Choosing a Major

Linguistics majors, class of 2017 (photo by Elinor Hills)Index

Linguistics majors, Class of 2017 (photo by Elinor Hills)


 Goals for All Yale College Majors

The Yale College Dean’s Office launched the “Majors Project” with, as its top priority, the goal of helping to advise students about their courses of study.  Other goals centered on the faculty, the departments, and Yale’s national accreditation requirements.

It is expected that roughly fifteen majors will conduct self-reviews each year, allowing all majors to undergo review in a four- to five-year cycle, at which point — because major requirements and goals change over time — the self-reviews will begin anew.

The goals for each Yale College major were approved by each undergraduate department and program. 


Useful Links

How to Choose a Major?

First-year students are often in a hurry to declare their major, yet as the weeks and months pass, the pressure usually subsides.  Your first year at Yale is your best time to explore both new and favorite topics, especially in those fields of study — geology, linguistics, Vietnamese, etc., etc. —that weren’t offered in your high school.  If you have an idea that you’ll major in a STEM field, it’s a good idea to take at least some of the requirements during your first year; that goes doubly for engineering.  However, if you’re not STEM-bound, you don’t need to begin concentrating on a major in your first year.  In fact, only one-third of Yale seniors end of majoring the the field they indicated as first-year students.

In many respects, sophomore year continues the themes of your first year. It is still a time to explore different subjects as you complete the distributional requirements for the sophomore year and earn the minimum of sixteen course credits required for promotion to junior standing. It is also a time to think seriously about what your major will be.

In some subjects it is actually time to make a choice.  For example, students majoring in STEM must indicate their major during sophomore year (and doing so by the end of the first year is preferred by many STEM departments); majors in most other subjects can wait until the beginning of junior year. You can declare your major on line.

Your choice of major should conform to your intellectual interests and preferences, which become clear only after you have looked into a variety of subjects and have sought faculty advice. The subjects you studied in your first year and the ones you choose in sophomore year should give you a sense of what engages your interest, makes good use of your talents, and satisfies you as an intellectual enterprise.

In order to ensure that your education has shape and coherence, discuss and analyze your academic program as a whole with your college or sophomore adviser. 

Choosing a major involves exploring many subjects and submitting them, as well as yourself, to the kind of research that underlies all knowledge—observing, collecting information, interpreting, formulating questions, and evaluating answers.


When to Declare a Major?

In Mathematics, Science or Engineering

Students seeking the B.S. or the B.A. degree with a major in science are expected to declare their majors at the beginning of sophomore year, although a student who has completed the prerequisites may elect a science major later. Sophomores interested in majoring in science should have their schedules approved by the director of undergraduate studies or the adviser designated by the department. 

In Fields Other than Mathematics, Science or Engineering

Students seeking the B.A. degree with a major in a field other than a science, mathematics, or engineering typically declare their major by the end of the sophomore year (and at the beginning of the junior year, at the latest). During the sophomore year these students’ schedules are signed by a sophomore adviser, chosen by the student, with whom the program has been discussed.

See also “Major Programs” in the Yale College Programs of Study

Majors and Programs that Require an Application, Review, or Audition

Click here.

Preparing to Become a Health Care Practitioner

Click here . Included are some reasons for delaying your application for admissions to medical school.

Departmental Information Prepared Especially for First-year Students and Sophomores

Click here for information on the psychology major. 

Click here for information on the political science major.

Sources of Information

There are various sources of information about majors and major requirements.

  • The Academic Fair, held in the fall term in WLH and LC on the Tuesday prior to the first day of classes, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. For most departments, the DUS or another knowledgeable representative is available to answer questions about prerequisites and major requirements. A complete list of participating departments and meeting locations will be posted at the main entrances of the buildings.
  • Departmental Directors of Undergraduate Studies (DUSes) or their designated advisers. Names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses appear in Yale College Programs of Study (YCPS). Some larger departments have advisers for each residential college; a few departments have sophomore advisers as well. Consult the YCPS.
  • Departmental publications. Most departments maintain Web sites, and some publish brochures with information about their majors. Departmental Web sites often have photos and short biographies of their faculty, with current research interests.
  • Departmental info sessions. A number of departmental meetings take place during the days leading up to the beginning of fall-term classes. Meetings for prospective majors and interested students continue throughout the year and are posted under Departmental Meetings and Placement in the Courses and Majors section of this site.
  • The online Yale Facebook includes students’ majors and can be sorted by major and college. Yale’s Facebook requires a NetID login.
  • Yale College Programs of Study has information about all majors, their prerequisites, and their requirements.
  • Residential college deans and heads of college can give you advice from their experience with Yale College and with students, as can your instructors.
Thoughts from Sophomores

“I thought I had my major decided when I began sophomore year, but after a few more courses, I changed my mind. I just went back to majoring in one of my other interests, even though I had taken only one course in it.”

“The DUSes are the best resources about majors. Meet with them.”

“Get to know upperclassmen in your major or possible major. They can be an amazing resource.”

“I did not know what my major would be until after spring term started. I took Psychology 110 because I heard it was a good course, and the next thing I knew I found my major—psychology. I was stressed some until then, but for some of us it takes a bit longer to find a major.”

“Sophomore year … should be a time to explore different fields.” 

“Find a major and get started on it.”


 The Most Popular Yale College Majors

Yale Office of Institutional Research charts the most popular Yale College majors here.  Other rankings, from the YAM and the YDN, are listed below:

  • in 2012-2013 (Yale Alumni Magazine​, January/February 2014):
    1. Economics (140)
    2. Political Science (134)
    3. Biology (105)
    4. History (103)
    5. Psychology (90)
  • in 2002-2003 (Yale Daily News):
    1. History (200)
    2. Political Science (145)
    3. Economics (128)
    4. English (107)
    5. Biology (98)
  • and in 1972-1973 (Yale Daily News​):
    1. English (136)
    2. History (125)
    3. Psychology (93)
    4. Philosophy (91)
    5. Political Science (78)