffiliated because I felt I had too much on my plate.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Elena: The Career Center is very helpful for people looking to enter into fields with a very set hiring process: banking, consulting, Teach For America, etc. As someone looking to work in the Arts, I did not find it that helpful. The Fellowship Office was hugely helpful for me, though; they helped me become a finalist for the UK Fulbright Scholarship. Many major reputable companies are consistently recruiting on campus, though most are either in banking or consulting. If you want to go into those fields, you’ll definitely be at the top of the heap in terms of recruiting.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges?  Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious? 

Elena: Yale has a veritable cornucopia or study spaces. As I mentioned, each residential college has at least one library (though usually more), plus a snack bar (called the buttery) with a lounge/common area. There are also computer labs in each college. Beyond that, Yale has the second largest university library system, and it has one massive library (Sterling) plus an underground student library (Bass), as well as tons of specialized libraries for the Arts, Sciences, Medicine, etc. It’s library heaven. Since there are so many, spaces are very rarely crowded, and if they are, you can always find another space to go. One of my favorite places is the Sterling Memorial Library stacks, where there are old desks deep in the bookstacks that look out through stained glass windows onto Yale’s campus. It feels like you’re hidden away in academia!

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Elena: New Haven’s main attraction is definitely Yale, but there are also great restaurants and bars around campus. Downtown is in fact very close to the campus, so students usually stay in that area to go out at night or for meals. There is also East Rock park where students can hike or go for runs. It’s not the most exciting place, but it is definitely far and above a small, boring college town. It’s still a hopping city with fun, interesting places.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Elena: The student body at Yale is about 5,300 undergraduates (I believe). It can feel big at times, but it can also feel quite small (often thanks to the residential college system). Class sizes max out at about 200 for the largest lectures, and the smallest class I’ve taken was a graduate seminar with two other students, myself, and the professor. As a humanities person, many of my classes were seminars, and I regularly took courses with about 7 people. This close interaction with professors was absolutely incredible; it was probably one of my favorite things about Yale.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.                                                               

Elena: I mentioned the Art History course I took where we travelled to Italy to recreate the Grand Tour: it was taught by a specialist in Ancient Greek art and one in British art specializing in the Grand Tour. When we were in Italy at the Temple of Paestum, an ancient Greek temple, I was struck by what a unique experience I was having: to be standing in front of this ancient temple, discussing it with one of the experts in ancient Greek art, and then to have her British counterpart discussing how 18th century tourists would have viewed the temple. I could not get over how lucky I was to be in situ with these two great minds, viewing layers of history.   


Check out Elena’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.