2020 by the numbers: Attitudes and expectations

2020 by the numbers:
Attitudes and expectations

Published on August 31, 2016

As the first day of shopping period kicked off Wednesday, students crisscrossed through campus — dropping into lectures, browsing syllabi and stopping on the sidewalk to trade gossip about an overbooked seminar with one famous professor or another.

For Aidan O’Connor ’20, who arrived at Yale from a mid-sized public high school in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the day began with some worrying.

“I had no idea, going into lecture, what to expect,” said O’Connor, who is the first person from his high school to attend Yale. “I was definitely nerve-wracked for today.”

While O’Connor, who said he feels much more confident at Yale after a day of shopping courses, is considering classes in the Ethics, Politics and Economics Department, freshmen will shop and eventually take classes in a variety of Yale’s academic disciplines, demonstrating a diverse range of intellectual interests. This range is echoed in their responses to questions from the News on their beliefs and political leanings, as well as questions about their backgrounds and future aspirations.


In the 2012 presidential election, Yale students overwhelmingly voted for Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. With 67 days until the 2016 election, the class of 2020 is likely to continue the trend of voting Democrat.

Just over two-thirds of current freshmen surveyed said they plan to vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, who is leading all national polls, in the upcoming presidential election. Only 5 percent said they plan to vote for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.

“I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, mainly because of a phrase my dad uses,” Carlos Velez ’20 said. “When it’s a choice of two poisons, pick the one that gives you the [runs], not the one that’s going to kill you.”

An additional 5 percent said they were going to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, and 15 students indicated that they would vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Another 17 percent of the class of 2020 said they cannot vote in this election.

There was no correlation between the type of community in which a student was raised and his or her political leanings: Urban, suburban and rural freshmen alike all skewed liberal.

Just as the incoming freshmen tend to be liberal, they also tend to be secular. With nearly 36 percent of the class of 2020 identifying as either atheist or agnostic, religion is less present at the Yale of modern times than at the Yale of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50.An additional 39 percent of students who identified as either Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist characterized themselves as “not very religious” or “not religious at all.”

Of the 39 percent of respondents who said they observed some sect of the Christian faith, only 65 percent said they intend on actively keeping their faith while at Yale. Nearly 100 students said they were Jewish, but a majority — 57 of 97 respondents — said they were either “not very religious” or “not religious at all.” Only 21 students identified as Muslim, but 15 of those said they planned on observing their faith while at Yale.

The “very conservative” students were the only group in which the greatest percentage — 36 percent, in this case — also identified as “religious.”


With a hefty price tag of $68,175 for the 2016–17 year, a Yale degree is not a cheap investment. It does, however, comes with immeasurable benefits, ranging from a world-class education to lifelong friendships to great memories.

Luckily, it also comes with help. Yale covers 100 percent of a student’s financial need, so just over half its undergraduates are on financial aid.

Out of 477 respondents who said they were on financial aid, 74 percent said they were satisfied with their aid award. Another 12 percent said their award was within the same range as packages offered by other schools they were considering.

Of the 14 percent of respondents who explicitly stated that they were dissatisfied with their financial aid, 47 percent said their parents or legal guardians’ combined income was between $135,000 and $250,000 per year.

“We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said O’Connor, who said he has taken out loans for his college education.

The class of 2020’s opinion on the student-income contribution was fairly mixed: 9 percent said they strongly agreed that the student-income contribution should exist, while almost 15 percent strongly disagreed with the existence of the requirement. Almost one-third of the class neither agreed nor disagreed, while 22 and 25 percent somewhat agreed and somewhat disagreed, respectively.

Sixty-one percent of the students who strongly disagreed with the student-income contribution said they were on financial aid, while 62 percent of the students who strongly agreed with it were on financial aid.

Almost two-thirds of the students who strongly disagreed also said financial aid was “very important” in their college decision-making process.

For Susan Chen ’20, who arrived on campus with the intention of finding a student job, Yale’s expectation that students on financial aid will fund part of their own education is a reasonable one.

“I think it’s definitely our responsibility to take initiative and look for an on- or off-campus job — to make sure you have some source of income for yourself, to make sure you’re not a burden for parents,” Chen said. “It’s already tough for my parents. [They are] pushing back their retirement just to pay for tuition, room and board. In my opinion, it’s the least we can do.”

While Chen says she accepts the trade-offs that come with working several hours a week, other freshmen point to the SIC as promoting a gap between the Yale that freshmen expect to experience, and the Yale which actually greets them.

The hours Yale expects students to work to earn their keep may limit students from the social and extracurricular life advertised by the University’s admissions office, O’Connor said.

Despite the international roots of the class of 2020, one region overwhelming captured Yalies’ attention: the Northeast. 60 percent of students surveyed said they wanted to live in the Northeast after graduation, despite the fact that less than 40 percent of the class grew up there.

The next most popular region, selected by 17 percent of respondents, was the West Coast. Of the students who wanted to settle on the West Coast, 51 percent also planned to major in a STEM field.

The class of 2020’s post-graduation plans align neatly with recent trends among Yale alumni. According to Yale’s Office of Career Strategy, 64 percent of the class of 2015 — the most recent class for which data is available — reside in one of five states: New York, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

“I’m definitely going to stay out east,” said O’Connor, who hails from a suburb outside of Chicago. “The pacing of Midwest life is too slow for me, to be quite honest. It’s always been a dream of mine to live in New York City.”

Ayla Besemer contributed reporting.


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