The not-so-minor question of majors at Yale
Stuck on the not-so-minor question of majors? The News spoke to seven students and two faculty members on navigating majors at Yale.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
One question follows every student at Yale. It crops up in rushed introductions at Commons, inevitably slipping into late-night conversations with strangers in the buttery — it is a piece of our unofficial starter pack. “What’s your major?”: an unassuming but existential question that forces us to re-examine what defines us.
Yale College offers more than 80 majors to students, each major including at least 12 term courses in a single area. These courses evolve from introductory to advanced, with students eventually required to satisfy a senior requirement in the form of an essay, project or examination. As put by the University, a major is “a subject in which [students] will work more intensively than in any other.” At least one third of the 36 credits needed to graduate from Yale must be in a student’s major.
“I definitely had an idea of what I wanted to study, being around the biological sciences, but I wasn’t sure which major in particular to take,” Maanasi Nair ’25 told the News. “During my first year, I explored a couple of classes and talked to more people within the [biological sciences] majors.”
Prospective students include a potential major in their applications to Yale. Though this indication of their interests is non-binding, some students, like Nair, arrive at Yale with a distinct attraction to a particular field of study.
However, for others, the experience of being undecided or flip-flopping from one option to another is more daunting. This perhaps stems from “the misconception that you have to come in knowing what you want to do,” Yasmeen Abed ’23 told the News.
According to Yale’s 2021-22 factsheet, the five most popular majors among juniors and seniors are economics (11 percent), political Science (seven percent), history (six percent), computer science (six percent) and psychology (four percent).
“Choosing my major was definitely stressful but more because of me than Yale,” Rabhya Mehrotra ’23 told the News. “I spent a lot of time waffling because I didn’t understand the value of just adding another major.”
Ultimately, Mehrotra, who is in her final semester at Yale, decided to major in both computer science and political science.
Double majoring is an attractive option to students despite its often-heavy workload. Students must complete the requirements of both majors independently, and only two courses may be counted towards both majors.
“I’m … noticing a tendency, one which I encourage, toward more dialogue and overlap between Humanities and STEM disciplines, as in some of the current double majors, like Humanities/Computer Science and Humanities/Astrophysics,” Paul Grimstad, director of undergraduate studies in the humanities, wrote in an email to the News.
The humanities major, in particular, “gives students a lot of freedom and not a lot of stricture,” explained Grimstad. Its broad scope makes students “responsible for giving it coherence” but grants them “the liberty to explore [within the humanities] right up into their senior year”.
Sophomores pursuing mathematics, science or engineering are expected to declare their majors in the fall semester; those in other majors have until the end of their second year to make this decision.
Yale, like some peer institutions, does not offer minors. Instead, students can elect to take a multidisciplinary program, an advanced language certificate, an interdisciplinary certificate or a skill-based certificate — these programs welcome students and faculty from across the University. However, this system, designed to allow students to explore classes outside of their major without being bogged down by formal minor requirements, can still feel inaccessible to students.
Patrik Haverinen ’25 expressed a desire to have more multidisciplinary certificate programs offered at Yale, while Nair vocalized the need for “more seats” to reduce the competitive demand.
“Yale kids are really big on extrinsic motivation, so they might be more likely to take courses in other disciplines if they can be formally recognized for doing so,” Jordan Hershman ’25 told the News.
Ananya Purushottam ’25, however, suggested that the introduction of minors could potentially be another source of stress for students at an already academically rigorous institution like Yale.
Adding the option of minors, Fyze Tulyag ’25 said, could lead to “gratuitous credit hunting”.
“I don’t think giving a name to [exploring multiple fields] to include on a resume or a diploma interests me,” Meridian Monthy ’25 told the News. “If I want to explore a class, I would just take it!”
Yale students have several avenues of support to help them decide on their majors, including residential college deans and academic advisors from their specific departments. First years can also count on first-year counselors and peer liaisons.
“You’re going to have lots of different people advise you what to do,” Daniel Magaziner, director of undergraduate studies in history, told the News. “Follow your passion! Take lots of different classes during your first year and imagine as many different trajectories through Yale as possible.”
The Office of Academic Affairs is located at 1 Prospect St., in the lower level of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.