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A Liberal Arts Education

Even before our nation’s founders immortalized their eloquent vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Yale College was instilling similar values in its students. Since our founding in 1701, generations of undergraduates have sought education and enlightenment at Yale in a dedicated pursuit of knowledge and leadership skills.

Yale is committed to the idea of a liberal arts education through which students think and learn across disciplines, literally liberating or freeing the mind to its fullest potential. The essence of such an education is not what you study but the result – gaining the ability to think critically and independently and to write, reason, and communicate clearly – the foundation for all professions.

There is no specific class you have to take at Yale, but you are required to learn broadly and deeply. Depth is covered in your major. Breadth is covered in three study areas (the humanities and arts, the sciences, and the social sciences) and three skill areas (writing, quantitative reasoning, and foreign language). A Yale education instills in students the values, goals, skills, and knowledge they need to pursue inspiring work, to take joy in lifetime learning, and to lead successful and meaningful lives.

Choosing a Major

Yale encourages students to let the decision about choosing a major be shaped by and grow from their academic experiences here.  In most of the humanities and social sciences, there are few prerequisites, which means a variety of courses taken freshman and sophomore year are likely to position students well for advanced study in these disciplines. The natural sciences, engineering, and foreign languages and literatures require more careful planning. During freshman year, students lay the groundwork for these majors by beginning a sequence of courses that must be taken in a specified order throughout their four years of study. More

Distribution Requirements

Unlike liberal arts curriculums that institute core classes to enforce breadth of study, Yale College’s system of distributional requirements means students choose from among hundreds of humanities, social science, and natural science courses throughout their undergraduate years. This approach ensures diverse intellectual pursuits for all Yale College students while encouraging flexibility and freedom to expand on individual interests, explore new curiosities, and take academic risks. More

“Shopping” for Classes

Yale is one of the only universities in the country that lets you try out your classes before you register. The first ten days of each semester are known as “Shopping Period” – a time when you can visit dozens of classes that interest you to decide which ones you want to take. The challenge of course is not finding a class you like, but winnowing your choices down to a reasonable number.

During Shopping Period, students meet with academic advisors to sort through a breathtaking number of academic opportunities. They gather together at “Blue Book parties” to collaboratively tackle Yale’s massive course catalog, a.k.a the Blue Book. They build their class schedules as they shop, sitting in on lectures or seminars to get a feel for the teaching styles, syllabi, class dynamics, and subject matter that best match their intellectual tastes and goals for a given semester.

Practically speaking, shopping for classes gives students time to craft their most fulfilling academic semester. Philosophically, the practice upholds Yale’s commitment to each student – to challenge, expand, and ultimately better understand the life of one’s own mind through undergraduate study.

 

Freshmen Convocation

Each year during orientation weekend, freshmen and their parents file into Woolsey Hall to hear the President of the University and Dean of Yale College, as well as other noted faculty, welcome the new class of Yalies.

Photograph by Michael Marsland/Yale University