Yes, you read that correctly! You can take graduate-level courses, with current graduate students, as an undergrad at Yale!
How? It depends on the course and the department, but essentially by reaching out directly to the professor, who will decide on a case-by-case basis. And perhaps more importantly, why? Isn’t juggling undergraduate courses rigorous (and at times, stressful) enough?
It can be! And as you craft your schedule each semester, whether you’re taking upper-level courses or not, it’s critical not to risk overburdening yourself. But as a spring semester senior, I:
1. Needed to fulfill my Medieval requirement to complete the English major, and a graduate course I found while searching for classes piqued my interest!
2. Was microdosing the future! I wanted to get a sense of what grad school might be like, and also, if grad school might be a path that Older Logan could be interested in. Think of it as an extended shadowing: 13 weeks of vibe-checking and discerning (or trying to discern) if I see myself in academia.
3. Was making progress on my Yale bucket list! With thousands of courses offered, you simply have to accept that are experiences you will miss out on. And sometimes this is a comfort, knowing that because of time constraints, and without a time turner, everyone is parsing their way through some form of FOMO. I wanted to try out at least one grad class before I left. And this class was co-taught by two professors who I’d heard nothing but warm, enthusiastic, good-humored, and introspective reflections about — but up until now, I hadn’t had the chance to study with either of them. So with no way to enter my Hermione era, but with the opportunity to study with two professors simultaneously who I’d previously thought I wouldn’t be able to meet at all, I was all in.
4. Had friends eyeing the same grad class, too. Now, you shouldn’t base (all) your critical academic decisions based on what your peers are deciding between. But knowing that there would be other undergrads in the room who I could discuss the readings with, make solidarity eye contact with when we were deeply confused, and who would be comforting presences amidst a new academic dynamic was important to me in imagining how I’d approach the class.
So after a short email to the professors, I was enrolled in ENGL 526/MDVL 623: History and Theory of the Lyric, Medieval and Modern. Cross-listed between English and Medieval Studies, the course examines modern poetry and medieval poetry alongside each other within one class meeting, as well as individually in alternating weeks — comparing one to the other throughout the course!
My last three braincells when the grad students in the course use the words “reify,” “dialectic,” “iterative,” “poeticity,” “aestheticize,” and “phenomenology” in a single comment.
And it lives up to its name! I’ve found (and read) Claudia Rankine, Jericho Brown, Terrance Hayes, and Louise Glück on the same syllabus as Cædmon, medieval lyrics, troubadours, and friars. In many classes, works that are centuries apart are placed and studied side by side — and we trace a kind of through-line through time, putting one author’s work in conversation with another’s. In one essay, I connected a medieval lyric about the word “erthe” to the bedroom doors in “Monsters, Inc.” and M.C. Escher’s “Relativity” — a class about medieval poetry may not seem particularly riveting at first, but at the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, it can be fun!
I’ve felt relatively prepared for it as an undergrad, too. There are classes in which I’m learning and delving into so many nuances and facets of a single poem that my head feels like it’s tingling: I’m utterly Galaxy Brain, ascending, astral projecting, unlocking a new dimension of consciousness, activating unutilized codes within my DNA, and am precisely two minutes away from solving every major existential quandary at once. There are also classes where the tingling is more like a fuzziness: I feel as if I’m sustaining instant psychic damage because the latticework and complexity of the analysis is beyond me. I haven’t read widely enough yet to parse some discussions. And that’s not a bad thing, nor a fault of the course or the professors — it just means I’m lacking context, and that grad school is just one place where I could read about and pick up that context.
I’m still trying to decide whether or not grad school is (or will be) for me — though if it does end up being part of the path I choose, I think it’ll need to have some creative component. Beyond what I’ve learned about poetry, the course has reminded me that sometimes, all you need to do is ask if you can participate in something a bit beyond the pale of what you think you’re prepared for!