A Student Perspective on Yale University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. David earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular biophysics & biochemistry from Yale University. He specializes in MCAT tutoring, science tutoring, SAT tutoring, and a number of other areas. Want to see what he had to say about his time as a student at Yale University? Read on:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

David: Like many other college towns across New England, New Haven is a small but vibrant city that has been shaped by Yale throughout its history. As such, you can access most stores, restaurants, bars, etc. quite easily from campus. The areas outside of Yale’s campus are not known for being particularly safe, but you will more than likely not run into any problems if you keep your head about you and avoid walking alone at odd hours. Yale also has a dedicated police force and plenty of safety measures on/near campus, so I personally never felt unsafe throughout my time there. As far as transportation goes, Yale has its own shuttle system that operates alongside New Haven’s many public transit options, though most students tend to walk or bike.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants at Yale University?

David: Despite Yale’s reputation as an elite research university, nearly all of the professors and TAs I worked with gave me the impression that they genuinely wanted to work with and be readily available to undergraduates. In fact, some of Yale’s most prominent/prolific scholars also happen to be among its most passionate and involved educators. Yale tends to hire faculty members who are at least as committed to teaching as they are to their independent research.

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

David: If you’ve ever read Harry Potter or watched the movies, you can get a pretty good idea of what residential life is like at Yale. You are “sorted” into one of 12 (soon to be 14) residential colleges prior to the start of your first year, with your college becoming your home base for navigating the rest of Yale. Because each residential college has its own facilities (dorm space, dining hall, fitness centers, libraries, etc.), students have ample freedom to either stick to their own college or explore what other colleges have to offer. For example, on any given day I might eat lunch with other members of Jonathan Edwards College, play pool in Pierson, then grab a quick bite at Morse before meeting my study group in Trumbull. With so many possible combinations of places to hang out, you could easily get through Yale without ever slipping into a boring routine.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

David: Yale is historically recognized for its strong social sciences departments (e.g., economics, political science, psychology, etc.), but the university’s emphasis on breadth and depth of education means that every department is relatively well supported and available to all students. I started Yale as a potential Biomedical Engineering major, considered Cognitive Science for a while, then finally settled on Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. This flip-flopping between majors is actually pretty normal at Yale, because Yale students often have several academic interests that they can freely explore through the university’s “shopping period” and diverse distributional requirements.

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?

David: Making friends at Yale is often as easy as leaving your room to get involved in any of the hundreds of activities and events available on campus. No matter your disposition or personal interests, you will probably find at least one other person or group with whom you can relate and get along. Greek life is definitely a presence on campus, but the extent to which it plays a role in your own social interactions is strictly up to you. I personally wasn’t very involved, but I still interacted with plenty of people with varying degrees of involvement in Greek life through other activities and organizations.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services at Yale University?

David: While I didn’t utilize the Yale Office of Career Strategy (OCS) as much as I probably should have throughout my Yale career, I found the career fairs and recruiting events I did attend to be very helpful, yet somewhat biased toward high-powered jobs and “big-name” organizations (i.e., Bain, Bridgewater, Google, Teach For America, etc.). Many Yale students are interested in such careers so the bias makes sense, but you may have to explore other resources if you (like me) are looking for something a bit different. After I graduated, I found the Health Professions Advisory Program within the OCS to be immensely supportive of my medical school ambitions, so I would strongly urge anyone interested in higher education to utilize such resources way earlier than I did.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

David: Yale has literally hundreds of excellent places to study between its thirty or so libraries, academic building lounges, and residential college common areas. Some libraries are more popular/accessible than others and thus more crowded (i.e., Bass Library), but most Yalies find their own fairly unique spot to suit their needs. If you’re lucky enough to be placed in JE College, I’d strongly recommend checking out the Upper Taft Library – beautiful natural lighting, rarely crowded, individual study carrels, and easy access to bathrooms and printers.

Describe the surrounding town at Yale University.

David: Since Yale’s main campus is basically a tall and skinny rectangle that encompasses nearly all of New Haven’s retail stores and most iconic establishments, students rarely have to walk more than a few minutes from their dorm to find some means of entertainment. If, like me, your idea of an awesome time revolves around good food and drink, you may be pleased to learn that New Haven is a mecca of excellent restaurants, cafés, and bars of all cuisines, ambiences, and – perhaps most importantly – price ranges. I can’t really speak to the quality of non-food-related things to do in town (i.e., shopping, community events, etc.), but you could easily spend four years at Yale just exploring all of the incredible dining options practically at your doorstep. I certainly did.

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

David: Yale’s undergraduate population hovers around 5500, with 1300-1400 students per class. I was very happy with the size of the student body, as I felt I could bump into friends and acquaintances on a regular basis but still go out and meet new people whenever I wanted to. In other words, it was the perfect balance of intimacy and anonymity for a sociable introvert like me.

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

David: As trite as it might sound, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint just one memorable experience from my time at Yale – so I’ll instead list a series of serendipitous, life-changing events that you can expect as a Yale student: By October of my freshman year, I was working at a neurobiology lab because my classmate in general chemistry (a high school friend) had a personal connection with the lab director (her mother). By the end of junior year, I had taken two classes with Joan Steitz, whose excellent teaching and pioneering work in biochemistry inspired my own interest in the field. Then, in the final weeks of my senior year, I registered a certain Joseph G. Gall (BS ’48, PhD ‘52) to his 65th Reunion while working as a student clerk with the Association of Yale Alumni. The name sounded familiar to me from my coursework in cellular biology and biochemistry, so I looked him up and realized that he had not only pioneered a technique that I had learned at the Vaccarino lab (in situ hybridization, a widely-used technique that helped establish the field of cellular biology), but had devoted his entire career to helping promising young women (including Joan Steitz) break into the male-dominated field of biology.

In short, Yale is the kind of place where inspiration and personal enlightenment are only a matter of walking around campus or sitting in class to cross paths with generations of scholars and leaders who are eager to share their talents with the world.


Check out David’s tutoring profile.

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