Q&A with a Yale Graduate

Q&A with a Yale Graduate

Name: Rex Isenberg 

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Year of College Graduation: 2010

Major: Music

How did you choose Yale? What did you know about it before you applied?

Actually, I knew virtually nothing about Yale when I was writing my application; I was already a senior in college when that video came out. I sort of applied on a whim at the very last minute (note: this is NOT advisable!), and thought I hadn’t the slightest chance of getting in. I knew it was a great university with a great music program, and I wanted to study music but still pursue my other interests, so I figured I might as well throw my hat into the ring. When I got an interview, I was shocked, and when I got in, I was in complete disbelief.

Did it live up to your expectations? What surprised you the most when you got to Yale?

I was most surprised at just how NICE everyone was! I had never actually met anyone who went to an Ivy League school before I applied to Yale, and my perception was that everyone would be spoiled and snooty. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Not only was everyone extremely warm and kind, but they also went out of their way to make me feel welcome and at home. Beyond that, I was just blown away by how passionate my classmates were about the things that interested them and how eager they were to share that passion with others. Their passion and excitement was really infectious.

How did you like it there?

I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

Did you live off-campus or on-campus? Why did you choose that option and what was it like?

I lived on campus for the four years I was a student and off campus during my year off. Living on campus was the much better option for sure, and the vast majority of students live on campus all four years. One cool thing about on-campus living at Yale is its residential college system. When you get accepted to Yale as an undergraduate, you are assigned a college where you will spend three of your four years. All freshmen live together on “Old Campus,” so they all get to know each other, but you still live next to the other freshmen assigned to your college. I was placed in Calhoun, one of the oldest, most intimate, and centrally-located colleges. While I had friends in all 12 colleges, my fellow Hounies were my family, and they remain some of my absolute closest friends.

What were your classes like? How big were they on average?

Class size varied widely depending on the major and level. Many introductory classes were larger, but none of the classes within my major exceeded 25 students. Most were around 10, especially the junior and senior electives. This is the case for many of the humanities majors. However, for the sciences and some of the more popular humanities majors, like Economics or Political Science, the class size can exceed 100 for intro-level classes. However, once you take more specialized classes at the higher levels, most class sizes are about 8–15 students.

Does Yale have a study abroad program?

Yes, Yale offers a number of wonderful study abroad opportunities. There are particularly great options for those students learning Asian languages who wish to hone their skills in Asia through the Richard U. Light Fellowship. Yale sends dozens of students to approved intensive language programs in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan every year and covers 100% of the cost and expenses of attending the program. The program is very well-funded, so assuming you perform decently well in your classes and get accepted into the program overseas, your chances of receiving a fellowship to go to Asia are very high. After studying the language for three years, I received a Light Fellowship to study Japanese in Hakodate, Japan during my junior summer, and it was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life. If you are thinking of studying an Asian language, I would highly recommend you look into this program!

What were students at Yale doing on weekends?

Studying, doing homework, or participating in extracurriculars, mostly. It seemed like everyone was involved in a hundred different activities, so they were busy 24/7. Yale wasn’t exactly a party school, but Yalies did know how to have a good time. Work hard, play hard, as they say.

What was the food like on campus (or in the surrounding town)? Did the dining hall offer vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/kosher/halal options?

In addition to the large communal dining hall in the center of campus, each of the 12 residential colleges has its own dining hall, and the food does vary a bit from college to college. That said, the food is generally quite good, and I almost never felt the need to eat off campus. Not that you couldn’t—New Haven has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants, and over 100 of them are in the downtown area alone! I lived in Calhoun College, so I usually ate in Calhoun Dining Hall to avoid wandering out in the cold, but you are of course at liberty to eat at whichever dining hall you wish. There were always vegetarian and vegan options, and the kosher kitchen at the Slifka Center was always popular on Sunday mornings when they served unlimited lox and bagels.

What kinds of organizations were you a part of?

I was a member of two a cappella groups: first, the Yale Alley Cats, and then, during my senior year, the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Yale has a particularly vibrant a cappella scene, with over 15 groups of all varieties who perform every type of music you can imagine, but most anything you’d be interested in had a robust following and community. For example, there are a half dozen sketch comedy groups and another half dozen political affinity groups. 

What was the sports culture like at Yale?

Well, of course, there is “The Game” between Yale and Harvard every year, but sadly, Yale has only beaten Harvard once in the last 12 years. Still, it’s a really great time. Yale also has a number of other great sports teams with huge followings, especially our hockey team who won the NCAA Division I Championship in 2013.

Were you a member of a social club or fraternity? Why or why not?

Although there are a few frats and sororities on campus, Greek life really isn’t big at Yale. Most prevalent are secret societies, but I don’t know much about them (or do I…?)

What’s the weather like? What are the best seasons for your school? How did the weather affect you at school (ie, is it hard to get to the dining hall, or across the quad when it rains/snows/etc.)?

New Haven certainly isn’t known for its great weather, but during those few months of warmth and sun, the campus looks absolutely beautiful, and you’ll often find large throngs of Yalies gathered on the grass. But, even in the winter, it’s not so bad. Yes, it’s very windy and cold, but when it snows, the school really looks like Hogwarts.

Did you use the libraries at Yale? What were they like? Where else did people study?

There are a dozen libraries at Yale, and, like most students, I used a good number of them to study or do research during my time there. The biggest and most extensive is Sterling, which houses one of the largest collections in the world. However, the best place to study is the new Bass Library, which connects to Sterling via an underground passageway (that’s right, an underground passageway!), and offers a lot of great workspaces to get your homework done. As a music major, I also spent a lot of time in the music library, which is a covered courtyard within Sterling, and is one of the most majestic spaces on campus. If you’re visiting, you should also check out Beinecke Rare Book Library, whose collection includes everything from an original Gutenberg Bible to Bach Manuscripts, all contained in a huge glass column.

What about diversity? Do students of different genders/ethnicities/nationalities/orientations/etc. interact often/well?

Yale’s student body was incredibly diverse. Students came from every state in America and every corner of the world. The school is also well known for its acceptance of LGBT students and is sometimes affectionately nicknamed the “gay Ivy.”

What else do you think people should know if they are considering applying to Yale?

For one thing, you certainly don’t have to be a legacy to get in. I certainly wasn’t, and neither were most of my friends. A classmate of mine who worked in the admissions office once said that the school looks for applicants who are “well-rounded” or “well-lopsided.” I think the most common trait among Yale students is their unbridled passion. They do what they love, and they do it 110%. So, if you’re thinking about applying to Yale, be sure that this comes across clearly in your application.

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Andrea W.

Andrea is Signet's Director of Operations and one of our top academic coaches. In her administrative role, Andrea makes sure Signet always runs smoothly and is a fun and productive place for all of our employees. When she works as a coach, she takes a student-driven approach to encourage introspection and reflection.

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