Yale: Collaborative or Competitive?

Cassandra knocking a friend off

Is Yale *really* collaborative?

Ah yes. The million dollar question. Talk to any Yalie about our campus culture and the word collaborative is certain to come up.

But what does that exactly mean?

To me, it means the opposite of cutthroat competition. It means a strong community that will make sure no one falls–and if someone does, someone else is there to catch them. It means a spirit of openness and kindness.

Okay Cassandra, you might be thinking, but what does that actually look like?


1) I basically never get asked about my grades or GPA.

I’ve never encountered a hyper-competitive nosy student at Yale. No one has ever made me feel less-than because of my grades; I’ve never witnessed anyone acting arrogantly because they scored better than others. Of course, with all places, there are a few know-it-all’s here but the encounters have been few and rare in my experience.

group work

2) I’ve never had a difficult group-work situation in college.

If you know me, I hate group work. Oftentimes in high school it meant me picking up the slack or gnarly opinion gnashing, so for the longest time I preferred working independently. But when I came to Yale I was pleasantly surprised. Whether it was extracurricular planning or leading a two-hour seminar or workshopping plays or working on P-sets, all of my experiences have been drama-free. No one has tried to make themselves look better or ride coattails. In fact, I’ve often found those group experiences more rewarding than if I was working alone (especially when it comes to working on long problem sets)!

As a theater maker, collaboration is key to my art! Read about how I turned a bunch of strangers into a dedicated cast and crew for my set of original plays here. It can be difficult to work through creative ideas to arrive at a compromise (especially for artists! our art is like our babies!) but I’ve found Yalies to be patient, understanding, forgiving, and adaptable. My fellow collaborators are also filled with great ideas, and I value those other perspectives immensely.

group work!
Building sets together!

This took a lot of teamwork.


3) Where there is competition, it’s all in the spirit of joy.

I’m talking about residential colleges. Every Yalie is committed to the idea that their residential college is the best residential college. And yes, we do get competitive at intramural sports to win that Harry Potter esque cup of victory at the end of the year. Real animosity, however, is nowhere to be found. For example, when I say Ezra Stiles is the best residential college, I don’t mean that the other colleges are lacking in any way, but simply the fact that Stiles (GO MOOSE) outshines them all.

moose raiding morse
In a yearly tradition, Stilesians raid our sister college, Morse.

4) Yalies excel at collective empathy.

From an accessible Mental Health & Counseling department that offers walk-in hours, to the luxurious Good Life Center complete with a letter writing station and a meditative sandbox, Yale has done a pretty good job to make us feel cared for and not alone in our struggles. Our first-year counselors (Frocos) do an excellent job at cultivating bonds between first years and passing their knowledge as seniors. Each residential college’s head and dean learn all of their students’ names before they arrive on campus. Professors and faculty members have been nothing but kind to me especially in office hours–offering me cups of coffee and heartfelt advice on both my essays and life.

good life center
Yale’s Good Life Center.

And of course, my biggest source of support are my friends. My friends have memorized my favorite trail mix combo in the dining halls and pilfer this specific combination of nuts, cranberries, and coconut flakes when nobody’s looking. They’ve shown up bright and early on a Sunday morning to help load in heavy props and set pieces into a theater. They’ve checked up on me when I’ve gone suspiciously quiet on social media. My friends and I have washed countless dishes together after various events. We’ve stood outside Woolsey Hall in the bitter cold handing out roses to strangers on Valentine’s Day. We’ve perfected the art of the assembly line, throwing together 1573 care packages consisting of Cheese-Its, fruit snacks, and chocolate for the incoming first years.

cassandra and cheese-its

Collaboration, in its many forms, often isn’t easy. It takes sacrifice and going the extra mile. It takes open ears and a willing spirit. But at the end of the day, as Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens sing unironically in High School Musical, we’re all in this together, and I’ve been blessed to find an abundance of collaboration at Yale.

high school musical