This year’s academic calendar started one week later than in previous years, necessitating a final exam schedule that stretches through the evening of Dec. 22 and making it difficult for some students to travel home in time for the holidays.
Fall classes traditionally start the Wednesday before Labor Day, which fell unusually late this year. In an effort to get students home sooner, the University has shortened reading period by one day, and some professors have decided to hold exams prior to finals week.
“The current schedule is better than what was originally laid out, but I still think in the long run it’s a bad situation that should be able to be fixed,” said former Yale College Council President Michael Herbert ’16, who co-authored a report on the academic calendar last December. “Nobody really cares if classes start before Labor Day, but people care if they can’t get home for Christmas.”
To ease travel woes, some professors have chosen to administer exams earlier than finals week. Classes such as “Conservation Biology” and “Introduction to Psychology” held their last exams before reading week.
Psychology professor Paul Bloom said Yale’s rules state that final exams must be held during the final exam period. Still, his “Introduction to Psychology” class has an exam prior to reading period because it is not technically a final.
“I don’t have a final exam because I like to travel during the holidays, and I figure many of my students feel the same,” Bloom said.
Some classes, such as “Minds and Brains in America” and Chinese 154, are offering alternate exam dates. “Minds and Brains” is holding an earlier exam on Dec. 17 for students who would prefer to take it two days prior to the originally scheduled final. The University registrar has to approve any alternative exam dates.
According to the YCC report, which was also written by David Lawrence ’15, 92 percent of students favored starting classes a week early in order to prioritize winter recess over Labor Day. This percentage, one Herbert called “unprecedented,” represents a large majority of students whose travel plans have been hindered by late exams.
Students say there are benefits and disadvantages to early exams. Sophie Menard ’19, who is from Paris, explained that the “Intro to Psychology” exam, held on Dec. 9, was a mixed bag.
“I’m actually kind of annoyed and relieved at the same time,” Menard said. “I’m relieved because it is basically a midterm, but annoyed because I didn’t get a lot of time to study. By the start of finals week, I’ll already be done with three of my classes.”
For some, early exams can be just as problematic as late finals because there is less time to prepare. Even for finals during exam week, the shortened reading period can be problematic because it gives students less time to write essays, work on projects and study for exams.
Yixuan Yang ’19 said she has heard many of her friends complain about having multiple “midterms” scheduled before reading week, especially since the tests are just final exams given a different name. These early exams also clash with final essays, making reading period quite hectic, she said.
Some students said the date of a class’s final could be a determining factor for students choosing whether or not to enroll in that particular class.
Larry Fulton ’19, a student in Econ 115 whose final is on Dec. 22, said that in the future, he plans on taking exam dates into consideration when picking classes in order to better plan return trips and have more time at home.
“The fact that I won’t really be home until Christmas Eve is inconvenient, but I understand they need to have finals that late for whatever reason,” Fulton said. “It does seem weird that a class with as many people as introductory microeconomics would have an exam so late. It’s inconveniencing 300 people instead of a seminar of maybe 12 people.”
Due to a late finals week, traveling closer to the holidays means more expensive and crowded flights, less convenient transportation and less time spent with family, Herbert added. For many international students, the extended travel time and time difference further delay their arrival.
“My last final is on [Dec. 22], so I can only fly off on the 23rd,” Yang, who is from Singapore, said. “For international students, it’s especially frustrating because with the long flight and time difference, I effectively arrive home on Christmas morning.”
Current YCC President Joe English ’17 said he is optimistic that the student government and Yale’s administration could come to an agreement on fall semester scheduling six years from now when Labor Day also falls a week late.
Starting classes a week earlier would enable students to finish exams a week before Christmas Eve, but there are many other options to explore in the meantime, added English.
“Our goal is to be proactive and to work with the University’s standing committee on the calendar to create a better process and timeline for dealing with this every seven years,” English said.
Undergraduate residences will close at noon on Dec. 23.