A story runs in the News almost every year about Yale’s selective majors, especially Ethics, Politics & Economics (EP&E) and Global Affairs. On-campus publications often make fun of the stereotypical “section assholes” that are assumed to make up large percentages of these majors. But the admissions processes for these majors can lead to real academic difficulties for those who are not admitted for a variety of reasons.
Competition fills many students’ entire Yale experience. Gaining entrance to Yale requires undergoing an extremely selective admissions process. But, once admitted, students find themselves facing more programs with selective admissions than they previously expected. Incoming freshmen are informed that they can apply to Directed Studies (DS) and Perspectives on Science and Engineering almost as soon as they are admitted to Yale. As soon as they arrive on campus they are also faced with competitive admission to many extracurricular activities, most notably the very public a cappella audition process. Freshmen soon learn that many small classes require applications, a stressful element of shopping period that they will encounter each semester.
Although being rejected from a seminar or a cappella group can be upsetting, there tend to be good alternatives present, or at least chances to apply again. Selective majors, however, do not offer repeated admissions processes and, for some students, great alternatives are not readily available. Sure, those rejected from EP&E can choose to double major in a combination of Economics, Political Science and Philosophy, but this requires a much heavier course load that may not be feasibly completed. And, as Yale does not offer an International Studies major like other universities, students rejected from Global Affairs find it difficult to pursue a course of study on international relations. The best alternative appears to be the interdisciplinary concentration within Political Science with an international focus — which many may find to be limiting.
Complaints about the countless numbers of applications for seminars, majors and extracurricular activities are prevalent around campus. A tweet from junior Marissa Medansky, a staff columnist and former opinion editor for the News, following the results of registration for seminars last week joked that a Twilight Zone episode should be made about “an Ivy League school in a parallel universe where you need to regularly apply for your right to exist.” Receiving three retweets and twelve likes, the message clearly resonated with many students.
The downsides to Yale’s selective majors begin even before applications are filed. Although there are no formal requirements for either major, many students feel that taking courses in the major is a necessary component of a competitive application. Beyond finding themselves struggling to choose a major once rejected, these students may end up regretting the time they spent fulfilling introductory requirements for the major instead of exploring other subjects.
Princeton’s undergraduate program in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a program similar to Yale’s Global Affairs, recently chose to drop its application process. When the directors of EP&E and Global Affairs were asked by the News if they planned to do the same, both responded that they did not. The main reason cited by the departments made sense — small numbers of students are required to maintain the seminar requirements of both majors. Still, the University should allocate more funds towards hiring additional faculty for the popular majors instead of limiting the number of students who are able to participate.
Perhaps most pressingly, Yale should seriously consider the effects of the two new residential colleges on the majors. All of Yale’s selective programs and classes are bound to become even more competitive with 200 additional students per class. It is clear that an oversupply of students already exists for much of what Yale has to offer, and this has been the case for years. Yale plans on hiring more faculty members to accommodate the influx of students with the new colleges, but it appears that it could benefit from larger numbers of faculty in some areas already. We should conduct reviews of our selective majors, and perhaps other selective programs as well, as we put our plans to expand the Yale College class size into action.
Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Her columns run on Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.