Hacking Your Residential College: Tips for Success

three people stand in the courtyard in front of an illuminated Harkness Tower

One of Yale’s defining features, and one of my favorite features, is the residential colleges: a housing system for students similar to the one we all know and love in Harry Potter. The key difference between Yale’s system and Hogwarts’s, however, is that we aren’t sorted by skills like bravery, intelligence, or kindness; instead, every residential college at Yale is a microcosm of Yale as a whole (it’s an inside joke on campus how many times you will hear this line). 

Yale couples its residential college system with an insane (but very navigable) amount of resources. Listed below is essential knowledge to help you hack your residential college experience.  

collage of the courtyard covered in snow and in the beginning of spring
My friend, Calvin Solomon JE ‘21, captured these awesome photos of the JE courtyard. 

1. Get to know your new home. Your residential college has almost every amenity you could possibly need. There’s a gym, library, laundry, dining hall, movie theatre, courtyard, music rooms, Skype rooms, indoor communal spaces, and the dorms where we live. Each college has a unique feature in addition to the above-listed ones that we all share. For example, JE has a printing press that anyone at Yale can use; Branford has a pottery studio; Murray has a basketball court. 

2. Reach out to your college support staff. You have access to a slew of residential college staff dedicated to helping you master Yale. Every college has a Dean and a Head that act as resources and support as you navigate Yale, alongside residential college math and writing tutors, graduate fellows, and office staff. My Head of College, Head Saltzman, was my first-year and sophomore course advisor, and Dean Ferando has been a constant presence of support to discuss academic, medical, and personal concerns. Talking to these people can really help to ensure you can access the multitude of Yale’s resources. 

two people, Lydia and dining hall worker Tim, pose together for Valentines Day
Tim and I pose for together during the college’s Valentine’s Day dinner. 

3. Get to know the dining hall staff! Before I moved off campus, I worked in the Jonathan Edwards dining hall and have formed meaningful relationships with the workers there (check out this tik tok of us all, pre-pandemic times!). You will probably see these people every day, and they can really enrich your day-to-day experience. Everyone in JE, for example, knows that Theresa mothers us all and that Tim has the best dance moves!

4. Take the time to explore the nooks and crannies of your college basement. I’m from Texas so could not believe my eyes when literally every Yale building has almost as much space below the ground as they do above it. Along those lines, every college is equipped with a basement maze that connects all entryways and indoor spaces. In the colder months, learning how to navigate between spaces is life-saving (or at least cold-avoiding). 

two girls smile together, covered in neon powder
My friend and I after completing the Camp Kesem Color Run. We were sponsored by our college!

5. Have fun! One of my favorite parts about the residential college system is the tight-knit community you form with the other people that live there. You will literally see these people every day, and it’s so nice to just say hello or participate in college activities with them. Yale’s intramural sports are a great way to take a study break at the end of the night (broomball and inner tube water polo are my personal favorites).  Colleges are also always hosting in-house events (like Jonathan Edwards’ Harry Potter Trivia night!). 

The best piece of advice I would give any incoming student new to Yale and the residential college system is to explore and take advantage of all your college has to offer. Everyone will say that their college is the best (objectively, Jonathan Edwards is), but at the end of the day, every college is what you make of the experience. You only College once (okay, maybe that isn’t true, but the sentiment remains)!