STERN: Dear prefrosh

A Stern Perspective

Hi! I’m Scott, it’s nice to meet you. I know you don’t need to have another one of those conversations — you know, the ones halfway between first date banter and the introduction at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting — but, in case you’re interested, I’m from Pittsburgh; I’m majoring in American Studies; and Yale is totally my first choice.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianLet’s get something out of the way: Yale is the best school in the world. Absolutely. Bar none. It combines the resources of a large research university with the intimacy of a small liberal arts college, and all that jazz. I cannot imagine being happier at any other college.

Bulldog Days is such an unusual experience, and while it can be fun for many, I fear that it does not adequately represent Yale. And — while I wholeheartedly believe what I said above — it’s worth considering a couple caveats. The following are things I wish I had considered when I was at Bulldog Days (and a way for me to feel all wise and what not).

First, I know Yale was the right place for me, but it is not the right place for everyone. Some of you might be happier at an engineering-centric place like MIT; some of you might want the small-school feel of a Williams or a Swarthmore. For some, a Southeastern Conference school or somewhere like Pitt or WVU — with top-notch athletics — might be a must. Do you want to be in a more urban environment — such as NYU — or on a more isolated campus — such as Cornell? How close (or far) do you want to be from your family? These things are pretty obvious, but they are still important to consider — all the more so as you’re here, caught up in the impressive aura of this place.

Second, you might hate Bulldog Days and still love Yale, or vice versa. Personally, I wasn’t crazy about Bulldog Days. I was in a room with several strange engineering majors, and my host made it very plain that he didn’t want us there. I knew absolutely no one — except my twin brother, and he and I had agreed to try to have separate experiences — so I was somewhat lonely and isolated. And I didn’t mesh with a number of the groups I had liked in high school (i.e. mock trial). Still, I knew Yale was my kind of place. On the other hand, I remember meeting one kid at Bulldog Days who was having an absolute blast, and now she’s at Stanford, which is probably the right place for a person as techy and entrepreneurial as I vaguely remember she was.

Bulldog Days has an agenda. It wants to suck you in, to persuade you that you couldn’t possibly be happy without Mama Yale. Every group wants to convince you to come here — in part, because they genuinely adore Yale, and in part because they want to ensure their own continuity. Real life at Yale is not so simultaneously hectic and isolating; you’ll have considerably less free time and the relationships you form once you’re actually a student will be so much deeper.

Third — and even though I love Yale — it has some serious problems that you should consider head on. Yale continues to be a bastion for the wealthy and privileged; you’ve probably already seen enough salmon shorts and boat shoes to fill a J. Crew catalogue. If you’ll be on financial aid and need to secure a work-study job, you might justifiably feel invisible. Such is life, and, certainly, such is Yale. This profusion of wealth and privilege translates into an unsettling combination of fiscal conservatism and entitlement. In spite of what Yale tells you, there are countless students here who have taken out some serious loans. (On the other hand, I know one private-schooled kid who told me that he feels wealth at Yale is stigmatized, so there’s always that.)

Beyond socioeconomics, you may encounter a Yale administration that has very limited respect for the student voice. Yale is governed by something called the Yale Corporation, which is an absurd body, unelected by students, staff or faculty, largely composed of CEOs who are utterly unconnected to Yale (except that they graduated 30 years ago). This structure allows Yale to make major decisions without any outside check and to ignore students when they agitate for, say, divestment from fossil fuels or better financial aid policies.

I’m not trying to diminish, in any way, your love for Yale. True love must be informed by reason. Love Yale, and come to Yale, but come here for what it is, not for what your dream college might be. For what it’s worth, the problems mentioned above are often considerably worse at many of the other schools you might be considering. Be sure to make an informed decision.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. His columns run on Wednesdays. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

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