The Eli Way

Why Harvard will never adopt Yale's college system

To the first-year who just had a nasty case of the blocking flu, the Yale system of residential housing seems like the perfect remedy.

Unlike Harvard, Yale doesn't ask that first-years form blocking groups to enter the housing lottery.

There is no need to prioritize friends, no sheepish moments where you have to tell your roommate you won't enter the housing lottery with him.

Instead, the Yale admissions office assigns first-years to their residential colleges before the students even arrive on campus.

So perhaps it's not surprising that some House masters have proposed the Yale model as a way to finish the project of randomization and reduce first-year stress.


But while Yale's method has its allure, administrators say Harvard's House tradition and advising system make the proposal unlikely to be enacted here.

Looking For Solutions

House masters say the strains of forming a blocking group are real enough that some of them have discussed adopting the Yale system of assigning first-years to their colleges--Yale's version of Houses--before they arrive on campus.

At Yale, first-years know their college assignments from the moment they step on campus, and while all first-years live on "Old Campus," they are grouped with other members of their college.

Some masters say such a system would eliminate the stress of blocking by completely randomizing housing, once and for all.

"There is an extraordinary amount of pressure on freshmen concerning blocking," says Quincy House Master Michael Shinagel. "The time being devoted to a secondary issue of blocking should be focused on major concerns, like choosing a field of concentration."

And Thomas A. Dingman '67, associate dean of the College for human resources and the House system, says that he once supported a switch to the Yale system because prior to randomization, students also had to worry about which House to choose.

"I've always thought it wouldn't be a bad way to go," he says. "I've always thought there was a lot of anxiety [about blocking]."

But while some have suggested a switch to the Yale system, masters emphasize that the discussions have simply been informal.

"I think anytime there's any discussion about how we do things, various ideas come up," says Donald H. Pfister, outgoing master of Kirkland House.

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