Yale University: A Student Interview

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Aisha specializes in ACT tutoring, SAT tutoring, and GRE tutoring. She is a 2013 graduate of Yale University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in English. Check out what she had to say about her time at Yale University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options at Yale University.

Aisha: Yale’s campus is a pretty small community with the majority of classes taking place within the radius of the residential colleges. The transportation is pretty thorough, but many students also prefer to travel by bike. The Yale shuttle system provides free transportation to Yale students at predetermined locations around campus. Between walking and taking the shuttle, most students have a pretty easy time getting around. The times that having a car might be helpful are those when you might be taking a large shopping trip (Ikea or groceries) or attending an off-campus event. Luckily, there are regular shuttles out to the athletic fields for games and tailgates and to my knowledge, Yale still provides individual rides for those students riding outside of the route or times of the basic shuttle. For students who wish to be more mobile, Yale’s campus has Zipcar, a ride-sharing program that allows users to rent a car by the hour. Additionally, a decent number of students do own bikes with convenient bike racks located across campus.

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

Aisha: One of my greatest regrets about my time at Yale was that I didn’t make better use of the professors/TAs with whom I had contact. Some of the more tenured professors didn’t particularly like to meet with undergrads, but it is required that all professors teaching an undergraduate class hold office hours weekly. By and large however, I found most professors to be very flexible and willing to meet to discuss class material, assignments, or their general knowledge about the field. TAs were by and large the same, also holding office hours each week. I think that the biggest barrier to availability at Yale was the intimidation factor. I often felt like I wanted to further discuss a concept or idea, but had a hard time approaching professors to articulate those thoughts. Once I broke through that barrier, however, I found that I got a lot of support and engagement from all staff I encountered.

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

Aisha: Yale’s Residential Colleges are meant to be like mini-communities within the larger Yale College family. As freshmen, most students live on Old Campus, a space entirely comprised of freshman dorms. On Old Campus, the opportunities for socialization are plenty as students meet up in rooms and common rooms for movie nights, study nights, parties, and other gatherings. Additionally, all students are assigned a Freshman Counselor (FroCo for short) who is responsible for welcoming a group of students within their college. This FroCo lives in the freshman dorms (in a suite with other FroCos) and is there to help resolve roommate conflicts, assist with lockouts, and generally help freshmen get acclimated to freshman year at Yale. FroCos also hold various social events meant to bond their cohort and sometimes the entire freshman class within that college. Once a sophomore, students move into their residential colleges where they will spend the rest of their tenure at Yale (assuming that they don’t move off campus). In each college, students may find a dining hall, a library, multiple common rooms, and student rooms. A lot of organizations meet in these spaces and students share opportunities to congregate with others. Most colleges hold study breaks where off-campus food is brought in and shared for free as students come down to chat and take a break. Additionally, residential colleges hold many dances and other events that allow students the opportunity for dorm-related engagement.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported at Yale University?

Aisha: If I had to name the most common programs at Yale, I would say that the economics and political science programs are some of the largest. Additionally, I would say that the sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) are pretty well represented, with a large number of students choosing those majors as well. I chose to study English at Yale and took a lot of classes in Religious Studies. I actually arrived at Yale ready to take the pre-med track and began with taking sciences. After a few terms, however, I started to realize that my high school education hadn’t prepared me for the vigor of the program. I believe that I could have completed it, but it would have taken 100% of my energy and focus. While figuring this out, I took some great English courses that really invigorated me and I loved the types of conversations we were having about literature. I ultimately decided to declare that as my major, as it was truly where my passion was, and I haven’t looked back since. There are a pretty large number of English majors at Yale so I would definitely say we were pretty well supported. I got a lot of one-on-one support from my chosen advisor for my senior thesis and the department was great about answering questions and clearly communicating 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?

Aisha: Yale’s Residential College system is a great way for freshmen to make friends. In addition to those in the suite you’re assigned to, there are plenty of activities planned within the college aimed at bonding freshmen together. Additionally, if a student joins any clubs (there are activity fairs at Bulldog days and recruiting early first semester), they will absolutely make friends from various colleges of various ages. I will say that the ease with which one makes friends freshman year really depends on the person. Outgoing people who are willing to try anything and are always interested in going out will likely make friends more quickly. But those who are more reserved will also find others with common interests, the length of time it takes being determined by how “out there” you put yourself. I would say that Greek life plays a sizeable role in Yale’s social scene, but it is by no means the monopoly of social interaction on campus. I personally was part of Greek life at Yale, and it definitely helped me to make female friends a lot quicker. I definitely had historically struggled with bonding with other girls, so the recruitment process and the subsequent years in my sorority definitely defined a lot of my experience. There is a pretty solid contingent of students participating in Greek life, with many sports teams aligned to certain fraternities. What I’ve heard from my friends who didn’t participate in Greek life is that they almost never noticed it. While it was the center of my social life, my suitemate who seldom attended Greek events had a really robust social life based on activities, independent friendships, and other organizations she had joined. I would say that Greek life definitely has a presence and will introduce you to a lot of the campus’s athletes and movers and shakers, but what you get from it really depends on who you are as an individual.

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

Aisha: Many very large companies, primarily finance and consulting companies, recruited on Yale’s campus pretty frequently. For those seeking internships as undergraduates and hoping to secure employment before graduation, this process is pretty effective and provides structure for an otherwise chaotic time in the lives of undergraduates. As far as our Career Center goes, I felt it was a mixed bag. Someone from the Career Center came out to talk to my sorority about resumes, which was really helpful, but I often found some of their information sessions and resources to be a bit superficial (wasn’t telling me the real nitty-gritty of what I needed to know to succeed in any given industry). When I graduated, I was pursuing a career in public relations and unfortunately didn’t find the career resources at Yale very helpful. I will say that the alumni database proved to be helpful as it enabled me to make connections with former Yalies already working in the field. It took a lot of independent research and networking, but I was able to secure some internships and finally a job post-graduation. Unfortunately, there were many things that I didn’t know about PR at the time and I found Yale’s lack of Communications program to be a large barrier to understanding the reality of what I was entering into. I think that was where Yale could have done better to improve career prospects for humanities majors. Better resources to help students discover new careers and understand the reality of their careers of interest would definitely be a helpful improvement.

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

Aisha: There were two main libraries at Yale, Sterling Memorial (known as the stacks) and Bass Library. Bass was by far the more crowded of the two, as it had several group and individual study rooms. They also had a café that enabled students to stay longer and get some real work done. The stacks were definitely quieter, with sixteen floors of bookshelves and various cozy nooks and crannies on each floor. As for the dorm lounges, I would say that varied by residential college, but they all had several common rooms (some had movie-screening rooms, others a dance studio, etc.) in addition to the common spaces within each suite.

Describe the surrounding town at Yale University.

Aisha: New Haven is definitely an interesting little metropolis outside of Yale’s campus. Many stores are located centrally on campus (bookstore, restaurants, shopping, etc.), and within driving distance there are various bigger stores like Walmart and Ikea. As far as the social scene of the town goes, there are various haunts that students frequent, the most popular being Toad’s Place and Box 63. There are several clubs that Yalies attend (primarily for private Yale events) and far more bars and restaurants to meet depending on the night of the week. Students seldom ever leave the walkable campus for a social life, as it’s pretty robust and insular amongst Yalies.

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

Aisha: Yale has a total of about 5,500 students, and I believe that you often feel the smallness of that number. Once you find a niche within Yale, you get to know pretty much everyone within your peripheral circle of social interaction, including those people you know from your academic department, extracurriculars, and athletics. The class sizes really vary by subject and popularity. Chemistry lectures had close to 100 people and so did some of the bigger, more popular humanities classes, but the size barrier was remedied with discussion section, which broke the class up into smaller groups. Overall, I found class sizes to be pretty reasonable. The popularity of the class often mandates size restrictions, so my advice would be to apply early for anything highly rated!

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

Aisha: One of my favorite classes at Yale was Milton, taught by Professor John Rogers. He is a captivating speaker, an excellent Milton scholar, and an engaging and approachable professor. I think my most memorable experience was the time we spent reading and dissecting Paradise Lost. My high school education didn’t include too many of the classics pre-1800s, so I was blown away by the level of analysis, reflection, and discussion surrounding one work of literature. I found myself voracious for learning, reading 100% of the assignments each week, taking extensive notes with highlighted questions, and always having something to ask or say in discussion. It was truly one of my favorite experiences at Yale because it was the class that made English “click” for me as a major. I finally felt at home.

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