So what’s it like at Yale? – former Wellington School students shares her experiences

A former Wellington School student writes on the Wellington School blog, 14.02.13, about her experiences after her first term having won an All-Rounder Scholarship to Yale, one of only 12 in the UK to do so:

The application process for American Universities is very different from UCAS and the rather limited personal statement required by UK universities. Yale’s application consisted of questions such as, ‘If you had a free afternoon tomorrow, what would you do?’, ‘If you could teleport to any moment in History, when would it be and why?’ The bulk of the application revolved around an essay, for which the criterion was ‘something about you that we cannot gauge from your application’. In some respects, my decision to apply to America was a sacrifice; instead of relaxing and reassembling my brain following my A-Levels, I spent my summer days studying for the SATs. America is a long way away from home. I had to accept there would be no ‘popping home’ for the weekend if I was feeling a little homesick. I received my acceptance letter four weeks before leaving to travel around Central and South America, but it was not until 9 months later, waving goodbye to England’s green pastures, that the true reality of what I had signed up for actually dawned..

Yale organises ‘Camp Yale’; a week of social events - before all Upperclassmen returned to campus -solely for incoming freshman, –, meetings, garden parties, tours, extra-circular fairs and so much more. I participated in a programme called ‘FOOT’ – Freshman Outdoor Orienteering Trip’ – a bit like Duke of Edinburgh (but nobody has any idea what that is over here), in which you are placed in a team of six fellow incoming Freshman, accompanied by two Upperclassmen as your group-leaders, you are supplied with a map and then ‘adios’ for six days. I found the week fantastic – gorgeous view points, fun games (ninja, lap-tag, birdy-on a perch) at all hours, forming friendships that lasted far beyond just the trip. We were not allowed to wear watches, or have any gauge or time or distance covered during the trip – a week of pure freedom. By move-in day, I already had a close-knit group of friends to help guide me through those first intimidating days of school. Unfortunately, introducing yourself to your roommate for the next four years, having not showered in a week, probably didn’t give the best first impression.

I settled in very quickly. I never seemed to stop in my first semester, from the second I left the suite early in the morning to when I returned late at night. The Track team became a family; we train, eat and work together every day. ‘The Yale Sorting Hat’ assigned me to Trumbull College, and I now live in a suite with seven other girls all athletes from a variety of sports - on Old Campus, the iconographic lawn pictured in every postcard of Yale - along with the entirety of The Class of 2016. Yale has every extra-circular society imaginable - from the secret ‘Skull and Bones’ cult to the more sedate Quidditch team. I joined the Club Polo team, Athletes In Action Christian Group, Women’s Leadership Initiative, a World-Wide Globalist Magazine and am now acting as peer liaison for incoming international students and an organisation called ‘World Fellows’, which brings in very notable individuals from across the world who have achieved influential global feats to spend a semester at Yale and study as a graduate student. These extra-circulars are all in addition to my Track commitment and classes.

Yale offers over 2000 courses and over 50 languages. The academic structure is very different from the UK. The student is admitted to the University an undergraduate with no declared major. The University requires each student to fulfil a set of requirements spanning writing, language and science to ensure they have fully explored the academic opportunities before deciding on a major. ‘Shopping Period’ is extremely useful. This is where students spend two weeks attending a variety of classes they are interested in before confirming their definite four or five classes for that semester. Last semester I studied, ‘Planets and Stars’, Latin, Introduction to Ancient Greece – 2000B.C-400B.C, and ‘Egypt through the Ages’. This semester I have enrolled in ‘History of Life – Palaeontology’, ‘Egyptomania’, Latin and German. I am continually astounded by the world-wide prestige of the professors; they are world leaders in their fields and yet are here teaching us.

Although a whole ocean away, I do not feel hugely separated from home or out-of-place in America. Yale is a microcosm of amazing people, each with their own astonishing story, yet each and every person is so modest. Each week, surreal opportunities continue to present themselves, from meeting Tony Blair and Miriam Margoyles to spending Thanks Giving in Chicago. A-cappella is extremely popular, and there are always student-run concerts of all musical genres taking place around campus. Some of my favourite social events have to be the balls and holiday dinner. Yale tradition states that it is the responsibility of the roommate to set up a blind date, who then meets their partner in a rather strange way – for example my date identified himself to me by running around the lawns imitating a horse and quoting the ‘Old Spice’ commercial. The main Hall is turned into a scene that resembles a Hogwarts dining hall – absolutely breath-taking, with a parade of food and a life-size house made of gingerbread.

Yale hosts facilities unparalleled by any campus I have seen before. Yale’s largest library contains over four million volumes and is modelled on a cathedral. Just across the road is the Beinecke Rare Books library, housing unique ancient manuscripts, including the Gothenburg Bible. Our Football stadium is the second largest colloseum in the world just outclassed by the Roman Colloseum, we have a baseball field, two indoor tracks, over twenty tennis courts and the world’s largest gym, the enormity of became apparent to me when completing the ‘Tower of Terror’ workout – running up and down the entire height of the building three times). The gym hosts two swimming pools, golf, fencing, gymnastic, dance, basketball, volleyball, indoor crew stations, softball and many more facilities. As you walk up Science Hill, you pass a building resembling a whale, which is our Ice Hockey Rink – the Hockey games are a great way to spend a Saturday evening. Yale has an undergraduate student body of 5, 500 students, 10% are internationals representing 118 countries. There are collegiate systems modelled on Oxbridge, consisting of twelve colleges housing approximately 450 students in each.

I hope, by sharing my experiences, I can convince other students to apply to universities overseas. The American system is geared much more towards all-round individuals, who wish to pursue their musical or athletic achievements alongside their academics in some of the most prestigious educational institutions. Yale has provided me with an incredibly global and diverse perspective view of my future, and I hope fellow students will have the opportunity also to embrace their potential and reach out beyond the traditional trajectory for university applications.

Click here to read the blog.