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CS50 at Yale Hits Sophomore Slump

By Madeleine A. Granovetter and Christina N. Neckermann, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” saw a significant drop in enrollment at Yale University as it kicks off its second year. In the meantime, the course staff have been busy making changes to the course’s curriculum, staff, and lecture structure.

At the start of Yale’s course selection, or “shopping,” period, fewer than 200 students were signed up to try out the class, compared to about 600 last year, according to the Yale Daily News. CS50 made an impressive debut at Yale last year, becoming the College’s most popular course of the fall semester with 510 students enrolled. A year later, the excitement and hype surrounding the imported Harvard course seems to have subsided.

Members of the course staff, however, are not surprised by the decrease in numbers. CS50 course instructor David J. Malan wrote in an email statement that the fall in enrollment was “to be expected,” given that last year was the first time the course was offered to Yale students.

“Whereas at Harvard, the course is new to just the incoming first years, at Yale the course was new to first years, sophomores, juniors, and seniors alike,” Malan said. “The course's first offering drew quite a few of those students, and we expect it will take some time for the course to be in equilibrium.”

Patrick Rebeschini, who is course instructor at Yale this year, said in an email that some Yale students did not expect the course to be as demanding as it was. This year, however, course instructors can count on “institutional memory” to ensure that students have a better understanding of what the course entails, he said.

“I know if you look on the CS50 website, it was always very clear that the course evaluations at Harvard said it was a difficult class,” Annie E. Chen, a Yale sophomore who took the class last fall and is now a Teaching Assistant for the course, said. “But there were definitely people who thought it would be one of their easier classes and were surprised by that.”

In order to make the class more accessible to students with little or no knowledge in coding, the Yale course has also added about ten more staff members, according to Rebeschini. Students can also attend walkthroughs of the current problem set on Wednesdays, led by Malan at Harvard and Rebeschini at Yale.

Among other changes this semester, students at both schools now have 10 days to complete problem sets, while they had seven days in previous years. Two of the course’s eight problem sets will now focus on the programming language Python instead of PHP.

In addition, students at both schools are now only required to attend the first and last lectures; every other lecture can be watched online.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Granovetter can be reached at

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