The guts and the glory: a class-shopping list of champions

Yale College offers 2,000 courses in more than 40 majors — and for your first semester at Yale, you only get to pick four. That’s right; most freshmen take fewer than a handful of classes their first time around, which means incoming students must turn hundreds of Blue Book pages into a short list of courses to be shopped during the first week of school and narrowed further into the perfect schedule. There are seminars with 10 students and lectures with 500. There are classes up Science Hill, down in residential college basements, and some scheduled by the occasionally erring registrar — as the joke goes — to meet in closets around campus.

This ain’t your high school course load — you won’t be going to “English,” you’ll be going to “Freud as Literature”; and instead of “Math,” there’s “Vector Analysis” or “Multivariable Calculus.” But before you can adapt your vernacular to college-speak, you’ll need the insider’s guide to classes: what to take, what to avoid, and since this isn’t Harvard where 90 percent of students graduate with honors, what to do to boost your Bright College G.P.A.

And so we give you “Guts and Glory,” the guide to the best and easiest of academics at Yale.


The Yale faculty is by and large not a group aching to make your life easy. And as a result, you’d need X-ray vision or a vibrant imagination to find courses listed in the Blue Book advertising “a light reading list,” “generous grading policies,” and “multiple-choice exams.” The easier (never easy) courses are there to be found, but they’re not necessarily hidden behind a deceptively innocuous “intro” label, which frequently launches you deeper into a subject than you’d ever hoped. The most popular guts have found their way into the Yalexicon as epithets.

Themes in Modern Physics, for example, is known to most as “Physics for Poets.” Listening to Music, a traditional favorite for science majors struggling with the Group II requirement, goes by “Clapping for Credit.” The Digital Information Age, referred to simply as “EE 101,” promises coursework that includes “developing a Web page and probing the Internet.” Here you’ll learn the mechanics behind all that pesky technology that’s left you baffled in your pre-college years: How does my cell phone work?, you’ve asked. What about my illegal in-suite microwave?

If “Intro to Appliances” is what you’re after, throw some of that $35,000 in tuition towards EE 101. But beware — knowing the catchy code names isn’t enough, unfortunately. There are few professors eager for reputations as pushovers, so some courses that were once guts are no longer. And this is (in case you didn’t remember) Yale, after all. So every class will have plenty of coursework, its share of midterms and finals, and a host of other Yalies to wreck the curve. EE 101 requires you to write three midterm exams and design two Web pages over the course of the semester. And it can’t be taken Credit/D/Fail, so this puppy counts. (Don’t know what the Credit/D/Fail option is? See Yalexicon).

Most guts are courses listed as “for nonmajors,” though there is the occasional upper-level class that’s light on the requirements or easy on the evaluations. Computers and the Law is taught twice a year by Robert Dunne, a professor whose lectures usually thrill students, from those headed for law school to those looking for a way out of their Group III requirements. Guts are often populated by students in the latter group, looking to fulfill their distributional requirements without deflating their transcripts. (For more about Groups, see page 3).

Finally, for those searching for easy classes with high course numbers (think: Underwater Basketweaving 420 is better on an application to Goldman Sachs than Underwater Basketweaving 113), there are a few cross-registered gimmes calling your name. HSAR 379, New York Mambo: Microcosm of Black Creativity is actually AFAM 112 wearing a high-falutin’ art history seminar outfit. And then there’s the School of Forestry, which always provides a laundry list of crunchy granola classes easy on the grading. A quick poll shows F&ES 220, Local Flora as an overwhelming favorite that will let you smell the flowers on class field trips.

Finally, a newly conceived favorite among the high grade-seeking is Science Fiction, Science Fact, taught by a professor who is said to look like Penn of the magic-making duo Penn and Teller. Students read Isaac Asimov, study the likelihood of his stories, and in the end, produce a piece of their own science fiction.

All this, and it fulfills the dreaded natural science.


We all know you didn’t work so hard to get into Yale just to be able to do the least amount of work and get the highest grades. Right? Well, in any case, Yale is what it is because of the many famous minds on its payroll. You can’t throw a copy of “War and Peace” anywhere on campus without knocking unconscious the greatest living scholar on Shakespeare or someone who discovered the top quark.

The glorious classes and professors, since they are so plentiful, are difficult to itemize. There is Harold Bloom (see baseball card) from the Humanities Department, who’s currently teaching three Yale courses (he teaches at New York University, too), including two on Shakespeare and one that provided the basis for his newest book, “Genius.” “Bloom Brontosaurus” is the venerable dinosaur of literary criticism at Yale. Your English teacher probably mentioned him sometime in high school. Enrollment is by application to his seminars and is invariably limited to upperclassmen with many a previous seminar under their belts. It’s something to pine for, though, and to keep in mind for later years.

Also worth anticipating is John Gaddis’ oversubscribed lecture on the Cold War. Gaddis is arguably the world’s pre-eminent Cold War scholar. Joining him in the star-studded History Department are Jay Winter, who won an Emmy for his World War I television series; Paul Kennedy, who teaches a popular course called Grand Strategy; and Cynthia Russett, famous on campus for her women’s history lectures and American intellectual history class.

But there are plenty opportunities for freshmen to come in contact with some of the best courses and professors Yale has to offer. Any French student who used the French in Action series in high school will find himself or herself startled at some point during the year by a familiar voice coming from a neighboring classroom or across Cross Campus. Trace that voice to the unmistakable hair and blazer of Pierre Capretz, creator of the award-winning immersion series and a Yale professor since 1956.

Other regular favorite classes that are accessible or limited to freshman include Introductory Psychology with Peter Salovey and Robert Sternberg, Directed Studies, and Perspectives on Science (see page 5).

–Yale Daily News