Eli Whitney Student Program: Additional Information and How to Apply

Eli Whitney, a distinguished inventor and the son of a New England farmer, came to Yale College in 1789 at the age of 23.  He had to overcome significant challenges to attend Yale, and he personifies the kind of student who, through talent, creativity, and drive goes out into the world to make a real difference. 

Since 2008, the Eli Whitney Students Program has offered non-traditional students the opportunity to enroll in Yale College for the opportunity to earn a Yale College B.A. or B.S. degree. Students come from all walks of life. Some have owned their own businesses or worked in the business world before coming back to school; others have focused on their families or served in the military before returning to college; others still have traveled, studied, or lived abroad before coming to Yale. 

The Eli Whitney Students Program is for students who wish to complete their degree through flexible study, either part-time or full-time.

Please note: there is a separate Non-degree Program for individuals who wish to take credit-bearing classes for their own personal and academic growth. The Yale College Programs of Study offers further information on the Non-Degree Program. Contact: nondegree.program@yale.edu.

The current Eli Whitney program consists of approximately 25 people, all of whom have distinct and diverse backgrounds. Yale is welcoming to non-traditional students, whose backgrounds can add exceptional dimensions to seminar discussions, student clubs, academic organizations, and the Yale community at large.

Yale’s Tradition

It’s where presidents past and future mingle with future Supreme Court justices, film and sports stars, Nobel Prize winners, and great thinkers.  Nathan Hale, our nation’s first spy, studied here, as did Maya Lin, who, while still an undergraduate, won the public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maureen Chiquet, CEO of fashion house Chanel, earned a Yale degree in literature, as did Sarah Hughes, a skating gold medalist in the 2001 Olympics.  Several Yale firsts include Yung Wing, class of 1854, the first Chinese student to earn a bachelor’s degree anywhere in the Western World, and Edward Bouchet, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in America in 1876. 

The Eli Whitney Students Program has become a part of the 300-year Yale tradition.  As the university enters its fourth century, it stands as an educational institution of global consequence. It holds to an ideal of undergraduate education deeply dedicated to educating citizens and leaders who can make a difference at home and abroad.  Yale College seeks exceptionally promising students of all backgrounds from across the nation and around the world, to educate them, through mental discipline and social experience, to develop their intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest. “Yale’s liberal education is an education meant to increase…a sense of the joy that learning for the sake of learning brings, learning whose goal is not professional mastery or technical capacity or commercial advantage, but the commencement of a lifelong pleasure in the human exercise of our minds, our most human part.” (Bartlett Giamatti, President of Yale, 1978-1986).

Mission Statement for the Eli Whitney Students Program

Through the Eli Whitney Students Program, named after Eli Whitney, a distinguished inventor and the son of a New England farmer who came to Yale College at the age of 23, in 1789, Yale College admits a small number of individuals with high academic potential and offers them the opportunity of flexible study for the completion of the B.A. or B.S. degree. It promotes Yale College’s mission to educate for citizenship and service by enrolling students who have demonstrated leadership and maturity. Yale College, in turn, expects Whitney students to contribute their unique form of diversity and enrich Yale College through their life experience, sense of purpose, and character.

Yale’s Excellence

Yale’s professors are some of the most distinguished in the world.  Yet what makes Yale truly unique is the receptiveness of these professors to their students.  Yale’s professors are devoted to undergraduate teaching in a way that few other colleges can claim.  This is how students described geology and geophysics professor Mary Louise Timmermans, in her citation for winning Yale’s 2015 Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics: “Your students praise the way you combine ‘a passion for science and research’ with a ‘caring spirit’ and a ‘commitment to students.’ One student noted: ‘Professor Timmermans brought an enthusiasm to the classroom each day that proved an inspiration for each and every student. Her constant, contagious smile not only demonstrated her interest in the material, but it was proof that she enjoyed every moment she spent in the classroom with us.’  This is the Yale way.

Whether coming to Yale from a community college, the military, abroad, or an extended absence from school, and whether with a spouse or partner, children, or pets in tow or as a party of one, you will find extensive support waiting for you at Yale.  Admissions officers can discuss your unique circumstances with you before you apply; once accepted, you will be assigned an academic adviser who is the dean of the residential college with which you are affiliated.  Add to this the director and staff of the Eli Whitney Students Program and the peer advisers available through the Eli Whitney Students Society, and you have a strong support structure in place for you, even as you — as an adult student and scholar — will seek to find your own way at Yale. 

The Eli Whitney Students Program.  Life-changing learning.


For more information about admission and academic  requirements, financial aid, and programs, please visit the Yale Undergraduate Admissions Office’s Eli Whitney web page

Please send inquiries regarding Eli Whitney Students Program requirements and admission to: eliwhitney.students@yale.edu

Office of Undergraduate Admissions | Eli Whitney Students Program | P. O. Box 208234 | New Haven, CT 06520-8234 | Telephone: 203.432.9301 | Fax: 203.436.9777

  • Students are admitted either for non-degree or for degree enrollment. Yale seeks applicants whose academic background, work experience and community involvement are particularly suited to study at Yale.
  • All candidates must present evidence of high academic potential, maturity, and clear motivation for their proposed course of study.
  • Students are not eligible for enrollment in courses in the Graduate and Professional Schools. Those interested in enrolling in such courses should apply directly to those schools.
  • Admitted Eli Whitney students are non-resident students who are, however, affiliated with residential colleges.
  • Email the Yale Undergraduate Admissions Office at eliwhitney.program@yale.edu

Yale College Eli Whitney Program Office

Director: Risa Sodi, Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of Advising and Special Programs, Yale College

Staff: Ms. Jennifer Stewart, Senior Administrative Assistant in Yale College

Location: Yale College Dean’s Office, Academic Affairs Suite, 1 Prospect Street, SSS 29B, New Haven, CT

Eli Whitney Students in the News and Other Links

Frances Fagan ‘19, “Fellowship Profiles” Yale University’s Center for International and Professional Experience 

“Veteran and Yale Senior Tony Grant Expects Graduation to Fell Surreal,” Susan Gonzalez, YaleNews 

“Joyce Maynard’s Second Chances,” Eren Orbey, The New Yorker  

Aaron Peirano Garrison ‘19, “Questions of Justice: Offices of Color in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter,”  2019 New Haven Docs Film Festival

Hillary Browning ‘21, Andrew Nguyen ‘22, and Allegra Pankratz ‘21, “Three Students Reflect on Their Military Service and Life Now at Yale,” YaleNews 

Back to School,” by Anna Lipin ’18. The Yale Herald, February 6, 2015

Eli Whitney Student Profiles

The Yale College Programs of Study offers further information on The Eli Whitney Students Program

YaleNews: Graduating veteran Christopher Howell has achieved what he’s helped others seek, May 14, 2014



photos © Risa Sodi