Making the most of Yale

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YaleWiki Advice from Yalies, For Yalies

The following are reflections and advice from Taneja Young JE '12. We would love for other students to share their own advice as well. Please feel free to create your own sections on this page!

The Best 4-Year Plan

Disclaimer: There is no ONE answer to this question that applies to everyone, everywhere at all times.

Insofar as there can be an answer to this question, I think it is: KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. You will get it if you know it. But you will merely be swept up in some random current if you don't. This applies to all of life. However, life will never be as predictable and safe as Yale is. You may never again have unlimited heating, awesome plumbing, the facilities guys, great people, extensive support systems, lots of food, etc. Yale is a unique opportunity to get EXACTLY what you want -- but first, you have to figure out what that is.

Step 1: Accept that this was absolutely meant to be

You're here. You deserve to be. I know: you're from The Hood and you don't even know how you got here. Neither do I -- but you did. Now get to work. Merely being at Yale is not a ticket to Freedom. You're here because you know how to work and love and have passion. Don't forget that.

VERY, VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Yale is FULL of opportunity, but no one is shoving it down your throat. You MUST get up and get it yourSELF.

Step 2: What do you want?

  • Do you want something very specific - like to graduate at the top of your class? Start studying.
  • Do you want to dabble in many things, never commit, and therefore have lots of experiences but little to show for them? Then join the all the clubs at the activities bazaar, go to all the meetings once, and then drop them all mid-semester.
  • Do you want something unrealistic - like to graduate at the top of your class, dabble in a million things AND be the best at all of them? Sorry buddy, you're human. (Trust me. I wanted this too.)

Know thyself. Figure out what you want. Observe other people that have done it, and do what they have done.

There are some things that require a LOT of advanced planning. There are other things that don't. If there's even a small chance that you want to do something that requires advanced planning, then START NOW (YES, no matter what other people tell you, if you want to be a doctor, MAKE YOUR FOUR-YEAR PLAN RIGHT NOW)! You don't want to decide in your junior year that you really want to be a doctor, or an engineer. It's possible, but tough. Save yourself the heartache.

If you don't know exactly what you want, then it's very hard to feel like you have made the most of Yale. There are just so many possibilities that your wandering mind will always ask, "What if..." What if I had studied abroad freshman summer? What if I had tried to find an internship in Paris? What if I had applied to that fellowship?

If I could go back in time, here's how I would have done Yale

  1. I would have majored in something with a middling number of requirements (12-14) like Computer Science (personal choice, but I think it's so darn useful, the department is pretty good, I hear the department head is Gandalf or something, there's potential to be a creator of the next Google/Facebook -- hey, I can dream). I would not major in something with too many requirements.
  2. I would have complemented my Comp. Sci. degree with loads of classes I found PURELY interesting (stuff on behavioral economics, "Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food," "Civilizations and Collapse," etc). I would have shmoozed with a couple professors to get into some really good seminars.
  3. I would have used my International Summer Allowance (ISA - see ISA website) to spend my freshman summer in France, racking up credits so that I wouldn't have to take my language requirements during the semester. Languages are intense: it's so much easier to do them at leisure during the summer.
  4. I would have spent my sophomore year really committed to ONE club/organization, like YaleWiki or Women in Leadership, for instance.
  5. I would have gotten a fellowship to do something CRAZY - like write a book while backpacking through Europe - during my sophomore summer.
  6. For junior year, I would have gotten the Light Fellowship and spent a year in China, thereby graduating a year later than everyone else. I would have explored everything China has to offer.
  7. I would have spent my junior year back at Yale committed to ONE different club/organization... or maybe I would just have committed to the full-time extracurricular activity known as Finding The Perfect Internship After the 2000th Try.
  8. I WOULD have gotten STARTED ON MY SENIOR project in my junior year.
  9. I would have either applied for an internship at Google/Microsoft/Boutique Consulting Firm (just for the experience, guys!) OR if I had a cool idea, spent the summer in New Haven working with buddies on a start-up.
  10. I would have made my senior year a breeze. I would have taken enough courses to make it so that my senior year would be a 6-credit year. I would have spent time having dinner and lunch and breakfast with all the cool people at Yale that I would never see again. I would have taken pictures and make them into an album, and I would get ready to start the next chapter of my life, happy that I'd made the most of the best college on Earth.
General Advice

1. It goes without saying that I would also try to get very good grades (above 3.4 by my engineering standards, which is woefully inadequate by many Yale standards, by the way. I've heard some people complaining about the second decimal place after a 3.9...). This is not necessary, and bad grades aren't the end of your life. But you DO have to sell yourself to people after you graduate and a 2.7 just won't be a good sell. =/

2. Make sure to form relationships with your professors. For introverts, this can be difficult. BUT YOU HAVE TO, HAVE TO, HAVE TO do it. Target professors for recommendations EARLY ON. Preferably choose professors whom you actually like - not just the really famous ones.

3. Make friends. They are out there. Yes, friendship is a little give and take, and yes you're self-centered and expect a little take, and take some more. And they do too. But friends, for many people, make the journey a whole lot better. Plus, when your friend becomes a millionaire, you'll be able to say, "I was once best friends with Mr. Millionaire." Also, I think Yale - and life - are best done by finding friends who allow you to be the Best, Most Productive You you can be. In other words, find people who have similar goals and dreams to you, and be friends with them. You guys can create something wonderful together.


1. This plan is ENTIRELY realistic. However, expect rejections - no matter who you are. Remember that you're competing with people just like you or better. And just keep applying and begging to do whatever it is you want to do. Work hard and you'll definitely eventually succeed. This might help:

2. This plan is for a particular type of path. You might want to be a doctor. Your plan will be different. BUT YOU STILL OUGHT TO MAKE A PLAN. (And, again, I would say that you should make this plan at the BEGINNING of your four years -- if you want to feel like you've gotten the most out of Yale at the end of your four years. You don't have to stick to the plan completely: you can tweak it along the way. But it's still good to have one.)

Finding Balance At Yale

Decide what is important to you

No one can answer this question but you. A big part of being at college is learning to make crucial life decisions for which there are no right or wrong answers. Even if there were a glass ball that could show you where different choices would take you, you would ultimately need to know what you valued most in order to choose which life you wanted to live. Do you want to be a chemical engineer, an astronaut, a writer or a ballet dancer? Or do you want to devote different segments of your life to different things? Also, you cannot have it all: as the famous saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. In the real world, this translates as: “You cannot spend time all your time relaxing and spend all your time making money too” – unless you find making money relaxing, in which case, please share your secret with us. Decide what is important to you, and pursue it with all your might.

Know your limitations

You will invariably find yourself in front of a computer screen one day thinking, "Oh my God, I have to finish this 8-hour task in 2 hours." This is a part of the college experience. You will test your limits by overreaching yourself. When you do, just take it as a learning lesson. College is not about overworking yourself to the point of disillusionment with life - though some have fallen into this trap, and subsequently committed suicide. If you notice yourself feeling like everything you do is pointless, do fewer things and take some time to rejuvenate. Listen to music, create something, sleep, sit still, listen to jokes. Pause and ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Chances are you are working too hard in an attempt to keep up with people who are either genuinely passionate about what they do or better at working hard than you. Take this as a hint: change what you are doing. Have fewer commitments. It obviously means looking less impressive in some respects - but if you have to sacrifice your health and sanity to look more impressive than other people, is it really worth it? It can't be: ultimately, someone who has poor health or is mentally unstable does not look impressive at all.

Keep things in perspective

A D- on your transcript is not the end of the world. Yes, it might be the end of that investment job you were eying (or it might not), but it's not the end of your life. In any case, if you are irresponsible enough to get a D-, then you are probably irresponsible enough to lose other people's money. Accept this fair assessment of your abilities; accept that the system is not perfectly fair but that it is fair enough; and move on. An F – “not a crisis”. A broken foot – “a crisis”.

Understand that you are acting on incomplete information

We do not have a glass ball. The choices we make will not necessarily lead to the destinations we envision. In fact, ask anybody whether the choices they made turned out exactly as they envisioned and they'll probably say no. It never does. In life, we act on incomplete information about where our choices will take us. But this absolutely does not matter. You will feel most alive if you chase your dream. The actual outcome is of your life is incidental.

Disclaimer: If your dream is to be a princess or a dictator, you may have a difficult time actualizing this reality and therefore become disillusioned. Such a dream, in most cases, is eventually tempered by an uncomfortable collision with reality. Most people call this "maturity." Accept the counsel of the years and you will mature gracefully. Deny it or stubbornly cling to unrealistic childhood fantasies and risk a slow descent into depression/insanity/disillusionment.

The point is that now, as later down the road, you have to make your decisions and own those decisions. On any path, there will be ups and downs, but no one path is necessarily objectively better than any other. Different people have different priorities, dreams and aspirations: only you can know what makes you feel fulfilled. Being honest with yourself about what you want is the first step to being able to own your choices.

That said, there are useful bits of information that can help you make an informed decision about whether a particular choice will enable you to meet your life goals.

Some Tips for a Balanced Lifestyle

1) Try not to neglect your health. If you consistently (everyday for years) neglect your health, the cost of your negligence will be steep. Try to follow the rules below. - Get 6-8 hours sleep every night. - Eat three proper, nutritious meals a day. Eat small healthy snacks in between. - Get a half hour of intense physical activity 3-7 times per week. - Try not to sit down in front of your computer for more than 3 hours without pause. - Stretches and small snacks make good breaks. - Tidying up also makes for a good break. - Make sure to occasionally engage in activities you find emotionally rejuvenating (not stressful). Real friends, laughter and love are all rejuvenating. Pick your friends wisely: associate with people who are supportive of your goals. - Remember to always look presentable.

2) Triage, triage, triage. - Always do the important things first. - Always remember that your reputation is worth more than your grades. So don’t cheat; don’t be late for an important meeting; don’t lie to avoid a commitment. - Try not to be a perfectionist, as this can ultimately be highly counter-productive. Remember what Voltaire said: “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

3) Avoid information overload. It’s not important to have endless information to complete an assignment. What is important is to have the right information in order to address the topic at hand. Make sure you are connected to good sources that can give you succinct, accurate, good information.

4) Know what you’re looking for. Paradoxically, you can only know whether you are looking in the right place if you know what you are looking for. I believe, as has been said before, that the best scientists know the answer before they find it. They then fall towards the answer.

5) Avoid analysis paralysis. You have a limited time in which to complete an assignment. Do not get carried away over-analyzing the literature. Allot a specific amount of time for “research and analysis” and when that time is up, START WRITING, regardless of what you have read. Even if you think you have nothing to write, start writing. I have actually found that a good way to avoid analysis paralysis is to be emotionally connected to your work. If you are passionate about finding a particular answer to a particular question, it’s much easier to find the answer. If you are working hard for working hard’s sake, and have no solid goal in mind, it is much easier to become burnt out from unproductive overwork.

6) Cultivate a relationship with your professors.

7) Never cheat. You run the risk of damaging your reputation beyond repair – which can cost you many potentially rewarding opportunities. Save yourself the headache and heartache. As my Dean likes to say, “It will be easier to explain a poor grade to a future employer than to explain why you were suspended from Yale for a year.”