James Larson

The class of 2021 will be graduating with students in a diversity of majors who, over the course of their time at Yale, have shopped a variety of Yale’s most popular courses.

Since the class of 2021 entered Yale in 2017, the university has seen an average increase in course registrations for humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences and engineering classes. The last four years have also maintained a stable popularity in majors such as economics, political science, history, molecular, cellular & developmental biology, or MCDB, and computer science. Some of the most popular classes over the last four years have included “Bioethics and Law” and, famously, “Psychology and the Good Life.”

“I took the [‘Psychology and the Good Life’] because I realized it was only going to be taught for one semester,” said Ayla Khan ’21, one of the class’s students at the time. “It seemed like a very special class because, while Yale is an Ivy and it’s very focused on its academics, I thought it was very interesting that they created a class which could be an academic course but more about self-improvement and about living a healthier life.”

“Psychology and the Good Life” was taught in 2018 and is known for being the most enrolled class in all of Yale history, with total enrollment surpassing 1,200 students.

Laurie Santos, professor of psychology and head of Silliman College, noted her surprise at the course’s popularity. She attributed the wave of enrollment to students’ own desire to enact change within their community when it came to mental health and stress levels on campus. 

Another popular class during the class of 2021’s time at Yale was “Thinking,” a psychology class taught by professor Woo-Kyoung Ahn that focused on the psychology behind theories of higher-level reasoning, such as decision-making, judgement, rationality and moral logic. The class brought in nearly 500 students.

“When I taught this course in a large lecture course at the 100 level for the first time, the most common positive comments that I got was that it was so applicable to real life situations and that they could just use whatever we learned in this course all throughout their lives,” Ahn said about the class. “Then what tends to happen in this course is that after the class, they tend to tell their friends about it. And so the word kind of spreads out.”

In recent years, other popular courses have included classes such as “Vikings,” “Data Exploration and Analysis” and “Drugs, Brain, and Behavior,” as well as smaller seminars like “Atheism and Buddhism,” which had 81 shoppers in the spring of 2020, and “Contexts of College Education,” which had 91 shoppers in the spring of 2021.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the arts and humanities departments reported the largest number of undergraduate course registrations at Yale.

Isabelle Qian covers Yale's graduate and professional schools. She is a sophomore in Pierson College and comes from Seattle, WA.