Frequently Asked Questions - Applying to the Major

Unlike most majors at Yale, Cognitive Science requires students to apply and be accepted to the major. There are several reasons for this:

  1. By encompassing so many disciplines, cognitive science presents fantastic opportunities for interdisciplinary studies, but also some dangers. In particular, with so much breadth comes the danger that students’ study programs will lack cohesiveness, being a somewhat haphazard collection of unrelated courses. The application process ensures that this is not the case (see How are applications evaluated?).
  2. Similarly, the cognitive science major can appeal to students for the wrong reasons  e.g. because students don’t know what to major in, and cognitive science seems to afford more flexibility than usual. In contrast, we seek majors who have particular ideas about how to craft a focused interdisciplinary plan of study in this area that cannot be satisfied by one of the standard majors. The application essay is designed to assess such things.
  3. Though many courses may count for the major, these choices can only be evaluated in the context of an overall course plan, in order to avoid several pitfalls. These course plans are evaluated as part of the application (again, see How are applications evaluated?).
  4. Because cognitive science requires mastery of so many different approaches and disciplines, it fits best with students who are able to perform well in many different kinds of classes. The application process thus includes an evaluation of students’ academic performance so far at Yale.

Students can apply to the major at any time after their freshman year. Such students can apply by (1) reading this entire page carefully, and then (2) following the instructions in the official application form:

  • Download the application form as a DOC file 

As explained on the application form, all application forms should be turned in via email to

Applications are due (by email to during the year. If you want to declare CGSC as your major by the university’s deadline at the end of your sophomore year, then you should apply no later than 11:59PM on December 19th, 2016

Applicants will be notified by the start of shopping period in the spring semester if you applied in December. Applicants can apply at any time after freshman year.

There is no single answer to this question, since different members of the application committee may stress different things. However, the committee as a whole will surely be asking the following questions about you and your application materials, so it would be a good idea for you to consider these things when preparing them:

  1. Do your essay and course plan successfully articulate a focus that will bring cohesiveness to your experience in the major? Does your course plan suggest more than a random smattering of courses? Will your course plan allow you claim some mastery of a part of cognitive science, after you graduate?
  2. Does your course plan suggest that you’ve carefully studied the available options for courses that fit your theme in all of the relevant departments? (Depending on your focus, keep in mind that some relevant courses may come from outside of the traditional contributing disciplines – e.g. Game Theory in the Economics department, or Music Cognition in the Music department.)
  3. Do your essay and course plan suggest that your interests could not be satisfied by a major in one of the traditional contributing disciplines? In particular, does your course plan involve a true breadth of different approaches? (Because many courses are cross-listed, some students end up with schedules that look like they have breadth, but don’t really. For example, a student might list 4 psychology courses and 3 neuroscience courses, but those three might all be taught from within the psychology department – e.g. Cognitive Neuroscience, Fundamentals of Neuroscience, etc. – rather than incorporating courses from other departments such as Neurobiology. In such cases – especially if the electives are also drawn from psychology – the course plan as a whole might really involve only 3 courses outside of Psychology, suggesting that Psychology might be a better major.) So, when choosing your courses, look not only at the department(s) that a course is listed in, but also the approach of the professor teaching the course, the field(s) from which they hail, the field(s) from which most of the readings in the course are drawn, etc.
  4. Does your course plan include a reasonable number of higher-level courses (e.g. the number that would characterize course plans in most other majors)? This can be a particular problem in cognitive science: whereas most traditional majors only have a few introductory-level courses, cognitive science encompasses Introduction to Linguistics, Introduction to Computer Science, Introduction to Psychology, etc. – as well as many other relevant 100 level courses in the contributing departments. For this reason, the major can sometimes look attractive to students who want to get through Yale without taking many more challenging upper-level courses. So be sure that you plan includes the right breadth of course numbers (as a proxy for differing degrees of depth and challenge) in addition its breadth of fields and approaches.
  5. Do your grades so far at Yale suggest that you will perform well in the major?

Yes, for up to two of the courses satisfying the depth requirement

Certainly! Just stop by open office hours, or send an email to set up an appointment to chat at some other time.

Depending on the size and character of the applicant pool in any given year, it may be possible to join the major without having first taken this key introductory course. When this is possible:

·         Your course plan should indicate that you plan to take this course at your next available opportunity.

·         Your acceptance into the major may be provisional on performing well in the course when you do take it.

·         Ideally your transcript so far, along with your application essay, will demonstrate that you know what cognitive science is, and what it has to offer (knowledge that many students acquire from taking this course).

Completing the pre-med requirements is always a challenge, regardless of your major, since they require so many other classes – including classes which are only offered during specific times, and several labs which will devour entire afternoons each week. That said, because cognitive science affords a considerable amount of flexibility (e.g. in that there are very few specific courses that are required, in contrast to many other majors), many students in the past have found that this combination works well. (Of course, students in this situation should also run their full course plan by Yale’s Premedical Advising Office, which has considerable experience with such questions.)

Yes, some students do end up double-majoring in cognitive science and other disciplines – both related disciplines (e.g. Philosophy) and mostly-unrelated disciplines (e.g. Art). However:

  • Keep in mind that double majors (of any variety) must always complete two distinct senior projects, except in exceptional circumstances (when a single project is truly interdisciplinary and is twice as involved as usual, which is vanishingly rare). This is a significant constraint, since I have never met a student who overestimated the amount of time and work that their senior project would require! As a result, many senior double-majors end up dropping one or the other at the last minute – often with some regrets (e.g. having taken courses in the dropped major that they otherwise wouldn’t have pursued).
  • Also keep in mind that there are constraints built into the regulations of Yale College on how many courses can overlap between two majors. To quote these regulations:

Each major must be completed independently of the other, with no more than two term courses overlapping. Prerequisites in either major are not considered to be overlapping courses. Other than such prerequisites, all courses taken in a major – including those taken in excess of the minimum requirements of the major – are counted in the consideration of overlapping courses unless such courses are in excess of the minimum requirements for both majors.

  • Ask yourself carefully why you want to double major. What advantages will that bring? Keep in mind that in most departments you’re completely free to take as many courses as you wish without being a major. Also keep in mind that a double-major won’t necessarily help you with your career after Yale: many jobs (or graduate schools) will care only about your degree as a whole, and what specific courses you’ve taken. (There are exceptions to this, though; if you have questions about this, come talk to the DUS!)
  • Note that it will typically not be possible to add Cognitive Science as a second major later in your undergraduate career. As such, all interested students should be sure to apply toward the end of the fall semester of their sophomore year.