Interview with Divya Balaji Yale'14

  1. What according to you works better at an undergraduate level, a small liberal arts school or a larger university? Does having to meet a core curriculum turn out to be an annoyance in any way?

I feel that the size of a college is a very subjective thing. A few factors must be kept in mind while making this choice. Some of them being: the student-teacher ratio, the style of the classes, the residential system, etc.

The core curriculum can be annoying in the beginning; however, it enables one to develop a varied skill set and all rounded personality. “I feel that Aristotle and Plato help me in understanding Darwin’s theories” .

2. All the students know that rankings ARE important. But, how important are they in your opinion?

Rankings helped me decide and narrow down on my college list. Not because going to a college up there on US news would give me some sort of ego boost but because they gave me a holistic perspective. The parameters such as academic rigor, extracurricular opportunities, diversity which were important to me while choosing my colleges were covered under these rankings. They just made life easier for me, but then again, it depends on the person.

3. While deciding on colleges what part did the geographical location (NE, Mid West, West, South) and setting (urban, rural, suburban, college town) play in your decision? Did your opinions regarding this fact change when you joined college?

Since, I was applying for full aid I didn’t have the liberty to be choosy about the location. However, I’m happy with Yale, it gives me the city life and college life I was looking for.

4. A beauty of the American education system is that you’re not required to commit to any subject the minute you join. Did this flexibility help you in anyway when you joined college?

When I joined college I was undecided and confused between a few subjects, namely: Biology, history and philosophy. However, college in the US gave me that flexibility and opportunity I needed to make my decision. Also, I think this is the aspect about the education abroad which separates it from the colleges in India. After 2 years of knocking around and indecisiveness I am planning to major in Biology and couldn’t be more satisfied with my decision.

5. How important was diversity to you when you started evaluating the US as an option? Have your notions regarding this factor changed over a period of time? What part does the ‘diversity’ angle play in the college lives of international students?

Diversity was not THE most important factor, but yes I did take it into consideration. Factors like the percentage of international students, making sure that the college had an international students’ office and an international students orientation are important and help in making one’s college experience fun. Yale does have a large population of International students and the students are diverse not only with respect to their nationalities but also with respect to their personalities, majors and thought processes.

6. Did you consider size (student population) as an important criterion while choosing schools? What do you think is a size that is ideal for you? Why?

I didn’t consider size to be an important criterion while selecting colleges. I’ve studied in a lot of schools, which have varied in the number of students they admit, and there was a different charm about each. I also feel that any college where you can find your niche can do you wonders. However, at the end of the day it is very subjective and depends from person-to-person.

7. If there was one aspect of the American education that you don’t appreciate and would want other students to look out for then what would that be?

Well, actually the food at these colleges can be quite a pain. Initially, it all looks and smells good but a few months into college and you want to take those words back.

On a more serious note, the initial set back you get from attending college there can be very hard. College in the US is not as easy in college in India. Keeping a balance between one’s extra curricular activities, academics as well as settling into college can be very taxing in freshmen year. It becomes especially hard for those students whose’ colleges don’t give extensions for submitting papers or tend to be very strict about the academics. At Yale for our extra curricular activities we do get to skirt around our academics a little which makes life a little easy. But, on the whole once you’ve settled into the system it is an amazing experience and college life grows on you.

8. Describe the personality of the student body at your college! Did the personality of the students and the environment of the college come as a shock to you? Do you feel that you have fit into the college community?

The best part about Yale is that each student at the college has a story to tell. There is something unique about each one of us. This makes social interactions all the more and gives us an insight into the various lives people lead. Apart from that I would also call them hard working but at the same time they know how to enjoy life and live it up to the fullest.  Although kids from Yale come across as people who are fully and solely focused on academics, they learn to keep a balance. The college is big on extra circulars and co circulars and, hence, it does take up a large space in our lives. On the whole I feel that I fit into this college community and love my college experience to bits.

9. What are your plans for the future?

I was always interested in conservation biology but it was only this semester that I realized that evolutionary biology really appealed to me. Three professors have been my mentors and it is because of them that I realized the scope of the field and how it personally matters to me. My Faculty advisor is Professor Stephen Stearns who is well known as the mind behind life history theory (why do we age, what does mortality mean, why do we die etc.). The questions that one asks areactually deeply philosophical in nature, stemming from early Greek and Chinese thought. However, the methods chosen to investigate suchquestions are cutting-edge.

I am currently involved in a project that seeks to build and interpret a tree of life for squamates, as well as an excavation project for cretaceous mammals and reptiles in North Dakota. I am really excited about the last two years of Yale. I have finally decided on what to do with respect to my major and I cannot wait to delve into all the research!