One Yale, a dozen ways

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With the arrival of Bulldog Days, students have begun bombarding future members of the class of 2014 with reasons why their residential colleges are the best, offering everything from courtyard comparisons to hypothetical mascot face-offs — think Davenport Gnomes versus Berkeley Thundercocks.

But admitted students who are anxious for their residential college assignments, which will not come until this summer, can rest a little easier: Based on the results of a Yale Daily News poll sent last week to 5,183 undergraduates, of which 1,613 students responded, Yalies vary in their appraisal of the residential colleges, but overall satisfaction with their residential colleges had little relationship to their satisfaction with the Yale experience overall. In other words, a randomly chosen residential college will likely not determine the quality of your bright college years.

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Still, some colleges fared better than others. Respondents from Davenport, Silliman and Berkeley colleges were the most satisfied with their residential colleges overall. When students asked which college they would transfer into if forced to choose one, Davenport and Silliman received the highest number of votes, with Jonathan Edwards College close behind. Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges scored lowest in both categories.

Since the founding of the residential colleges in 1930s, Yalies have developed a tradition of asserting their own colleges’ preeminence, but Jonathan Holloway, master of Calhoun and chair of the Council of Masters, said this sense of competition improves the entire Yale experience.

“I understand the almost insatiable desire to compare residential colleges,” Holloway said in an e-mail. “The perceived differences between the colleges is the grist in the mill that helps make the system so vibrant.”

The survey results revealed that residential colleges’ overall ratings had no bearing on satisfaction with the Yale experience, and students and faculty interviewed — even those from Davenport — agreed.

Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld noted that all students, regardless of residential college, have access to virtually everything Yale offers.

“While the colleges are a big part of our lives, there is so much to do outside of the colleges as well,” added Davenport student Peter Jasinski ’12. “The even satisfaction levels arise from the fact that the residential college system has a foundation in a strong Yale University.”

Alison Lu ’11 of Trumbull College attributed the consistency of student satisfaction with Yale overall to students’ tendencies to branch out when finding friends.

“The friends that you make will be from all different colleges, and so your particular college won’t matter as much,” she said.

Nathan Novemsky, a School of Management professor who has studied what information people use to judge their enjoyment of experiences, said students may use certain criteria, such as rooms and food, to rate residential colleges and other criteria to judge the Yale experience, such as academics. He added that students’ opinions may change with the passage of time.

“As alumni, when people think back to their Yale experience, they may remember the [Yale] College experience as much more than academics, and may at that point show a high correlation between satisfaction with their [residential] college experience and satisfaction with Yale overall,” he said in an e-mail.

But while respondents were consistently satisfied with Yale, they did reveal differences in their evaluation of their own residential colleges. Schottenfeld credited his college’s high performance in the survey to the zeal of his students.

“We have an extraordinarily enthusiastic group of students and student leaders who feel empowered to make the most of this place,” he said.

Two Davenport students interviewed touted the survey results as evidence of superiority.

“Now I have hard evidence that we are the best,” Jasinski said.

Members of Morse and Stiles were quicker to dismiss the survey’s findings.

Morse Master Frank Keil said that because his students are currently living in Swing Space while the college undergoes renovation, they may have rated their experience lower than they would in another year. He said the results do not correspond with the passion and enthusiasm he sees in Morse students every day.

After hearing of his college’s low performance, Austin Shiner ’11 of Ezra Stiles said he did not trust the results.

“This I cannot believe — Stiles students are the greatest, thus your tabulations are faulty,” he said.

Greta Stetson contributed reporting.

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