The simplicity of Yale's method of assigning freshmen to residential colleges provides a rather startling contrast to the masterable-only-by-computer procedure which Harvard employs.
Yale distributes its freshmen to one of 12 colleges, always maintaining in each a 2 to 1 male-female ratio, as well as set numbers of scholarship and non-scholarship, private and public school students. Freshmen in a particular college are grouped together by entryway, if they live in the Old Campus where the majority of new students are housed. However, freshmen in two colleges, Timothy Dwight and Silliman, live in their colleges immediately.
In formulating freshman assignments, Yale also takes into account the placement of small minority groups, such as black women or Spanish-speaking students. For example, Chicano freshmen are put in four colleges one year, in four different ones the next and so forth.
Yale offers only the siblings or children of alumni their choice of college, but "most in fact do not" take advantage of the opportunity, Yale's dean of Undergraduates Affairs, John A. Wilkinson, says. Wilkinson says he received only three or four complaints about assignments this year from freshmen.
In March of every year the freshmen in different colleges who wish to room together enter a reallocation pool. Yale guarantees that all of the future roommates will be in the same college, but not necessarily in the specific college requested. The Yale administration attempts to place each group in the college with the most representation.
This year, out of 1350 freshmen, Wilkinson said, 201 entered the pool and only 67 changed their affiliation. Wilkinson confided, proudly, that no students complained to him this year about their fate in the pool, but the dean added that he does usually receive some disappointed students.
Judging from the number of transfers, the system works well. Yale handled less than 25 switches a year, while Harvard, accommodated between 185 and 200 transfers this year.
Before Yale switched to its present assignment system, it affiliated freshmen in the same way as Harvard, Wilkinson said, and serious stereotypes developed which were based on the college's geographical location, architecture and Master. Recounting a situation reminiscent of this year's lack of spreading in freshman housing applications, Wilkinson told of one year in the early fifties when only one student designated a particularly unpopular college as his first choice.
Although some have speculated that the current freshman class is leading Harvard back to the attitudes held during the fifties, no one has yet corroborated this suspicion. If Harvard continues its present House assignment system, it will probably end up in a few years with the same problems Yale faced--and solved--over a decade ago.