A look into the three most popular courses of the spring
After record-breaking interest in certain classes during course registration, AFAM 170, PSYC 141 and ECON 116 are the highest-enrolled courses of the spring semester, with roughly 400 students in each lecture.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
As students sat down in late November for course registration, a rough total of 1600 opted to enroll in one of the semester’s three most popular courses: “Sickness and Health in African American History,” “The Criminal Mind” and “Introductory Macroeconomics.”
With 437 students currently enrolled, the most popular course of the term is African American Studies 170: “Sickness and Health in African American History,” which approaches the topic of American medicine through the lens of the Black experience. Close behind is Psychology 141: “The Criminal Mind,” which enrolled 426 students and offers them a scientific and psychological approach to criminology. The third most popular course of the term, with 373 students, is Economics 116: “Introductory Macroeconomics.” This is the second course in the introductory sequence for the popular economics major. Even in crowded lecture halls, students described feeling at home in these popular classes, lauding their engaging professors and relevant course material.
“The course invites students to go on a 400-year journey into a very messy, painful past so that we can, together, as a learning community, imagine a different kind of future,” Carolyn Roberts, who teaches “Sickness and Health in African American History,” wrote in an email to the News.
“Introductory Macroeconomics” is listed under the economics department, and “The Criminal Mind” is labeled as a psychology and neuroscience course. “Sickness and Health in African American History,” however, is cross-registered under four departments: African American Studies; History; History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Though economics and psychology are two of Yale’s five most popular majors, the Department of African American Studies — under which roughly half of the course’s students enrolled, according to Yale Course Demand Statistics — is a smaller program.
Roberts explained that her course tends to attract passionate students from diverse majors and backgrounds rather than students merely attempting to fulfill major requirements.
This is the third time that “Sickness and Health in African American History” has been offered, Roberts explained, and enrollment has increased each year. The course had 78 students when it was first offered in 2018, 330 students the last time it was offered in 2019 and 437 students this term.
Kenya Loudd, the head teaching fellow for “Sickness and Health in African American History,” credits the rapid increase in the course’s popularity to Roberts’ reputation and teaching style. On CourseTable, a Yale course database and rating site, the course has received a 4.9 out of 5 rating and Roberts herself has earned a 4.7.
“It’s all Prof. Roberts and the care, warmth and vulnerability that she allows for and creates in the course,” Loudd wrote in an email to the News. “From the very first day students feel cared for. They feel as if they matter. Even with over 400 students, they feel seen and important.”
Roberts and Loudd both explained that students often carry lessons from the course beyond the end of the term. Roberts pointed to a group of students from her 2019 class who went on to found a student organization on campus called STEM and Health Equity Advocates.
Sofia Jacobson ’26, a student in African American Studies 170, echoed Roberts and Loudd, explaining that the course has motivated her to further pursue her interests in public health and activism.
“I think students are so drawn to the course because it addresses an issue that’s so embedded within our society” said Sofia Jacobson ’26. “I think the course will continue to be popular in future semesters because of the urgent need for reform in our system, and what Dr. Roberts and the TFs are so wonderfully teaching is priming students to create change on a global scale.”
This semester’s second most popular course is “The Criminal Mind,” taught by Arielle Baskin-Sommers, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry and interim head of Silliman College.
According to the course’s Canvas page, “The Criminal Mind” offers a psychological examination of crime and criminal behavior.
“I created this course because we are inundated with media headlines and TV shows about crime,” Baskin-Sommers wrote in an email to the News. “While these headlines and shows are fascinating, they often ignore the science or misrepresent the science. … It is a real honor to work with students to challenge their feelings and beliefs about criminal behavior and think about how to use science to change a very broken legal system.”
While over 725 students initially enrolled in the course, roughly 200 were dropped from the class just before the end of registration in early December due to lecture hall size restrictions. Now, the course’s enrollment falls at 426 students, according to Yale Course Demand Statistics.
This is the fourth time Baskin-Sommers has offered the course, with previous iterations running in 2016, 2018 and 2020, attracting around 400 students in each of the latter two years. Baskin-Sommers told the News that she is working with the registrar’s office to avoid another over-enrollment situation in the future.
Students who were lucky enough to earn a seat in “The Criminal Mind” credit the course’s heightened popularity to the urgency and relevance of its subject matter.
“With more and more violence being present in the news, I think there is an urge among students to understand how societal disadvantages and pressures can contribute to increased violence,” said Nick Townsend ’26, a student in “The Criminal Mind.” “The criminal mind is a topic that scares many people, so I think that a lot of students want to learn more about it.”
Alma Fitzgerald ’26 added that she appreciates Baskin-Sommers’ teaching style. Baskin-Sommers integrates examples from her own research into her lectures, Fitzgerald said, as well as case studies of popular movies, songs, documentaries and poems.
The third most popular course of the term is Aleh Tsyvinski’s course “Introductory Macroeconomics.” Tsyvinski serves as Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics and Management.
The course is an introductory course for the economics major, and many first years interested in the major take the course as a follow up to Economics 115: “Introductory Microeconomics,” according to Carmen Berg ’26.
“I think ECON 116 is a popular class because Economics is one of the most common majors at Yale,” Berg said. “Another common occurrence is that many students seem to pair economics with another field of study for a double major. I think this trend has been relatively consistent at Yale and will continue in the future as economics can be applied to various career paths.”
Economics is the most popular undergraduate field of study, according to Yale’s 2021-2022 Facts and Statistics Report, with about 11 percent of Yale college students completing the major.
“Introductory Macroeconomics” is one of the only two courses that fulfill the introductory macroeconomics requirement for the major.
“As a teaching team we work to care and empower one another so that we can do our best for every student who enrolls,” Roberts wrote. “The coming together of so many different minds to engage in challenging ideas on sometimes difficult subjects, to question and think about how we can improve our world is a gift — and it’s sort of the whole point of Yale, don’t you think?!”
Preference selection for the Fall 2023 term opens for Yale College students on April 3.