Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer

Few majors at Yale require an application. Even those that have kept theirs are no longer competitive.

For the last decade, the College has required students interested in many popular fields to apply into their majors, often during their sophomore year. But the News’ review of application-based majors and academic offerings found that the prevalence of Yale College’s competitive majors has dwindled in recent years.

Notably, the popular Ethics, Politics, and Economics major jettisoned its application process in favor of an extended prerequisite system two years ago; neuroscience followed suit last April. 

“We are committed to supporting world-shaping research and life-changing instruction in areas of intellectual importance,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said. “I am pleased that we are in a position to give students the opportunity to study in these important majors without requiring an application process.”

There are now just four majors that require applications: architecture, cognitive science, global affairs, and the special divisional major. Faculty at all four say they intend to keep their application processes for the time being, but they, too, have considered changes. And none of them remain truly competitive.

When the College added the Global Affairs major in 2010, admission was capped at 50. But surging demand meant that in 2011, just one-third of students who applied were accepted.

Now, over a decade later, admission is no longer so cutthroat. Decisions are based almost entirely on whether students are on track to finish the major before they graduate.

“In the last two years, 80 to 90 percent of students who applied were able to do the major, if not more,” said Sigrídur Benediktsdottir, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Global Affairs. “I don’t think we rejected anyone that would have been able to fulfill the requirements of the major.”

Grades, Benediktsdottir said, did not factor into admissions decisions except in cases when students withdrew from or used the Credit/D/Fail option on core classes of the major. Those who were rejected were likely not to have completed enough core courses or to have taken a modern language through L5.

The application has a written component, too, but this year it has been shortened from two questions to one, which students will be asked to answer in 600 words or fewer.

“We are not requesting students to spend a lot of time on this,” Benediktsdottir said. “We just want to know why they want to be in the major.” 

There will be two information sessions for students interested in GLBL — one on Oct. 28 and one on Nov. 2 — after which the application will open. The deadline to apply will be Friday, Nov. 18, just before the start of November recess.

After this application cycle, though, the deadline for sophomores to apply will be about two months earlier than it is now; instead of November, the due date will likely be at the end of September. Sophomores will therefore know whether they have been accepted into the major before spring course registration begins.

“So, essentially, you will be applying based on what you do your freshman year and what courses you’ve signed up for during your sophomore fall,”  Benediktsdottir said. “Next year, we are planning to let students know whether they are in the major before spring course registration begins.” 

While enrollment in the global affairs major has seen only a modest increase in the past few years — perhaps on account of its application process — enrollment in EP&E has significantly increased since scrapping its application.

The class of 2022, the last application-only class, had 35 graduating seniors. The class of 2024, by comparison, has 48 majors so far.

“We are confident that the EP&E major will continue to yield excellent cohorts of students each year, attracted to EP&E by its interdisciplinary approach and high academic rigor,” said EP&E Program Director Ana De La O.

Reduced barriers of entry might be responsible for this increased enrollment. While students previously needed to apply and be accepted to EP&E, anyone who completes the eight prerequisite courses can now declare the major.

Ryan Smith ’24, an EP&E major, said that he was “glad” that EP&E switched to a prerequisite system.

“There are a lot of prerequisites, but it’s reassuring to know that as long as you complete them you’ll get into the major,” Smith said. “None of us need another application to worry about.”

EP&E has been able to increase its enrollment commensurate with student interest, but architecture has not changed its enrollment cap.

The architecture major currently has two tracks: “Design” and “History, Theory & Criticism.” Only the design track is effectively selective, though all prospective majors must “apply” to a specific track in the spring of their sophomore year.  

“Based in a four-semester sequence of studios, Design is a space- and resources-intensive course of study,” architecture Director of Undergraduate Studies Michael Schlabs wrote in an email to the News. “Every student enrolled has a desk on the 7th floor of Rudolph Hall, a computer workstation and a shared modeling table … for this reason, we are compelled to cap the Design track of the architecture major at 40 students — or 20 per year across the junior and senior classes.”

Though the major has “rarely, if ever,” hit the 20-student-per-year limit, the enrollment cap might soon increase. 

The School of Architecture is reluctant to make any immediate changes, though.

“With the influx of graduate Architecture students returning from pandemic-related leaves of absence, we are especially cramped in the School of Architecture [right now],” Schlabs told the News. “Having said that, we have recently been in conversation with the Yale College Committee on Majors about precisely this issue, and we will be revisiting the question of selectivity in the major in a couple years, once the COVID ‘bulge’ in student population subsides.”

Neuroscience, too, has taken steps to ensure its students have the resources they need. 

When Yale College added the neuroscience major in 2018, student interest was very high and the program very new, so an application seemed in order. 

“When the neuroscience major began several years ago, we had a simple application process, which we put in place to ensure we had the resources to support all the students in the major,” neuroscience Director of Undergraduate Studies Damon Clark wrote in an email to the News. 

Now, though, the program has grown to accommodate more students, and an application is no longer necessary. As of April 2022, students can declare the major as they can any other.

By contrast, cognitive science and the special divisional major have kept their applications for the time being. 

According to its website, cognitive science requires interested students to apply to the major by the end of fall semester. Students must then be accepted before officially declaring their major.

“The cognitive science program is a bit unique, in that the requirements are extremely flexible,” cognitive science Director of Undergraduate Studies Joshua Knobe wrote in an email to the News. “It’s not as though there is already a pre-set list of requirements … Instead, students have the opportunity to craft their own list of requirements based on their own individual interests.”

The cognitive science application essentially functions as a roadmap proposal — how a particular student wants to take on the major. 

But if a proposal is not accepted, that does not mean the student needs to switch majors.

“It just means that you will not be allowed to use that specific plan,” Knobe wrote. “You could apply again the very next day with a different plan.” 

The special divisional major — which allows students to pursue fields of study outside of Yale’s existing majors — also has an application, though it is reviewed by the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing instead of by an individual department or program.

The special divisional major application asks students to “explain their proposed plan of study, including coursework contributing toward the major; to outline the major’s curricular trajectory, breadth and depth; and to give a broad sense of intellectual aims,” Special Divisional Major Director of Undergraduate Studies Sarah Mahurin wrote in an email to the News.

The application also asks students to identify faculty members who will serve as their advisers. The faculty members must likewise write in support of the proposal.

Special divisional major, neuroscience and cognitive science do not intend to change their application processes in the immediate future.

Yale College currently offers 80 different majors.

Evan Gorelick covers Woodbridge Hall with a focus on the Yale Corporation, endowment, finances and development. He is a Production and Design Editor and previously covered faculty and academics at the News. Originally from Woodbridge, Connecticut, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College double-majoring in English and economics.