Admissions Memo | A new view(book) of Yale

Zach Marks ’10 missed one of the first sessions of History 343, “History of the Palestine-Israel Question,” last fall. The class was on Thursday, Sept. 6, and Marks had watched the U.S. Open Quarterfinals in New York the day before. After getting back to Yale from the tennis match, he went to get pizza with friends, who told him about their trip to Asia that summer. Marks didn’t get to bed until 4:30 a.m., and so he slept through the early-morning history course.

This tale was probably known to few last year, but thousands of prospective Yalies will read about Marks and his hectic day in the new admissions viewbook released by Yale this month. The viewbook, more predictably, also tells its readers that Yale offers over 2,000 courses in 70 academic programs and departments; that the University has a seven-to-one student-to-faculty ratio; and that 99 percent of freshmen return for sophomore year.

But it is the offbeat, personal nature of the newest iteration of the viewbook that makes it stand apart from its predecessor and from most other admissions materials. Readers learn that Oscar Pocasangre ’11 often wakes up at 6:45 a.m. on Thursdays, while Zuzana Culakova ’11 rises at 9:15 a.m. on Fridays and Brandon Sharp ’11 at 10:45 a.m. on Mondays.

“We wanted to move away from dry, third-party descriptions of Yale’s resources,” Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said, “and put many more students and faculty up front in the book to talk about their experiences here.”

Indeed, while the viewbook is in large part free of the saccharine photography that pervades so many admissions brochures (think smiling teens throwing a Frisbee on a sunny day), students are very much present on its pages.

The students bring levity to the viewbook, which, at 121 pages, is almost unimaginably full of information. From the exact architectural style of each of the residential colleges — Berkeley is “Collegiate Gothic, with a touch of Tudor” — to a detailed tour of Calhoun College, laundry room included, this is a viewbook that tries to “decode Yale,” as Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, a senior critic in graphic design at Yale who headed the viewbook’s design, put it.

“Yale is a school with all sorts of secrets and detail to reveal,” Bierut explained. “Hopefully, the book anticipates people’s interests in the place and provides some fun information.”

It is telling that both Brenzel and Bierut refer to the viewbook as a “book.” While Yale’s old viewbook felt just a bit heavier than a mail-order catalog, the new viewbook is compact and dense, like a small book.

Rich Kaplan, who oversaw the production of the new viewbook for Finlay Printing, said Yale’s viewbook, at just under seven inches wide and 10 inches long, is an irregular size for such a publication.

“It’s a mater of very good photography coming together with very good design and very good paper,” Kaplan said. “But it’s also a thick book with a lot in there.”

One challenge with viewbooks, of course, is making them stand out from others that prospective applicants receive. Yale’s has a distinctive cover — no photo, just a few words on a Yale blue background — as well as a unique size and irregular heft. Bierut said he hopes that these attributes will drive recipients to read the viewbook instead of throwing it away.

After all, where else could one learn that Garry Trudeau ’70 ART ’73 and President George W. Bush ’68 served together on a Davenport College party committee?

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