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:
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Do your grades so far at Yale suggest that you will perform well in the major?