Dear class of 2011,

The News offers its hearty congratulations on your acceptance to Yale and on your selfless decision to skip a couple days of school to come to New Haven and take a look around.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Bulldog Days is nothing more than that: a brief introduction to Yale. Sure, you should take the opportunity to visit all 12 residential colleges, check out sketchy Tuesday-night frat parties, and maybe even stop by a class or two. You’ll meet interesting people, both current Yalies and your fellow prefrosh. Perhaps your goal is to piece together all the little experiences you’ll have — along with the mass of propaganda you’ll encounter along the way — into a picture of this venerable institution. A picture good enough, you hope, to use for comparison against all the other venerable institutions that no doubt want you.

So what distinguishes Yale? We hate to sound like a viewbook here, but sometimes even propaganda is accurate. Don’t discount the importance of Yale’s remarkable residential college system in distinguishing Yale from comparable institutions. Having a smaller community within the larger University right from freshman year helps new students immediately identify with their surroundings, make friends and get involved with campus life — and it’s a system that certain other Ivies are currently switching to. Sure, Yale has its weaknesses: relatively few students study abroad, and New Haven, though a fantastic place to spend four years learning, isn’t Palo Alto or New York City. But nearly everyone will agree that the sense of togetherness on this campus makes the Yale experience unique — and better than that of comparable institutions.

Of course, there’s plenty to do here beyond taking part in college-centered activities such as social events and intramural sports. You may think you have a good idea of what you want to do outside of class, but the Freshman Bazaar in September tends to overwhelm even the most confident newcomer. Having conquered the admissions game, you may not want to realize this, but you’re just beginning; Yale isn’t a place you end up, it’s a place where you begin, and you won’t be able to count the number of pathways that will open up to you in the next four years. Keep an open mind about what activities or academics you’ll actually want to pursue once you enroll.

Once you make the best decision of your life, you’ll be inundated with advice about what to get involved in, what to bring, what activities to join, who your friends should be, and a million other things. For now, though, we offer a simple suggestion: While you’re here, just soak it all up. Don’t let any one experience or person, good or bad, dictate your impression of Yale. It’s a big school, and anyone can find a niche and a way to engage a passion, whether that be journalism or juggling, acting or activism, sports or science — or, of course, just spending time with friends on the weekends.

Enjoy your visit, and we hope to see you back in the fall.