Many new Yalies are intimidated by the large size of their incoming class. Yale’s residential college system — which divides the class into smaller, more intimate communities — is designed in part to soothe this fear.

Every Yale student is randomly assigned to one of 12 residential colleges. In selecting members of each college’s incoming class, the housing committee strives to create microcosms of the racial, geographic and intellectual diversity of the entire Yale community. As a result of this arbitrary separation, students often form close bonds with people they may not have otherwise met.

Traditionally, most Yalies live on Old Campus as freshmen and move into their actual colleges as sophomores. Freshmen in Silliman and Timothy Dwight Colleges forego the Old Campus experience and live in their colleges all four years. This coming year, renovations on Vanderbilt Hall on Old Campus will force many freshmen to relocate to Swing Space, a residence hall for students whose colleges are under construction.

At any time, all students are welcome to take advantage of their colleges’ resources. Each college has its own dining hall, computer cluster, laundry room, television room, music practice rooms and buttery, where students can enjoy cheap snacks into the early hours of the morning. Many colleges also have special facilities — for example, Calhoun has a sauna, while Silliman’s basement contains a rock-climbing wall.

Within each college, there are certain Yale faculty that oversee administrative matters, offer academic advice, and coordinate social events. The master and the dean are the two most prominent figures who live and work alongside students in the colleges.

Residential college masters are responsible for planning social events such as study breaks, trips to shows and sporting events, and college spirit days. They also coordinate Master’s Teas — small gatherings where students have the opportunity to talk to prominent individuals. This past year, visitors ranged from Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C. to “Moulin Rouge” director Baz Luhrmann.

Deans are in charge of academic and administrative details. To receive an extension on an academic assignment, a student talks to the dean. The dean also organizes room draw every spring, where students vie for the best living arrangements their colleges have to offer.

All 12 colleges have unique traditions that build up unity and pride. Students in Saybrook College strip during the third quarter of every football game. Jonathan Edwards students participate in Wet Monday, a water fight that takes place on the Monday after Easter. Each college also has a cheer, flag and other distinctive trademarks.

Residential colleges also host specific social gatherings throughout the year. Some of these bashes are campus-wide, such as Timothy Dwight’s Exotic Erotic dance, where “the less you wear, the less you pay,” and Casino Night, a formal party featuring gambling and swing dancing, sponsored by Morse and Ezra Stiles. Colleges also sponsor events exclusively for their own communities, such as JE’s “Spider Ball.” Screw dances, in which roommates set each other up on blind dates, are some of the most popular.

As a result of the numerous traditions and fierce college pride, rivalry among colleges is often very intense. Many students participate in intramural sports, which pit colleges against one another in sports ranging from ping-pong to basketball in hopes of capturing the Tyng Cup, the award for the college with the best intramural record.

Every college has distinctive features that its students grow to love. Whether you are playing for your college in intramural soccer, attending a holiday dinner in your college dining hall, or reading outside in your college courtyard, you will likely meet many of your best friends through your residential college and develop a strong sense of pride in your affiliation. You will find that whichever of the 12 colleges you are assigned to will offer an intimate, supportive community full of friendly faces that will quickly become your home away from home.