1) Doesn’t a commitment to the six DS courses shut down a wealth of other course options in the first year?
No matter which six courses you choose in the first year, you are not taking the other 1994 courses from about 2000 courses in the Blue Book. The three tracks of DS are extraordinarily broad across time, from Greek Antiquity to the early twentieth century. They are broad across disciplines, combining the special subjects of many traditional departments. DS fulfills College distribution requirements in Writing (WR), Humanities (HU), and Social Sciences (SS), which opens rather than reduces future course options. The six DS courses provide a coherent foundation for future study in any major, and for making meaningful course selections in your sophomore, junior, and senior years.
2) Is the knowledge gained in DS less practical, real, or useful than other subjects of study?
If you want to leverage your Yale education to change the world, DS is the place to start. You could find no better introduction to the questions that face the world today—inequality, effective governance, relationship between man and nature, scarcity of resources and allocation, privacy, liberty, and communal security. The works read in DS offer a chance to know in an efficient and coherent way how thinking about such subjects has developed in the West over time. DS is an incredibly powerful gateway to the world-changing majors–Global Affairs; Economics; History; Ethics, Politics, and Economics; Political Science; and Psychology. DS on a student’s transcript is a distinguishing asset when applying to highly selective professional schools–law school, medical school, schools of public policy, business administration, or Ph.D. programs in any of the Social Sciences or Humanities. Professional schools know that the powers of persuasion, the writing skills, and the overall powers of judgment and decision developed among DS students are predictors of success in school and beyond. Medical schools know that DS students, who, like all applicants, have met the pre-med requirements, also have that extra edge of knowledge of the human condition to make them better doctors. DS students have gone on to highly successful careers in law, medicine, business and finance, politics, diplomacy, journalism, government, NGO’s, public policy, teaching, the media, and the arts.
3) I’ve heard that Directed Studies carries a crushing workload.
It is true that DS is hard, but the workload is no greater than that of any other cluster of challenging Yale courses. The course evaluations completed at the end of each semester show that DS is rated an average of “4” out of “5” in the category of workload. In 2012-2013, on a scale of “1” to “5” (“1” being the easiest, “5” being the hardest), 20% of the students rated DS a “5”; 54%, a “4”; 25%, a “3”; and 1%, a “2.” Expectations in DS are clear. Work in the three tracks of DS is steady, but efficiently organized around one short paper per week, with no mid-term, no required reading in secondary sources, and lots of support from DS faculty, college writing tutors, and dedicated DS writing tutors. DS students assimilate the course content in Literature, Philosophy, and Historical and Political Thought, but they also learn effective reading, writing, and reasoning skills invaluable for all further study at Yale.
4) Does enrollment in DS mean the end of my social life?
Students who enroll in DS gain a readymade cohort of friends throughout every residential college. The experience of collectively studying a set of great works creates a sense of belonging to a community and of accomplishment, which stays with DS students throughout their four years of college, and beyond Yale. Yale is a place that admires achievement, and DS students are recognized as leaders by their peers, by their teachers in DS, and by faculty and students in every subsequent course the DS student will take at Yale. DS students participate in the full range of extra-curricular activities, from intramural and varsity athletics, to student publications and political organizations, to music and theatrical productions. Because of the humanistic and human skills, the capacity for oral and written expression, learned in DS, students tend to become leaders in the classroom and on campus at large.
5) I do not have a background in the Humanities or Social Sciences. Can I still succeed in DS?
It does not matter how much you have read before, whether you come from a private or a public, a richly or a poorly resourced high school, whether your parents went to college or not. DS is an ideal program for students who feel underprepared in the Humanities and Social Sciences. DS students read only primary works, which means that no one’s background knowledge offers an advantage over that of anyone else. DS starts from the beginning of the Western tradition and builds knowledge incrementally. DS aims to develop the students’ basic knowledge of the Literature, Historical and Political Thought, and Philosophy of the West. It would be hard to imagine a better initiation to general university study than the supportive atmosphere of small classes, peer support, and individual attention from Yale faculty in DS.