Class of 2021: Expectations

2021 by the numbers:

Even though many members of the class of 2021 stepped foot on campus for the first time last week, most students arrived with pre-established goals and expectations of their Yale experience.

A News survey distributed to the class of 2021 earlier this summer sheds light on those aspirations. One thousand, two hundred and sixty-seven members of the class responded, yielding a response rate of 80 percent. The results were not adjusted for selection bias.


While 18 percent of respondents said they were not sure about their intended major, many others were. Forty-four percent of students indicated that their intended major falls within the umbrella of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, 26 percent indicated social sciences and 12 percent chose humanities.

Forty percent of students responding said they would be interested in pursuing a double major, while 18 percent were not. Forty-three percent said they were unsure.

Sarah Sotomayor ’21, who plans to double major in music and neuroscience — a new program of study as of this academic year — said that between prerequisites and classes that look interesting, she has already planned out most of her course load for the next four years.

When asked which distributional requirements they expect to find most challenging, most students chose quantitative reasoning, science, writing and foreign language, with about one-fifth of respondents picking each. Only 4 percent of respondents selected social science while 6.5 percent selected humanities.

Out of those who expressed interest in studying abroad, 21 percent of students indicated they plan to do so during a term-time semester and 46 percent said they plan to during summer. One quarter of respondents said they were unsure, and nearly 8 percent said they did not want to study abroad during college.

Willow Sylvester ’21, who did a yearlong exchange program in France during high school, said she definitely plans on studying abroad. But unlike in high school, she said college offers more opportunities in terms of summer programs and those during the academic year.


Students were also asked about their extracurricular aspirations. They expressed varying degrees of interest in participating in Greek life — 40 percent of respondents said they were not interested in joining a sorority or fraternity, 20 percent indicated interest and 14 percent were unsure. Currently, an estimated 10 percent of the Yale undergraduate body is involved in Greek life.

About half of respondents said they intended to get involved with the cultural centers, while the other half do not.

Jyot Batra ’21 said he is interested in getting involved in the Asian American Cultural Center, particularly because he is a Sikh and wants to connect with others and educate peers about his religion. He added that as a prospective political science major who wants to pursue a career in law, he plans on joining extracurricular organizations that align with those interests and has already signed up for the Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association.

The extracurricular that most survey respondents expressed interest in was community service — 48 percent of students said they were “very interested” in volunteering in New Haven during their college experience — followed by academic organizations, student publications, performing arts, intramural sports and political organizations.

“Service is a way to kind of bridge the gap between Yale students and the community we inhabit,” said Sotomayor, who plans on doing community service through Dwight Hall and La Casa Cultural.

Other choices in order of popularity were cultural organizations, club sports, student government and religious organizations.

When asked what they were most looking forward to about coming to Yale, 38 percent of students said the residential college experience. Thirty-six percent chose academic programs of study, while 8 percent said the social scene and parties. Fewer students responded with other extracurriculars, playing a sport and “other.”


Coming into their first year, students shared a range of expectations for what life on campus and in New Haven would look like.

When asked whether they thought Yale would be socioeconomically diverse, 47 percent said “yes, slightly” and 36 percent said “yes, very.” 16 percent indicated that they did not think Yale would be very socioeconomically diverse, and 1 percent said not at all.

Sotomayor said she is excited to interact with students from different walks of life and, in particular, to engage with people who come from hometowns less diverse than her native Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to meet new people and give a little part of me to the Yale story, and see how this institution continues to grow and change,” she said.

As residents not just of Yale’s campus but of New Haven, students were asked to consider how safe they expected to feel living in the city. The majority — 63 percent- — said they expected to feel somewhat safe, while 24 percent expected to feel very safe. Combined, just over 9 percent of students said they expected to feel not very or not at all safe.

The two biggest motivators for attending Yale over another school were “student life and campus culture” and “superior academic program in area of interest,” with 39 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Batra, who described Yale as his “secret dream school,” applied through the QuestBridge program after attending a college fair in his home city of Atlanta and hearing about the University’s outreach to students of color.

“Yale is breaking the stereotype that you can only be white and rich to get in,” he said. “I applied early and didn’t apply anywhere else.”

Sylvester said that as “an academic born into a family of artists,” she has always been self-motivated. And as a first-generation college student, she said getting into and preparing for Yale has been a good learning opportunity and a chance to set the bar high for future generations of her family.

“If the moon is there, why not shoot for it,” she said.

Almost half of the incoming class did not sign up for a pre-orientation program. Of those who did, 29 percent signed up for Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips, 9 percent for Orientation for International Students, 7 percent for Cultural Connections and between 3 and 5 percent for Harvest, FOCUS and Freshman Scholars at Yale.

“It’s been a great time linking up with people and knowing that even though we’re about to be lost in a wave of 1,400 new students, wherever we go we’re going to see someone we recognize,” said Sotomayor, who participated in Cultural Connections.

Rachel Treisman | @rachel_treisman 


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