Frequently Asked Questions - Information for Current Majors

Yes, the course plan from your initial application is not set in stone, and can be changed. Indeed, it will almost certainly have to be changed, since new courses are always being added, old courses drop off the books, and interests change over time. (In particular, the seminars that are offered tend to closely track faculty interests and thus tend to change from year to year – with some faculty never teaching the same seminar twice!) As such, the course plan that you submitted with your application is not a binding plan for the future, but rather an existence proof that you can devise a cohesive plan. Changes to your course plan can thus be made, but only with the permission of the DUS. 

To change your course plan, just drop by the DUS’s office hours to discuss your proposed changes. When doing so, be certain to bring: 

  1. … the full initial course plan from your application, annotated with the classes you’ve already taken and are currently taking
  2. … your complete new proposed course plan, annotated with the classes you’ve already taken and are currently taking
  3. … a brief description (in only 1-2 paragraphs) of the changes, why you want to make them, and how they will affect your overall theme

In addition, if you’re hoping to add any courses which are not in the bluebook’s list of relevant courses, please see the entry on this page for Can I count this particular course for the major?, and include the items listed there. Note that we cannot approve individual course changes without also looking at your full plan, for the reasons explained above in the entry on How are applications evaluated?

Before you stop by, it would also be helpful if you could email this information to the DUS. When doing so, please just paste the information into the body of an email message, rather than sending along an attachment. (Around the time that schedules are due each semester, the DUS tends to get a dozen attachments per day that are all named “Revised Course Plan”, etc.) 

Finally, you should be sure to get approval for all changes in writing. The easiest way to do this is just to have the DUS reply to your email noting the accepted revisions. (Be sure then to save that email!)

For several reasons: 

  1. As noted above (see the entry on How are applications evaluated?), we are interested in ensuring that your overall course plan has a central theme, a good mix of breadth and depth, an acceptable number of higher-level challenging courses, etc. This means that individual courses can only ever be considered in the context of your overall schedule.
  2. Also in this vein, some borderline courses may count for some students but not others, depending on their overall course themes, and perhaps also their pre-arranged commitment to write their final paper on a topic related to cognitive science.
  3. Some courses may only count for the major when they are taught in certain ways, or with certain curricula – since their content can differ considerable from year to year or from professor to professor.

Assuming that the course does fit well into your overall plan (see the previous entries on How are applications evaluated? and Why can’t there just be a fixed list of courses that do or do not count?), we will be interested in whether the course is taught with a cognitive science approach, and whether it covers material from the cognitive science literatures. These factors are more important than the name of the course, the department that it’s listed in, or whether it covers a topic related to understanding the mind in a broad sense. Indeed, some courses sound on their surface like they’d be good fits, but they don’t actually include any readings from the cognitive science literatures, or directly utilize any of the relevant approaches. (After all, nearly all courses at Yale are about understanding the nature of the mind in some sense – including courses on poetry, ancient civilization, religion, etc.!) At the same time, some particular courses taught in departments that are not traditionally associated with cognitive science (e.g. Economics, or courses taught through the School of Management) may turn out to utilize the relvant approaches, and include relevant readings.

To find out if a particular course will count for the major, follow these four steps: 

  1. Check to see if it is included in the list of relevant courses that is printed in the hardcopy bluebook. If so, then skip to step #4.
  2. Send a short note to the DUS with the name of the course, asking to see whether it counts. If you get a positive reply, then skip to step #4. Otherwise, go on to step #3.
  3. To find out if this course will be counted in principle (assuming that it fits into your overall course plan), send all of the following to the DUS by email:
    • The name, number, and department of the course, as well as the semester during which it will be taught, and the name of the instructor
    • The course syllabus and reading list
    • A separate list of readings from the course that are drawn from the cognitive science literatures, broadly construed. (This is something you’ll have to construct by examining and annotating the syllabus. This will ensure that when looking through the syllabus, the DUS doesn’t miss one of the readings that you thought was important and relevant.)
    • A 1-paragraph statement on why you think the course should count for the major, including a discussion of how the material will be approached in a manner consistent with cognitive science, and taking into account the points noted in the preceding entry on How do you decide what courses count for the major?
  4. After you’ve found out that the course can count in principle, follow the instructions in the entry above on Can I change my course plan? If so, how do I do that?

Courses taken on a Credit/D/Fail basis may not be counted toward the requirements of the major, except with permission of the DUS.

Some students find that they have specific (often interdisciplinary) interests that can’t be satisfied by Yale College courses, and that there would be a significant benefit from regular professorial guidance as they explore these interests. In certain cases, it may be appropriate to seek out a Directed Reading course to complement their more formal courses. (Some students try to do these with a few other students, to make the experience more interactive.) The procedure for doing this is the same as in most majors. First, you’ll need to find a specific faculty member who is willing to sponsor your individualized reading course. The DUS can often help by suggesting faculty members whose expertise might be especially well-suited to your intended topic, but finding a sponsor will take some initiative on your part. Remember that Yale faculty have a wide range of professional duties, both inside and outside of the classroom, and that if you are asking them to meet regularly with you, you need to have a compelling reason to take up their time in this way. Directed Reading courses should not be set up unless there is no other option. That said, the earlier you ask a potential sponsor about this possibility, the more likely they will be be to agree – though some faculty may simply have too many other obligations to take on this sort of commitment. (Once the start of a new semester is near, many faculty have already ‘maxed out’ their available opportunities along these lines.) Next, you and the sponsor will have to draft up a syllabus for the semester – including specific readings, requirements (often just one or two papers), details about how often you will meet with the sponsor, and a specific schedule for the semester. 

More information can be found on the Directed Reading Form, which must submitted (with signatures from your Directed Reading advisor and from the DUS) before you will be able to register for these courses. 

Bring these completed materials to the DUS for review, and if your plan is approved then you’re all set!

Often there is no way to determine this before the bluebook comes out during the summer. However, if you’re hoping to take a specific course, it would be a very good idea to contact the professor that usually teaches that course ASAP, to find out if they intend to teach it again, or whether they will be on sabbatical, etc. (They may have a firm sense of what they’ll teach next year long before the official list appears.) Also, note that many seminars closely track faculty interests from year to year, and that many professors teach a particular seminar only once! So, if you have specific seminars on your plan for depth courses, it would be a good idea to check each year with your favorite professors to see what they’re planning to teach.

If you are a Senior and you need to get into a specific course in order to complete your CogSci study plan, please send a note to both the DUS and the Chair no later than one week before the relevant semester’s shopping period begins. Seminar instructors often give enrollment preference to senior majors in their home disciplines, on the grounds that such students need to complete these courses in order to graduate. If a course is required for your cognitive science study plan, we will contact the instructor on your behalf and try to help you gain admission on analogous grounds – and if it is not possible for you to be admitted, we will help you find an appropriate alternative. (In exceptional circumstances, we may be in a position to make such petitions on behalf of juniors – for example, when a seminar is central to a student’s study plan, and there is reason to expect that no similar seminar will be offered during the student’s senior year.) Just remember: in order for us to help you in this way we need to have your requests as early as possible, and certainly at least one week before the shopping period that semester begins.

The answer to this question will always depend on the details. We’ll need detailed information on the courses you’ll be taking – including readings, assignments, methods of assessment, etc. These will be reviewed by relevant Yale faculty, to determine whether they meet the standards of the analogous courses taught on campus. If they do, then the DUS will determine whether the courses can count for the major based on their fit and overlap with your course plan as a whole. (Note that it sometimes requires some initiative in order to gather this information, since not all study-abroad programs make past syllabi available – and some courses do not even have syllabi. In these cases, you’ll have to try to get the information from past years or past students, and we may be able to approve the course provisionally, as long as it does not deviate significantly from the past syllabi.) In any case, if you’re planning to study abroad and would like to receive course credit for some of the courses, you should always talk to the DUS ahead of time, and you should never assume that a course will count until it has been reviewed.

Copies of senior essays from 2016 onwards can be found here. For copies of older essays, please contact the Senior Colloquium instructor (