||A Coarse Critique
The Editors • Courses to take, courses to avoid.
Unless you were a child
prodigy in high school, much of
your first year at Yale will be
spent taking overviews, surveys,
or intro classes. Some of these
offerings at Yale are downright
awful. Some are spectacular, and
all are available to freshmen.
Word of mouth is the best bet
for selecting courses, but the
YFP would like to add a few
rules of thumb and information
about popular freshman fodder.
If Credit/D/Fail is an option
for a class, always take it. You can
change back at midterm with no
penalty. (Hint: don’t mention to
Profs or TA’s that you are taking
the class CR/D/F, they are often
unaware, and what they don’t
know can’t hurt you.)
The official course critique is
useless and out of date; don’t
You can talk your way into
almost anything. If you really
want to get into a class with
prerequisites, and you think
you’re qualified, ask to speak
with the professor. Sometimes
you can get away
with just signing
up for the class,
Groups I, II and
III, but even in
Group IV, a conversation
the Prof will
usually get you
what you want.
In big lecture
classes, check to
there is a required section. Your
schedule may appear easy at the
beginning of shopping period,
but if you add several sections,
your life can become unpleasant
quickly. Sections are also taught
by TA’s, which makes most of
them a waste of time.
Here is a brief review of some
courses open to freshmen:
EE&B 122b, Principles of
Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior.
In this class full of pre-meds, it’s
easy to feel like a slacker when
your fellow classmates spend
hours every night doing the huge
amounts of assigned reading.
Fortunately, you will probably do
just as well without the reading
since most of the subject matter
tends to be vague and ambiguous.
Expect this class to be
much more challenging than
your typical introductory science
class with long, difficult exams
and useless sections whose only
purpose is to prepare you for the
papers you will write throughout
CHEM 114, Comprehensive
Full of premeds, boring as hell
(actually, I expect you wouldn’t
fall asleep in hell). If you take
this class and read the book,
you’ll do all right. If you wait
until five days before the final to
read it (like I did) you won’t do
all right. Weekly problem sets.
CHEM 116L, General Chemistry
Laboratory. N. Ganapathi.
An easy introduction to basic lab
techniques, don’t expect to work
too hard to get a decent grade in
this class. Dr. Ganapathi, affectionately
known as “Dr. G,” is
what really makes this class
worthwhile. His sense of humor
and enthusiasm for chemistry
will keep you motivated to make
the weekly trek up science hill
for this lab.
CHEM 125, Freshman Organic
This course is recommended to
all students interested in science,
not only to those who intend to
major in it. Elucidating the complexities
and beauty of chemistry,
it forces students to move
beyond mere rote memorization,
though substantial memory work
is required. Be prepared for hard
work – the class is used to weed
out pre-med students and involves
challenging tests and assignments.
However, the generous
curve makes up for it.
CHEM 135Lb, Advanced
General Chemistry Laboratory.
Quite possibly one of the most
annoying courses at Yale, this
course will suck you dry. Besides
spending four hours per week in
the disgusting labs of SCL, you
will also be spending an average
of 10 hours per week writing up
annoying lab reports all for a
measly half credit. To make matters
worse, there is a lab quiz
before each lab. Iona Black is
very demanding and often nasty
about details, for no reason. She
will force you to write up your
lab reports in Microsoft Excel,
no matter how annoying it may
be. Avoid this class like the
CHEM 332, Physical Chemistry
with Applications in the
If you really enjoy Chem, then
this is the course is for you. The
material is often difficult to
grasp. However, most of the
math is pretty basic calculus. Unfortunately,
this course gives one
the impression that no one in the
chemistry department knows any
math. You may come to realize
that the rule against dividing by
zero is just a social construct.
CPSC 112 a or b, Introduction
No prior programming experience
is needed. Although the
lecture notes on the website are a
luxury, that luxury destroys your
motivation to attend class.
Weekly problem sets take some
time, because you have to go
over and over the program you
have written to figure out where
you left out that stupid parenthesis.
The problem sets also compose
a large percentage of your
grade. You will get a good grade
if you do the work, but it’s not
Yale has a fairly prestigious economics
department with lots of
famous economists on its faculty.
However, one can usually get a
better econ. lesson from reading
the Wall Street Journal than taking
a course in this department.
ECON 115 a or b, Intro to
You can either read
the book or go to
class; no need to do
both. Weekly problem
sets are generally easy
for students with
good mathematic and
others find it significantly
possibly a waste of
time; every example in
this class seems to
take place in the Land of Make
ECON 116 a or b, Introduction
Much like Micro, you can choose
to read or go to class. William
Nordhaus is an excellent lecturer.
He was, however, Jimmy Carter’s
chief economic advisor during
Carter’s administration. Do you
trust a guy who oversaw 12%
interest rates and 8% unemployment
to teach you economics? If
you’re not going to be an econ
major, you should read The Wall
Street Journal instead of wasting a
credit. Avoiding academic
economists is also generally good
Yale’s English department is superb,
particularly once you get
past the introductory level.
There are lecture courses in the
upper levels that are open to
freshmen – take advantage of
them if you’re up to the challenge.
These courses are designed to
teach you how to write, but they
don’t do much serious literary
work. They’re worth taking if
you want to work on your writing,
but if you can pass into a
higher-level English class, it’s
probably a better idea. (Even if
your SAT or AP scores are not
stellar, you can get into the 120-
level classes by submitting a
good writing sample.)
ENGL 120, Modern Prose:
This course offers what might be
the only chance a Yale student
has to focus exclusively on writing
skills. Students learn a variety
of methods by which they can
express their ideas and thoughts
throughout the rest of their career.
Don’t take this class unless
you’re really interested in improving
your writing – you will
only get out of the class as much
as you put in, and those with
little desire find the class tedious
ENGL 125, Major English Poets.
This class is a requirement for
the English major, so it’s taught
by actual-size professors (no
TA’s). The pace is much more
leisurely than in 129, so you get
many more class discussions and
have time to read more carefully.
Traugott Lawler is a particularly
ENGL 129a, The European
“Greatest Hits of Western Civ.”
The material is terrific—Homer,
Joyce, Shakespeare, Dante and
similar stars. The class focuses
on drama. The downside is the
massive reading list, which makes
in-depth analysis difficult.
(Hamlet is taught in just three
classes.) This is not a lecture
course—you have to pre-register
for sections as in 125, but here
your section may be taught by a
TA. The class will only be enjoyable
if the instructor is talented,
enthusiastic, and somewhat wellbalanced.
(All three in one package
is rare for an English TA.)
are completely blind in pre-registration,
so a good TA (or, rarely,
professor) requires some luck.
George Fayen’s section is by far
the best. This is not a lecture
course—you have to pre-register
or talk your way in. Read the
Iliad before you start if possible.
FILM 150a, Introduction to
The only way this course will not
seem like a dreadful season in
purgatory is if you truly, madly,
deeply love film. Frankly,
Musser’s lectures are like
Faulkner meets Freud—streamof-
The approach to film criticism in
this course is tedious and unproductive.
There are some fantastic
films on the syllabus, but Blockbuster
Video is a less painful way
to experience the movies.
Fortunately, there are no prerequisites
for history, so any of the
dozens of classes is fair game.
Yale has the best history department
in the country, so it’s worth
taking some before you
graduate. But watch out for the
TA’s. Most of them are GESO
sympathizers and there are a
handful who won’t hesitate to
screw you if you’re on the Right.
HIST 202b, European Civilization
A classic in the history department,
this class always attracts a
fair number of students. The
class provides you with a decent
overview of a large period of
history. Professor Merriman is
mostly entertaining, but lectures
are of varying relevance. He often
drifts off into insignificant
details, which can make him hard
to follow. Members of the vast
right-wing conspiracy will have
to put up with some lefty remarks
and socialist books such
as Zola‘s Germinal, as well as
Prof. Merriman‘s long-time love
relationship with France and its
culture. Do the textbook reading
to the midterm and then stop:
you‘ll be given the possible questions
for the final, so it will be
early enough to look at the necessary
parts in the textbook during
reading period. It’s almost
impossible to read all the additional
books, but you most likely
won’t be asked much about them
on exams. Also, you get to write
the final paper about anything
you want that happened between
1648 and 1945.
HIST 205a, Introduction to
Ancient Greek History.
Donald Kagan makes this class.
From his sweeping introductory
lecture on why we should care
about the Greeks to his demonstrations
of hoplite fighting patterns,
he’s a fascinating lecturer
with years of practice. The reading
list is excellent, but the
course is very demanding as far
as workload goes. Watch out —
TA’s make a huge difference
here. Sections are optional, but
you really should take one. Be
sure you don’t get one of those
guys who fails half the class just
to be ornery.
If you’re looking to fulfill your
language requirement, you
should have placed out on the
AP test in high school, and now
you’re screwed. For most
courses, the placement exam is
nearly impossible for non-native
speakers. Watch out for taking
intro classes. Often, people take
the classes if they already speak
well, in order to raise their GPA’s.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
CHNS 115, Elementary Modern
Expect hours of study, daily
quizzes, and a lingering fear that
you are tone-deaf. However, William
Zhou is energetic, driven,
and very demanding, and there is
a good chance you’ll leave this
class being able to say more than
just “ni hao.” If Congress persists
in its appeasement policy,
you’ll be glad you took this class.
JAPN 115, Elementary Japanese.
For those anime-lovers who
think that Japanese would be a
fun way to fill one’s language
requirement, be warned: the
class is no cup of green tea.
Nightly homework assignments
can become time-consuming, especially
when combined with
frequent quizzes. The fact that
the earliest section of this class
begins at 9:30 is yet another
strike against it. However, for
those who truly love the language
and culture of Japan, the
class is well worth your time.
LATN 110a, Beginning Latin:
The Elements of Latin Grammar.
If you’re looking to fulfill that
language requirement with the
least amount of pain, Latin is the
language for you. It only meets
three times a week, requires no
time at the language lab, and is
conducted entirely in English. If
you stick around for two years
(thus fulfilling the language requirement),
you’ll get to read
Virgil. And also, if you travel
back in time and end up in Europe
500 years ago, you’ll be able
to converse with any priest of
SPAN 115, Elementary Spanish.
A chore. It requires daily attendance,
which, as any real
college student can tell you, is
sinful. The work is reminiscent
of the second grade,
with corny videos, boring
labs, and an “activity book."
If you are at all familiar with
Spanish, it is an easy class, but
do not expect any kind of a
SPAN 138, Advanced Conversational
This course is easy and very
flexible. There are almost no
assignments. The few that
there are go by like a breeze.
There is one short book by
Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Attendance
is mandatory, as is class
participation, which usually involves
being involved in and
leading discussions on some current
MATH 112 a or b, Calculus of
Functions of One Variable I.
This class is roughly equivalent
to a first secondary school
course in calculus. One thing that
this class proves: just because
you’re at Yale doesn’t mean the
instructors are any better than in
high school. Most TA’s speak
broken English, if any. Michael
Frame is a particularly good lecturer,
so try to get his section.
MATH 115 a or b, Calculus of
Functions of One Variable II.
If calculus was a breeze in high
school, don’t necessarily expect
the same thing at Yale. This
course is an intermediary for
those who took Calculus AB but
are not yet ready for Multivariable
Calculus. Most likely you
will be teaching yourself the information
in this class unless you
find the rare TA who is capable
of teaching a course and speaking
MATH 120 a or b, Calculus of
Functions of Several Variables.
This class does not deal with
proofs; instead, students work on
difficult computations. A lot of
time is spent working on calculators
and using formulas that you
don’t understand. Definitely
shop around for different sections.
Peter Jones is a phenomenal
lecturer and often teaches a
section or two of this course.
MATH 190 a or b, Fractal Geometry.
This is a basic introduction to
“fractals” (those cool pictures
that introduce a scene in Jurassic
park) and “chaos” (a word used
by many Yale pseudo-intellectuals)
intended for non-science
majors. Unlike other math
courses, it satisfies the natural
science requirement. Requiring
no knowledge of high school
geometry, the course is quite easy
and Michael Frame is a phenomenal
teacher. It is at 9 am, so that
might be a deterrent. However,
the material is an interesting introduction
to a relatively new
branch of mathematics.
MATH 230, Vector Calculus
and Linear Algebra. Greg
This course is a rigorous full-year
introduction to abstract mathematics.
Covering three semesters
of material in just two, it
gives any potential math or physics
major a solid foundation for
further study of mathematics.
The book usually used is hard to
read, so one might want to go to
the Bookstore to buy a supplementary
text. However, Greg
Friedman is a terrific lecturer
and explains things very well.
Problem sets are time-consuming
and the tests are quite hard.
There is a curve, so grades aren’t
too terrible in the end.
PHIL 116a, Introduction: Ancient
A good introduction to ancient
philosophical thought. It is also
useful for beginning to develop
your own philosophical reasoning.
Sections are required, and
some of the budding philosophers
in the class can be quite
PHIL 117a, Modern Philosophy
from Descartes to Kant.
The merit of this course depends
largely on who teaches it,
but on the whole it is a poor
introduction to modern philosophy.
Such survey courses are unable
to present philosophy in its
proper context and therefore
provide reading without understanding
and lectures without
relevance. The workload, however,
is light —a reflection of the
course content. If you are a philosophy
major and are required
to take this course, we pity you.
PHIL 204a, Logical Theory 1.
The professor is reason enough
to take this class. If you want to
skip PHIL 130 – as you should –
you can take this more advanced
course in logic. It assumes that
you can already reason logically
and instead of forcing you to
work through stupid tautologies,
it derives the validity of logic.
Sun-Joo Shin is a phenomenal
lecturer and one should definitely
take this course with her.
The grading is based on biweekly
problem sets and a take-home
final. The grading is fair and
most people do decently.
Yale has one of the best political
science departments in the country.
Courses offered in PoliSci,
however, vary in quality and are
often a bunch of utilitarian propaganda.
The courses in political
theory can be particularly good.
Sometimes, freshmen can even
get into seminars. Steven Smith
and Norma Thompson are especially
gifted teachers. If you want
to get into one of their
seminars, however, you
might have to wait till
PLSC 114a, Introduction
to Political Philosophy.
Steven Smith is not the
only professor who
teaches this class, but he
is the best, so those interested
in basic political
philosophy should take
the class this year. The
course spans political
ideas presented by philosophers
from Plato to
Marx. It is an interesting
course that fortunately
does not overload students
PLSC 118a, Moral
Foundations of Politics.
Shapiro is an engaging
lecturer, and covers a lot
of ground. The course
readings and theories studied are
varied, but conservatism is blatantly
ignored. It is possible to
get a lot out of this class, but the
class is not designed to help
stimulate further thinking—
you’ve got to be motivated.
PLSC 205a, The American
One word sums up this course:
boring. A deep analysis of how
the presidency works could be
interesting, if the lectures were
not so dry and scientific and the
reading not so dense.
PSYC 110 a or b, Introduction
The only prerequisite for the
psychology major, this class is
always popular among Freshmen.
It will provide you with a
strong overview of the field and
provide you with insights about
the most entertaining experiments
and theories of psychology.
Several different professors
teach the class each year and the
quality of the course can, as always,
vary according to the instructor.
consistently enjoy lectures and
find most of the reading material
palatable. Beware, though, about
evil tongues that claim this class
is a gut. Most students spend a
lot of time doing the reading and
studying for exams.
PSYC 160b, Social Psychology.
After this class, you may wonder
what kind of world you live in.
Besides all your new ideas about
human nature, you will also have
memorized tons of more or less
plausible theories about the
functioning of groups. Most students
enjoy the class, though
some of the reading can be tedious
and TAs tend to be picky
PSYC 180a, Abnormal Psychology.
This is a fantastic class for anyone
even remotely interested in
mental health. Professor Lockhart is a kind and entertaining
lecturer with a sense of humor.
Not many other courses
will encourage you to dress up as
a mental illness on Halloween.
The workload and the exams
were fair, and while section was
not particularly useful, TAs made
efforts to help students as much
as possible. Most of the reading
was interesting and provided balance
between the scientific and
experiential aspects of psychopathology.
STAT 104a, Introduction to
The big bonus involved in taking
this class instead of the easier
Psychology 200b is that it fulfills
the group four requirement.
Tuesday lectures are with Joseph
Chang, who does his best to
make statistics entertaining, unfortunately
not very successfully.
Tom Brown, the psychology section
leader, makes you wish you
were back in Chang’s classroom.
The class is mathematically not
very difficult. The weekly problem
sets can be tedious. Section
leaders realize psychology majors
aren‘t all good at math, so you
get to pick among the problems
you want to do on the midterm
and the final. Hint: go to the
review sessions, especially before
STAT 102a/PLSC 452a/
EP&E 203a Introduction to
Statistics: Political Science.
This class has some of the worst
characteristics of a gut: easy but
boring. Doing even the small
amount of necessary learning is
a drag. Mathematical equations
or problems are presented apologetically,
as if math is an evil to
be endured. For those who are
looking for a class that satisfies
their requirement for a group IV
and their desire for a group III,
don’t look here.