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Yale vs. Harvard -- For an English major

RatsAssRatsAss Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
edited April 2010 in Yale University
So I've come across the amazingly good fortune of having to make this choice! After sifting through some of the stuff people have said on here, I've picked up a couple generalizations:

-Yale's the go-to school for more laid-back humanities majors who specifically seek a focus on undergraduate teaching.
-Harvard is ideal for career-oriented anything-majors.

While I've read a lot of threads comparing econ and poli sci programs at both schools, I haven't been able to find any about the English department. Does anyone have advice on which school an English major (with an eventual interest in journalism, creative writing, or law) should pick?
Post edited by RatsAss on

Replies to: Yale vs. Harvard -- For an English major

  • MSauceMSauce Registered User Posts: 675 Member
    Yale has a Directed Studies major, which apparently is a difficult Humanities oriented major that seems to be very popular among prospective students.

    Personally, I'm a hopeful economics major, so I haven't looked into it. But here's the site:
    Directed Studies at Yale University

    Is that along the lines of what you were asking about?
  • svalbardlutefisksvalbardlutefisk Registered User Posts: 691 Member
    Directed Studies is not a major, it is an interdisciplinary, freshman-year only program that includes classes in literature, philosophy, and political thought.

    Both Harvard and Yale have excellent English departments - I don't think quality of academic instruction should really be a worry for your when deciding between them. Choose based on other factors - campus environment, extracurriculars, student life, etc. For someone interested in journalism, I'd not that the YDN is supposedly one of the very best student newspapers in the country (though, IMO, that doesn't say much for the quality of student journalism). Yale's English major also has a creative writing track, though I believe many creative writing classes have competitive admission based on writing samples. As for law, either Harvard or Yale will put you on the right track.

    Incidentally, I'm not saying much about what Harvard has to offer not because it doesn't have good things to offer, but because I don't go there, so I don't feel qualified to speak to its strengths.
  • entomomentomom Registered User Posts: 23,662 Senior Member
    ^^Correct, CR workshops, as well as Daily Themes, are open to any major and are based on writing samples. For the CR concentration within the English major, you turn in a portfolio towards the end of Jr year. If accepted, you work on a single longer work or a portfolio of shorter works instead of a sr thesis.
  • mancunemancune Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
    For a good part of the 20th century, Yale had the preeminent English department in the United States and was a hotbed (for better or for worse) of some of the main critical innovations in the field, such as post-structuralism/deconstruction. If you look at Harvard's English faculty, a very large percentage have PhD's from Yale.

    Yale still has possibly the "best", but certainly one of the top English departments in the US (along with Harvard, Berkeley, Princeton and a few others). It still has plenty of "stars" though frankly they are ageing. (Harold Bloom comes to mind.) It offers lots of interesting courses and there are always tons of English and Comp Lit majors in every class. More broadly, there are tons of budding creative and non-fiction writers every where you go on campus. Now ten years out of Yale, I can't walk into a bookstore without seeing books written by classmates of mine; one recently won a Pulitzer for history writing.

    That said, Harvard is every bit as fertile a ground for exploring literature or learning to write. I would say today that their English department is more exciting, at least there are more people I would like to listen to: Helen Vendler in poetry, Marjorie Garber and Stephen Greenblatt in Shakespeare studies. (Garber started her stellar career at Yale, but was stolen away by Harvard; when she revisited Yale for a semester, I took a course with her -- just outstanding in every way!)

    I guess my bottom line advice is visit the two schools again and go with your gut about which feels more like home. You'll get a superb English education at either!

    By the way, if you are curious about seeing some Yale English profs in action, Yale offers a number of videotaped courses free on line, directly from their site or through this site:

    Literature | Video Courses on Academic Earth

    I urge you to listen to a couple of lecture by Paul Fry on literary theory, one of the best courses I took at Yale (It's hard stuff, though) or John Rogers on Milton.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,071 Senior Member
    Actually, Harvard wins the aging stars competition hands down: Apart from Bloom, who was old 30 years ago, Yale has no one who can match people like Greenblatt, Vendler, Henry Louis Gates, Jorie Graham as public intellectuals. I believe Yale is still regarded as the premier U.S. literary studies venue, however, not because of its aging stars but because the quality of its younger tenured faculty is so high.

    If you look around the elite English departments, it's not just Harvard, they are all stuffed with Yale PhDs.

    But Harvard has a great English department, no question -- it has really improved in the past few decades, and Greenblatt may be the single most currently influential person in the field. Years and years ago, I chose Yale over Harvard precisely because Yale was the center of the world in English, and Harvard wasn't anywhere near it. There's nothing like that degree of disparity now.

    And Directed Studies -- you can think of it as an option to take the Columbia Core at Yale if you want.
  • vicariousparentvicariousparent Registered User Posts: 5,940 Senior Member
    EngProfMom will probably show up for this thread, but until then, here's a post of hers on this from a while back:


    It was on this thread:


    Now if I may hijack this thread just a little for my daughter, may I ask the experts here to also make some side comments on Yale vs Princeton for English, especially for someone who might have a Creative Writing emphasis?
  • EngProfMomEngProfMom Registered User Posts: 257 Junior Member
    Vicarious Parent asks about Yale v. Princeton in Creative Writing so I sashayed over to Princeton's Creative Writing web pages, which I followed up with a look at their English Dept. although I must say I do not personally know anyone with a PhD in English from Princeton (Comp. Lit, that's another story).

    Signs of trouble, oh Princeton Alums (again, I don't know many) in Creative Writing. One, what is this "temporary relocation" to "New South"? In the politics of universities, real estate is It. Location, location, location. It looks to me as if P-tons's Creative Writing program has been shuttled off... to.... someplace near the train station? To make it easier for writers to come in for a day and commute back to, well, wherever? And why is the web site so empty? And where are the writing prizes? And where are the literature courses, or, barring that, tie-ins to other areas of the curriculum?

    What Princeton's program has going for it (again, just from looking at the site). Jeffrey Eugenides is an incredibly talented writer of fiction. Anyplace that has him knows what they're doing. Ditto, Chang-rae Lee. They have two visitors (you have to really squirrel down in the site to find them), Colm Toibin who is ferociously talented, and Leonard Barkan. There are some mega-names, here.

    What I like in P-ton's writing program, for an undergrad, is this: they include translation! Yes! They have a certificate program, meaning, it is NOT a major, but rather, related to one's major. They have a history and intention (it seems) of being aligned with the study of the arts. All of that, excellent. But.... the stress is on names, and, well, there definitely seems to be a caste system, as in, many people who are listed as teaching whose photos and credentials don't appear. Again, just from the site, the self-promotional aspect (kudos to the program from two of its star faculty) is really peculiar. Now, the reading series is really imaginative: a younger writer paired with an old lion. And a very smart tie with translation. Further, there are some great people in Princeton English, teaching LIT courses. Like Susan Stewart, a superb poet and critic. Diana Fuss. Excellent people in Princeton English doing Postcolonial. At least one doing Latino lit and performance who is clearly a rising star...But, but.... there's no evidence of dialogue between English-Creative writing. Or Science-Creative writing. Or (say) Russian-Creative Writing. Why not? Some kinda local politics goin' on, I think.

    Yale's Creative Writing, very briefly. I am impressed by 1) strong stress on non-fiction writing by practicing journalists. Non-fiction writing is where the future of journalism and much of the book trade is. 2) Impressive that it is based in English, as should be. 3) Impressive that it is directly linked to arts criticism, another way that actual writers actually make a living or, barring that, get funding in between advances, and get contracts for books, etc. 4) If you want to write poetry, take a course with John Hollander.

    I do not know if I answered your question, vicariousparent. Evaluating Creative Writing programs is such a tricky business that I believe the NRC report has been delayed for eight years just to avoid doing so...
  • LergnomLergnom Registered User Posts: 7,926 Senior Member
    The choice is totally about personal preference and which school you prefer.

    I have to say the generalizations you state are silly. These are strong departments at great schools and you can do what you want at either. To be blunt, you're drawing distinctions were the only meaningful ones are in your own head. Where do you want to go? Which is cheaper, if that matters? That is all. Focus on what you want without the excess baggage of distinctions without meaning.
  • JTC007JTC007 Registered User Posts: 1,539 Senior Member
    I'd like to speak up for Princeton English and Creative Writing as a current junior in the English department. EngProfMom, you seem to be very well-informed about English departments, but you've somewhat mischaracterized the programs at Princeton. First of all, there is definitely dialogue going on between the programs, as there is a track within the undergraduate program that allows for creative writing majors to write (or even produce, in the case of drama) a creative thesis. I'd say most creative writing students are based in the English department, and it is definitely encouraged.

    Also, the creative writing department is moving to New South not because of sour politics, but because of the new Lewis Center for the Arts, which was the result of a $101M donation from Peter B. Lewis. The arts are being relocated to the new 'arts neighborhood' by the dinky station, and I think the temporary move to New South is part of that transition process. The arts at Princeton are definitely thriving, and are only growing.

    Oh, and to address your specific critique of the lack of conversation between Russian-creative writing and science-creative writing, I happen to know three students (two in the Slavic department and one in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department) who are applying for or have done creative theses (the EEB major will do two theses, I think).

    My main point is that it's dangerous to make assumptions based solely on a perusal of the website. Princeton English is a wonderful program with incredible faculty, and I only have good things to say about it. I don't know anything about Yale or Harvard's programs, so I have nothing to add to the conversation, but don't dismiss Princeton!
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