Every academic recess, I travel around upstate New York for a few days to visit public high schools as an Admissions Ambassador on behalf of the Admissions Office. It’s a fun job: I get to meet bright students who might not otherwise interact with Yale and talk about my favorite parts of going to college here.
When I was a first year training for the program, we were all told that the most effective information sessions highlight the things that make Yale different from its peer institutions. Now, with more than a handful of these sessions under my belt, I’ve internalized a bulleted list of Yale differentiators for each of a few different categories that I like to tick through. Residential colleges and suites, for instance, set Yale’s student life apart from that of other schools.
But the single biggest differentiator, judging by the nods and wide eyes of energetic high schoolers, isn’t related to the predictably fun categories, like extracurriculars or study abroad. Instead, what seems to be most attractive to so many prospective applicants is Yale’s academic structure, in which minors don’t exist and double majoring is relatively difficult. The theory behind it is that Yale would prefer that students specialize through their major, cover their distributional requirements and then still have the freedom and flexibility to take a diversity of other classes simply for the sake of learning.
Let’s be clear: That freedom isn’t just an admissions talking point. Instead, it is perhaps the single biggest difference between our academic experience and that of our peer schools. That’s why the News reporting yesterday that Yale College Dean Marvin Chun may consider introducing minors to the Yale College curriculum should alarm us deeply.
Chun cited the “enormous success” of Multidisciplinary Academic Programs, like Human Rights Studies and Energy Studies, as one reason that minors might deserve a second look. But these programs are much more than the mere fistful of niche courses that a minor would comprise. Rather, MAPs combine coursework with significant research and field experience requirements, as well as softer components like community obligations. A signature feature of the Education Studies program, for example, is a weekly dinner, where the entire program cohort gathers to discuss particular issues in education. To participate in a MAP is a to commit to something much weightier than, say, taking five classes in philosophy.
The dean’s office has also argued that minors would bring the ability to balance professional aspirations with the humanities. With minors, the theory goes, a future banker could simultaneously prepare for her career with a major in economics and satisfy her interest in drawing with a minor in art. But the truth is — unfair, maybe; wonderful, totally — that a Yale student’s major has little influence on her ability to get a job. In corporate recruiting, for example, the thing that matters most is that you go to Yale, not that you chose to major in economics rather than English. In fact, many of the most selective banks and firms choose for those who study the obscure and interesting rather than the milquetoast. Introducing minors to professionally oriented Yalies would destroy the rigorous, sustained education in the humanities that so many students take now. With the option of minoring in art history, many more Yalies would take safe, “employable” paths, like computer science and engineering, relegating what many of them likely view as their real interests to a minor made up of just a few courses. Forcing students to study a single field with depth and vigor rather than giving them a safe way out is one of the things that makes Yale different and better than its peers.
The biggest consideration when thinking about minors, though, shouldn’t be comparisons with MAPs or pre-professionalism. It should be who, really, Yale people are: credentialists. The gritty, ambitious high schooler admitted to Yale doesn’t forget her conceptions of conventional marks of achievement when it comes to planning her academic course here. Introducing minors means introducing a new hoop to jump through, a new entry on a resume and a new credential to collect. If Yale’s culture — comparatively relaxed, relatively interesting, somewhat quirky — is a selling point, introducing the opportunity to minor alongside a traditional major would destroy a lot of what applicants see as one of Yale’s competitive advantages.
High schoolers view Yale’s academic structure, forcing exploration rather than measured and planned achievement, as a benefit. They consider it liberating, deeply spontaneous and profoundly exciting — something that makes Yale distinct. Introducing minors would be a step toward the kinds of overly calculated academic experiences that characterize our competition.
Emil Friedman is a junior in Silliman College. His columns run every other Friday. Contact him at email@example.com .