Residential Colleges Defined

Far more than dormitories, Yale’s residential colleges have been called “little paradises,” each with its own distinctive architecture, courtyard, dining hall, and library as well as activity spaces such as a movie theater, recording studio, printing press, dance studio, and gym. With their resident deans and masters, legendary intramural sports teams, Master’s Teas hosting world leaders, and spirit of allegiance and community, Yale’s residential colleges provide an unparalleled undergraduate experience.

Before arriving as a freshman each student is randomly assigned to one of the twelve colleges, giving Yalies a built-in community from the moment they arrive. Most Yale students quickly become convinced that their residential college is the best residential college. Each college is home to a microcosm of our undergraduate student body as a whole, allowing students to have the cohesiveness and intimacy of a small school while still enjoying the vibrancy and resources of a world-class university.

The colleges give students a chance to meet and learn from other students with different interests – people they might not otherwise meet in classes or extracurricular activities. While many students form their closest and most enduring friendships through their college, students can choose to engage in residential college life as much as they like. Each of the colleges has its own history and traditions.

The colleges also bring together faculty and students in a way that is virtually unmatched in American collegiate education. With programs of formal advising, seminars, and academic prizes as well as activities that encourage students’ extracurricular interests, the colleges are a unique bridge between academic and social life.

A Master and Dean oversee each residential college, setting the cultural tone and atmosphere of the college. The Master of each college is responsible for its academic, intellectual, social, athletic, and artistic life. Masters work with students to shape each residential college community, bringing their own distinct social, cultural, and intellectual influences to the colleges. Residential college Deans are a primary academic and personal advisor to students in their residential college. The Dean is a full-time mentor for students as they consider majors, courses, projects and college life.

In addition to fulfilling their role in the residential college, both the Master and Dean are also distinguished professors and tenured faculty, or serve as senior university administrators. Masters and Deans live among students in the colleges, which enables them to get to know students not just in a formal capacity, but also at dinner, in class, at social events and performances, and in the college’s hallways and courtyards.

According to Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, an important part of what makes the residential colleges “home” is that “adults live alongside the students, celebrating their successes and helping them navigate their challenges.”

Now more than 70 years old, Yale’s residential college system is perhaps the most distinctive feature of undergraduate life here.

master and dean n. The Master and Dean are professors who live in the college, eat meals with students in the dining hall, and serve as the college’s leaders. The Master plans college social events like subsidized trips to Broadway shows, and the Dean is the college’s academic adviser.

buttery n. In the basement of each college is a buttery that sells cheap food late at night. It often serves as a gathering place for students in the college to take a break from working.

master’s tea n. Each college Master hosts afternoon teas throughout the year at which students can gather in small groups to interact with a guest speaker. Some recent guests include actor Denzel Washington, journalist Brian Williams, author R.L. Stein, rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg.

study break n. College Masters and Deans make sure students take plenty of breaks from studying, so during finals time they host nightly study breaks in their homes with plenty of food.

dining hall n. Each college has its own dining hall where students eat. In addition, each college has its own library, gym, TV room, music practice room, and other facilities like theaters.

dean’s excuse n. If you get sick at Yale there is no need to stress and run around to each professor begging for extensions on assignments: your Dean will give you extensions for all your work until you feel better.

“say what? saybrook!” The cheer of Saybrook College, the best residential college. (Note: this glossary was written by a Saybrook student.) Each college has a cheer to show its spirit. Most students think their college is the best college.

tyng cup n. Each college competes against all others in over thirty sports, ranging from soccer to ping pong. The college that performs the best gets the coveted Tyng Cup.

Residential Colleges Defined