STERN: For another prefrosh weekend

A Stern Perspective

Last weekend, Yale had more visitors than usual. Slightly confused-looking kids wandered around in herds, mostly staying close to Science Hill but occasionally straying into the heart of campus. They were here for Yale Engineering and Science Weekend (YES-W).

The goal of YES-W is to impress prospective students by playing up Yale’s resources in science and engineering. YES-W epitomizes Yale’s efforts to recruit top science and engineering students. Prefrosh sat in on science classes, were shown science facilities and attended a science-themed extracurricular bazaar.

According to Deputy Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, the admissions office will evaluate YES-W in May to determine any changes that need to be made to the relatively new program. I don’t know how Yale should change YES-W, but I have a suggestion: Add another prefrosh weekend. Only this time, make it for students who would otherwise attend small liberal arts schools.

It seems that YES-W is Yale’s effort to out-MIT MIT. This science-heavy recruiting effort has become too myopic. Instead, Yale should recruit students who would otherwise go to a school like Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore or Amherst.

Yale is never going to out-MIT MIT. But we might out-Williams Williams. Our science resources may be top-notch, and our engineering classes may have low student-faculty ratios, but students who truly want to study nothing but the sciences are going to go to MIT or Caltech. Those schools are engineered for that type of student. Yale simply focuses too much on ensuring that each student has a well-rounded liberal arts education and enjoys his undergraduate experience.

Yes, you may say, we may never get the intensely focused science kids, but aren’t we already getting liberal arts kids? Isn’t Yale already known for our humanities and social sciences? Yes, but that isn’t the point. Yale may get many liberal arts kids, but it is losing out on a whole type of student: those who want the small school feeling.

I have several friends who only applied to these small schools. They didn’t want the big-school ambiance, they said, but a small-school environment, where the emphasis is on small classes and the overall undergraduate experience.

Yale has that! At least, much more than it has science facilities to rival those of MIT or Caltech. (That is not to diminish Yale’s science facilities, but MIT and Caltech just have the best of these facilities in the world — because that’s all they have.) Yale may not be a small school in size, but it is in atmosphere.

We have the residential college system, which is unique and an excellent substitute for a small-school feel. Students truly get to know other members of their college as well as their master and dean. Only at Yale can students have the small-school experience within the context of a larger research university.

Yale also has the small-school benefits of small classes, numerous caring advisors and a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. But many colleges can claim to have these. Yale’s inimitable qualification is its atmosphere. That is why we must have a weekend specifically geared to win over small-school kids, just as YES-W attempts to win over science kids. This weekend will show small-school kids that Yale’s atmosphere — that ineffable aura — is exactly what they think they would get only at a small school. The sense of happiness, friendliness and the focus on the undergraduate experience is as present at Yale as it is at any other school across the nation.

This is what we should be telling prefrosh. We can let them feel for themselves Yale’s undergraduate-centric atmosphere. At the very least, we should target these kids far more than we do now.

I was almost wooed by the allures of the small-school experience. I very strongly considered attending St. John’s, a tiny liberal arts school in Maryland that emphasizes reading the Western canon. It was only through visiting Yale that I fell in love with the place. We should make sure that happens more often.


  • eli2015

    Let me get this straight: you think Yale *doesn’t* have enough non-STEM applicants already?

  • basho

    I think you’re missing the point, chief

  • River_Tam

    Yale’s also missing out on all those kids who want nice weather. We should move the campus to Cali.

    • aluminterviewer

      Those kids can go to Yale/Singapore

  • wtf

    Wait, what about kids who want to study music and drama? Won’t they pick Juilliard over Yale?!?1!!

  • River_Tam

    Another day, another terrible op-ed from Scott Stern.

    • btcl

      always and forever, he’ll never change

  • btcl
  • PioneerLS15

    As a student here who went to Wesleyan for undergrad, I’ve gotta say Mr. Stern is absolutely right! I didn’t apply to Yale cause it seemed too big to me, but had I known more about it I might’ve. Good point!

    Also, I’ve never read anything else he’s written, but I gotta say it seems pretty uncalled-for to call this terrible. Maybe come up with an actual argument, rather than just insulting him…

    • River_Tam

      It’s really impossible to provide an argument against an op-ed that doesn’t have a coherent or even semirational basis.

      This is Mr. Stern’s op-ed: “We should give up on science people because they’re probably nerds who prefer MIT”.

      Never mind that Yale (last I checked) already wins the cross-admit battle with schools like MIT and Caltech. Never mind that Yale already so thoroughly crushes schools like Williams and Wesleyan in the cross-admit battle that it’s not worth it to add a prefrosh weekend for those kids.

      No, Mr. Stern doesn’t really give me much to go on; I can’t really dispute his conclusions when his logic goes something like “durr durr science kids all want MIT durr durr”.

      • PioneerLS15

        I might’ve missed it, but I don’t think the crux of his argument is to give up on science kids. It’s to ALSO target kids who will ONLY apply to small schools, as I did. He’s saying that Yale is as undergraduate-centered as anywhere else, and we should tell people that.

        His logic definitely isn’t “durr durr science kids all want MIT durr durr.” Yours seems to be very straw-man. “He’s saying science isn’t ALLl we should focus on! He’s a witch! Let’s insult him! Wesleyan isn’t as good as Yale.”

        Wesleyan is as good as Yale; it just gets a different type of person. But this person might want Yale if they knew more about it.

        • anon12

          Nope. I think you missed his argument pretty much entirely. To quote directly:

          “It seems that YES-W is Yale’s effort to out-MIT MIT. This science-heavy recruiting effort has become too myopic. INSTEAD, Yale should recruit students who would otherwise go to a school like Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore or Amherst.”

          Its not like Yale has a problem attracting qualified and extremely talented non-STEM majors. Even without focusing on the Williams/Amherst/etc. crowd. And, if Mr. Stern ever spoke to a STEM major at Yale he would realize that almost none of them chose Yale because they honestly believe it has more resources in STEM than MIT of Caltech. They choose Yale for the other things it has to offer – diversity of experience, residential colleges, great liberal arts classes, etc. The point of YES weekend is to show kids that, yes we’re still Yale. We’re not MIT. But you can succeed and thrive in science here.

          • PioneerLS15

            Right, but that’s not the crux of the argument. The crux of the argument is “we should target these [small-school] kids far more than we do now.” That does not have to be at the expense of anyone…jeez

          • GeoJoe

            As a undergraduate science major, I honestly believe that I have more resources here than I would as an undergraduate at MIT or Caltech. Because there are so few of us, we have unparalleled access to professors and opportunities to conduct research. At a school like MIT or Caltech, I would be competing with all of my classmates for fellowships, labs, etc.

            And, yes, this column totally misses the point. Yale needs more high quality STEM majors because STEM fields are really, really important. We have enough of the humanities crowd (love ya, humanities friends).

        • River_Tam

          > I might’ve missed it, but I don’t think the crux of his argument is to give up on science kids. It’s to ALSO target kids who will ONLY apply to small schools, as I did.

          Ignoring the fact that Stern’s words definitely indicated “giving up on science kids”, we have to accept that admissions are a zero-sum game. Targeting “kids who want a small school experience” will inevitably be done at the expense of other groups, including “STEM kids”.

          • PioneerLS15

            That’s a fallacy if I ever heard one. Yale is about to expand (two new residential colleges), so nobody needs to be recruited at the expense of another.

            And based on your argument, you seem to think that “science kids” are more important than “small-school kids,” because you whine so about small-school kids being recruited at the expense of “STEM kids.” Well, I would rather have small-school kids. And please don’t go back to the party line that we already have them…we don’t. Yale didn’t have me! Or a huge number of people who only wanted (or thought they only wanted) a small school!

          • River_Tam

            > Yale is about to expand (two new residential colleges), so nobody needs to be recruited at the expense of another.

            A STEM kid would understand the concept of proportions. If we try to increase the proportion of Yalies who major in STEM, this will necessarily be done at the expense of increasing the proportion of some other group of Yalies. And vice versa.

            > Yale didn’t have me!

            It’s a good thing too, since you seem rather dense.

          • grumpyalum

            Yale actually isn’t a small school. I’m okay with that. The residential colleges being a small school thing is ridiculous, because one of the advantages of small schools is that the smallness extends to all parts of the university.

  • Sam

    1.How exactly do you intend to identify those students?
    2. What do “small school” students add to campus that isn’t here already?
    3. Is our “small school student” program considered extremely weak compared to other top universities?

    The proposal you’re making is impractical and irrelevant to the the challenges that yale actually faces in admissions.

    • PioneerLS15

      Oh for pete’s sake! “What do ‘small school’ students add to campus that isn’t here already?” The arrogance of many Yale-students is one of the things that initially turned me off from applying to Yale.

      Small schools have an entirely different culture, with an entirely different type of student. If you don’t believe me, drive a few hours away to Wesleyan. Yale needs them as much as it need STEM students. Get out of your ivory (or rather, ivy) tower!

      • grumpyalum

        What the hell does that mean? Like, seriously? Yale doesn’t have students that don’t like the cold weather – does that mean we have an ivory tower mentality for not creating artificial beaches? This is silly.

      • SY10

        Nobody thinks Yale and Wesleyan have the same culture. But their cultures aren’t different because of the sort of students who enter initially, and lots of people (your personal decision not withstanding) who go to Yale are people who would have happily gone to a school like Wesleyan and probably even applied to LACs – I certainly did.

        What Sam wrote isn’t insulting, and you can’t just dismiss his argument by pretending it is. What sort of characteristics do you think people who choose to go to Wesleyan have (note: not those that are already there, because the schools each mold their students in different ways) that lots of Yale students don’t already have?

      • Sam

        My closest friends from high school went to mixture of small schools (Carleton, Bowdoin, Swarthmore) and large schools (Stanford, Harvard, etc). Many of the friends in the first group would have done well at Yale and contributed a lot to campus if they had come here. However, I didn’t see any kind of systematic difference between the two group as a senior in high school, and I’m not convinced that the members of the small school group would have added meaningful diversity to campus. After four years of college in different places, there probably are some differences, but as SY10 said, I think those are more a function of the schools we ended up at rather than who we were when we were applying.

      • basho

        I doubt you’re actually from Wesleyan. You would know it’s only 20-30 minutes away.

      • River_Tam_Biggest_Fan

        Actually it can take much more than an hour on 68

      • River_Tam_Biggest_Fan

        Sorry, I-91. Gettin my commutes confused…

      • MC09

        Where do these cross-admit numbers come from? People talk about them a lot on this site but my guess is they are 100% apocryphal.

  • yalengineer

    Small school feel? Maybe I should have applied to Caltech!

  • Dedwards

    Why does the picture say “By Peter Tian?” Who is Peter Tian, did he draw the picture?

    • elijah


  • pkl20

    First off, I don’t think Stern is saying that we should get rid of YES-W, but that maybe it is more important to focus on targeting a different population of prospective students, because we’re not MIT and it’s too hard for us to try to be like them.

    However, I don’t entirely agree with his opinion. We’re not trying to be MIT. If we’re talking about promoting a truly balanced undergraduate experience, then it’s obvious that our science population is a definite minority compared to most of the top universities. The reason we are reaching out with YES-W is because we recognize that our reputation with prospective science students isn’t phenomenal, and one way to fix that is to fix this problem with science majors being underrepresented on our campus. Perhaps more importantly, however, the prestige and reputation of the world’s best universities are increasingly being judged by their scientific accomplishments. The sciences and social sciences are also where a lot of the non-donated money comes from (labs provide the universities with federal grants and science departments mostly fund themselves, while humanities departments require funding from the university). I’m not saying that we should be like Caltech or MIT and focus solely on the sciences, but in order for Yale to continue to match up against other top universities at a competitive level, we must expand our science programs to supplement our already strong Law, Medical, and Business schools. Is it sad that our society now values practical benefits above all others? Perhaps, but that’s another issue entirely. For now, that’s how it is, and Yale has to stay competitive in the long run.

    Finally, Yale may not be MIT, but we are not Williams either. This is Yale, a top-notch and well-balanced university with a medium-sized student population. If people want the small college feel, they should go to a small liberal arts college, just as if they want to be surrounded by science majors, they should go to MIT. Ideally, if we had the money and time, we should certainly invest in a more diverse recruitment effort. But as it stands, potential science majors do take priority, as is in the best interest of Yale.

  • pokefanatic

    I totally agree with Stern. In fact, I think it would be prudent for us to add a fourth prefrosh weekend, this time targeting a different group: students who would have otherwise spent the next 4 years collecting pokemon cards.

    I have several friends who decided against applying to Yale; instead, they are collecting pokemon cards in their parents’ basements. While Yale is not a pokemon institution, I think it is important for prefrosh to realize that they can still collect pokemon cards while here. I myself have collected 149, and am only missing Charizard. Of course, there are compromises that have to be made–like limiting yourself to the original pokemon haha–but they’re worth it for the other benefits that Yale has to offer, such as a college degree. If we try hard, we might be able to win over the other collectors.

    I was almost wooed by the prospect of collecting pokemon cards after high school. I very strongly considered spending my time hunting down the legendary pokemon. But as mewto says in Pokemon the Movie, “It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” Go Yale!

    • River_Tam

      > I myself have collected 149, and am only missing Charizard.

      You really want to get to 151 – the ancient Mew is really easy to get.

  • scienceprof

    The idea of the YES weekend is not to show students that we are better than MIT at what MIT does. Rather it is to correct the misperception that students cannot get an undergraduate science education at Yale that rivals that available at MIT, Stanford, Harvard etc. along with the unique residential college life and strong liberal arts opportunities here at Yale. Last year’s YES weekend demonstrably increased the yield of top recruits in science, technolgoy, engineering, and math, so the YES weekend works.

    Regarding students who choose small liberal arts colleges, I suppose it is possible some of them don’t fully appreciate the wonderful residential college experience at Yale and how that replicates aspects of the experience at a small college, or they may not appreciate the awesome resources available at a large research university. However, I think it is equally possible that Yale undergraduates may not fully appreciate that there are wonderful aspects of small liberal arts colleges that are not replicated at Yale, such as the much stronger focus of the faculty on teaching rather than research. I feel that many students enroll at Yale because they are impressed by the prestige of the institution, whereas if they were really fully informed, more of them might rather choose a liberal arts school.