So my visit to Yale University was a bit out of season for me, since most of the schools I applied to were visited last summer. But after I got accpepted into their MA in Religion (Ethics concentration), I knew I needed to get up to New Haven. My week in New York City for the Truth Commission on Conscience in War provided the perfect excuse to take a beautiful New England day to jump on a northbound train for Connecticut.
My interest in Yale Divinity School was that it seemed to be a kind of middle ground between Union’s perceived liberalism and Duke’s (equally perceived) conservatism. I also knew Yale has the #1 Law School in the country right now, and my interest in the intersection of law and religion played strongly in my interest of each school to which I applied. I also heard from a professor friend of mine that Yale Law is very theoretical, as distinct from practical (her words implied that Harvard Law produced lawyers while Yale produced legal scholars). I happened to have a friend whose brother is a third year M.Div student at Yale and was also a commissioner at the TCCW. He and I had been in touch, and it was actually his feedback that inspired me to apply in the first place. When we met in New York, he offered his couch for my use, which only solidified my eagerness to visit.
I took the train from Harlem a few days after the Commission, on the first cold day (below 60) since I had arrived on the East Coast, so I was happy to escape the brisk Nor’east air in the cozy car of the New Haven train. I decided to rent a car when I got there, since I would need to check out the surrounding neighborhood for property and jobs. I also wandered around the beautiful campus the first day (which I was surprised to find was pretty urban). I had also heard that New Haven was “the armpit of New England (source protected for their own protection).” I did not find this to be the case, but I also did not travel far from the downtown area.
My visit day was just beyond words. The staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome and I had many meeting with various folks to sort out specifics of matriculation. Being a veteran, I needed to meet with financial aid and the registrar to figure out my GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon benefits. I was offered about 60% in scholarships, but I forfeited that since the numbers worked out to cover tuition with my vet benefits. I discovered this in a joint meeting with the registrar and financial aid director; it was like I was interviewing them (they passed, and with flying colors)! The hospitality and personability were just incredible at YDS.
After all the meetings, I went to the bookstore (my vice), which had many unique titles. As an admit, I was given a generous 15% discount (I still ended up spending +$100US), and wandered in and out all day, between appointments and meetings. Before I was to sit in on an ethics class, I went to Chapel, which I found surprisingly refreshing and moving. The message was a reminder not to paint our ideological opponents in colors that kept us from engaging in civil and productive dialog. I got the feeling the speaker was slightly more conservative than the majority, so I asked him during the following coffee hour (really more like 30 minutes). He and every other YDSer was incredibly candid in their assessment of their alma mater, even after I would reveal that I was weighing Yale against Duke. Their opinions were uncensored and unbelievably helpful. Nobody spoke down on the school they felt was less appealing, but they also never withheld their reservations about the school they favored. Honesty is in plentiful supply at Yale, that is for sure.
Before I left the Divinity School, I checked out the Yale Center on Faith and Culture. Miroslav Volf has a great thing going on there, especially around their Reconciliation Program. I was very impressed with their central focus and work, and really would love to be involved there sometime in the future (Volf also expressed a willingness to be my advisor if I switched to the Theology concentration, which would have been very feasible).
To round out my visit, I walked down to the student center and university bookstore (I had spent money at the Divinity bookstore), which was actually a Barnes and Noble. I wanted to check out the gym, but I had such little time that I focused instead on taking time at the Law School, where I picked up a bulletin and asked about cross registering in classes as a Div. student. It seemed painless and streamlined. I even walked around to find all the independent coffee shops (another vice) and bookstores (right next to each other! how is that not heaven on earth?). In all, I cannot say enough good about Yale Divinity School. It is theologically moderate, ideologically diverse, and it is in a beautiful city setting. If you’re considering a degree in divinity or religion, I would highly recommend it, as it consistently ranks among the top schools teaching theology.