Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Yale College: An Introduction

The College

As of 2022, there are about 6,494 undergraduates in Yale College, about the same population as Phoenix, Arizona in 1900. Does that put things in perspective? There are also about 8,031 students in the graduate school and the thirteen professional schools combined.

Each of these bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergrads belongs to one of fourteen residential colleges, to which they’re randomly assigned upon admission. The colleges form an integral part of the social and academic life of Yale undergrads: students generally live in their colleges for at least three of their four years at Yale, and even those who choose to move off campus remain closely affiliated.

Each residential college has a head of college, who is responsible for establishing the social atmosphere of the college, as well as a dean, who advises and oversees the academic curriculum of each student. You will likely have some contact with one or two of the residential college deans, since they have the authority to grant Dean’s Extension for late work and must be contacted if a student is in danger of failing your course. Want to hear more? Read on! 

The Residential College Deans

The relationship among residential college deans, students, TFs, and instructors is often misunderstood. The deans live in the colleges, and it’s their responsibility to look after their students’ academic and personal wellbeing. As a result, they can be an invaluable asset to you and your students.

For instance, if a student appears to be having serious academic or personal difficulties, you may contact the dean, who will likely know more about the student and be in a better position to provide tutors, counselors, and other services. The deans are a resource underutilized by TFs, a sad fact given how much they know about the students in our classes.

Requirements for the B.A. or B.S. Degree

Yale undergrads must fulfill three different sets of requirements in order to graduate.

  1. They must earn a total of at least 36 term course credits. (Keep in mind that most colleges require only 32 credits.) This means that your students will be taking five courses in at least half of their semesters here, rather than the norm of four.
  2. They must fulfill the distributional requirements. Courses at Yale are classified into three groups: humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Students are required to take a number of classes outside their majors, spread across each of these groups. In addition, they must fulfill a quantitative reasoning requirement (QR), a writing requirement (WR), and a foreign language requirement, either by taking courses or passing a proficiency exam.
  3. Students must fulfill the requirements of a major. The official selection does not take place until the beginning of junior year (sophomore year for science majors). Thus, it’s perfectly normal for first-years and sophomores to be undecided—at least when it comes to their major.

Want to know more? Get all the gritty details at the Yale College Academic Requirements web page.

Why Does It Matter?

It’s important for you to keep these requirements in mind when you consider the mix of students in your class or section—students are probably taking your course for a number of different reasons. This is especially true for introductory level courses, in which you will likely have students taking the course out of academic curiosity, to fulfill a distributional requirement, or as a requirement for the major.

Don’t be surprised to find that students will balance the workload in your course in accordance with their individual priorities, which go beyond academic interests to include social, athletic, and community organizations. You’re teaching only one course, so it’s all-important to you; students, however, are juggling a lot, so don’t take it personally if the course you’re teaching isn’t the center of their universe.

Undergraduate distribution requirements (QR, WR and foreign language) have unique consequences for teachers and their sections. Students can meet the undergraduate writing requirement by signing up for WR-designated sections and courses, which are scattered throughout the curriculum. As a teacher or TF, you may request to teach one of these sections, which requires more time reading and responding to students’ papers. TFs in WR sections receive special training from writing specialists in the CTL.

The QR designation is assigned by the course, not by section. All QR courses emphasize the use of rigorous quantitative methods for understanding and solving problems. Each year, the CTL offers special training in teaching quantitative skills through Advanced Teaching Workshops.

Language skills for undergraduates are classified from L1 (elementary, or the 110 level) to L5 (advanced, or the 150-199 level) (see Chapter 3). Through the Yale Course Search Website, you can find a list of Yale courses, their “L” classification, and the requirements they fulfill.

Getting the (Blue) Books Thrown at You

First of all, which “blue book”?

Answer #1. Each year, our fair institution produces a tome titled Yale College Programs of Study: an apt label, but a tad unwieldy. Hence, its more common name: the Blue Book. To save paper (and the environment), it has mostly migrated online (although undergraduates and teachers may still request hard copies). Why “the Blue Book?” Because its cover is blue. Or rather, it was blue. Nowadays its glossy cover is usually adorned with a lovely photograph of an instantly recognizable piece of Yale architecture, but in a stunning example of catachresis, it has retained its colorful sobriquet.

Listed therein you will find all the classes taught in Yale College during that academic year, including the one you’ll teach. The Blue Book also contains valuable information such as a list of important dates and deadlines, exam times, and academic rules and regulations. It used to be that TFs were forced to plow through the Blue Book themselves, adding to the massive reading that they had to complete before they could start to work on their dissertations.

Answer #2. The online “Blue Book,” or Yale College Programs of Study (YCPS) is organized a bit differently than its hard-copy ancestor. The home page allows you to click on the Undergraduate Curriculum, Academic Regulations, Majors in Yale College, Subjects of Instruction, and General Information. Subjects of Instruction takes you to an alphabetical listing of all the programs and departments in Yale College and, from there, to an overview of departmental requirements and course listings. It’s a good idea to find your course and check out exactly what’s listed (description, professor, day and time, format, and distribution requirement). You’ll notice that no classroom locations are listed there (or on the hard-copy Blue Book). Read on!

Answer #3: YaleBlueBook and Yale Course Search. The first of these nifty little tools was developed by Yale undergrads to meet their needs and quickly proved so popular that it was bought out by Yale itself. It’s basically a search engine that allows you to find and compare courses using a host of different criteria. It also has convenient links course syllabi, to the Yale College Program of Studies and to the Yale Course Search page. Yale Course Search, a product of the Registrar’s Office, contains much of the same information as YBB, with the addition of links to online course evaluations, Canvas pages, academic calendars, and other information. Still wondering where on campus your section will be held? You’ve found the Holy Grail! Both YBB and Yale Course Search list classroom locations.

If you spot an error in your section listing on YCPS, YBB or Yale Course Search, notify your departmental registrar, who can make any changes directly online.