Undergrads seek preprofessional training

Dissatisfied with Yale’s aversion to preprofessional education, some students have turned to the School of Management to supplement their studies.

School of Management Dean Sharon Oster said classes at her school can provide a different kind of education for juniors and seniors, who are allowed to enroll in many of the school’s elective classes. While few students make use of this opportunity, a majority of those interviewed who take professional school classes said they are seeking career-specific skills not offered at the college. Dean of Yale College Mary Miller said in an e-mail that the commitment to a liberal arts education “lies at the heart of Yale College.”

Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said that Yale students are fortunate to have access to the professional schools, which can give undergraduates opportunities they would not have at a small liberal arts college

“At the same time, we limit the number of professional school courses that a student can apply towards degree requirements because we think first and foremost undergraduate education should not be narrowly pre-professional,” Gordon said in an e-mail to the News. “So it’s a matter of balance.”

Gordon added that, as the Yale College Handbook states, the college seeks to cultivate a broadly informed and disciplined intellect without specifying in advance how that intellect will be used. The handbook stresses that Yale students should learn first and foremost how to think and analyze — skills that will serve them in any field.

Although the professional schools give undergraduates a chance to test out their professional aspirations, professors said they are glad that Yale does not have majors in business, law and journalism, as some American colleges and universities do.

School of Management professor Barry Nalebuff said he is glad that Yale is not preprofessional. The goal of the college should be to teach students how to think, write and research, he said.

“I’m very proud of the fact that there is no undergraduate business major,” he said. “I think in some unusual and exceptional cases, there will be an undergraduate who has the right background [and] inclinations for whom taking [SOM courses] would make sense, but it’s not for the general public.”

But Oster said that some undergraduates who are attracted to SOM courses may want to use the classes as a “preview” of business school. She added that undergraduates are often a positive addition to her school’s classrooms.

Five of six students interviewed said they take courses at the professional schools to learn basic skills that are often not taught in undergraduate courses.

Jake McCrary ’12 said he was driven to take classes at the SOM because he wanted to find out if he was interested in a career in commercial real estate, but could not find any relevant courses in the college’s economics major. He added that since Yale does not offer industry-specific majors, he feels many students are at a disadvantage when trying to qualify for a job.

“This [class at SOM] is the best class I have taken at Yale that has directly helped me prepare for a job in the real world,” he said. “[F]rom talking with several different corporations I have found that these companies are more interested in recruiting individuals who are already educated in that field as opposed to someone who just has a broad liberal arts education.”

Undergraduates can also learn from the students at SOM, who have a level of real-world experience that most undergraduates do not, Max Uhlenhuth ’12 said.

Rohan Agarwal ’12 said that while he supports Yale’s emphasis on a non-preprofessional vision, he has taken courses at the School of Management to strengthen the academic foundation he is receiving at the college.

“The best example that I can recollect is the course on capital markets, where the professor was one of the people [Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Ben] Bernanke consulted during the peak of the subprime crisis,” he said. “While the economics courses I have taken at the undergraduate level helped me develop a basic foundation on the general workings of the macroeconomy, ‘Capital Markets’ forced me to question what academic theories worked in the real world … and helped me develop a unique economist’s perspective which I don’t think can be developed in isolation.”

Though students can simply show up to some SOM courses, other professional schools — like Yale Law School — leave undergraduate admission up to the discretion of faculty members.

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