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Harvard University

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  • Statistics

    Cambridge, MA
    Most Selective
    Acceptance Rate:
    6 %
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  • Summary

    With an endowment the size of some countries’ GDPs and a legacy that reaches into the top levels of American government and business, it’s no surprise that Harvard University continues to tower over the college landscape.

    Harvard College, where undergrads make their home, is just outside of Boston in Cambridge, and like other top-tier Ivies, boasts castle-like neo-Gothic architecture and ivy-covered walls. Undergraduates say courses are rigorous but diverse, and core curriculum requirements force students to dabble beyond their areas of expertise. While the top-notch professors are often too focused on research or grad students to give undergrads much quality time, students report they learn just as much from their

    best-and-brightest classmates. Social life revolves around 13 residential houses, where students sign in with friends after freshman year and spend the next three years eating, sleeping, and partying. Most students are by nature ambitious, but they still find time to get their party on at Cambridge’s college bars, dorm parties, or one of Harvard’s secret “finals clubs.” While pre-professional students can be competitive and curves tough, it seems the hardest part about Harvard is just getting in.

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  • Additional Info

    Harvard College, the undergraduate nook of Harvard’s sprawling Cambridge complex, was envisioned by its founders in 1636 as the first in a series of colleges that would eventually comprise an Oxford-like learning complex to educate future ministers and religious leaders in the Massachusetts colony. John Harvard, a preacher in nearby Charlestown, left the hypothetical new school half his estate, including his library, to get it off the ground, and the school was named in his honor. The first students were granted degrees in 1642.

    Harvard elected its first non-clergy president, John Leverett, in 1708, and over the next two centuries, the school broadened its curriculum to concentrate more on science and literature than religion. Between 1869 and 1909, president Charles W. Elliott introduced a number of changes to Harvard that took it to the forefront of American higher education. Graduate offerings were introduced and enhanced, sister school Radcliffe opened its doors to women in 1894, and the academic endowment grew from $2.3 million to $22.5 million. The next president, Lawrence Lowell, introduced the residential house system and conceptualized the concentration requirements to create well-rounded students pursuing individual courses of study. Harvard’s merger with sister school Radcliffe began in 1963 with the first joint diplomas issued, but the two schools weren’t fully integrated until 1999.

    Harvard’s red colonial buildings are arranged around a series of “yards,” similar to the series of squares that make up Cambridge. The college’s campus centers on Harvard Yard, which insulates freshman dorms, houses a number of administrative and academic facilities, and introduces scenic green space into the Cambridge landscape. Some residential houses are situated just south of Harvard Yard by the Charles River, while others extend across campus past the Yard and into the Quadrangle near Harvard Square. The majority of undergraduate buildings are located in the cluster created by Harvard Yard and Harvard Square, but Harvard’s graduate schools extend into Boston and neighboring Allston.

    Cambridge’s many squares host a diverse array of stores, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops designed for the high-end college crowd. The town has been built over the centuries to integrate with and support the students and professors at MIT and Harvard, and there’s a sense of the college’s traditional colonial history in its architecture and offerings. Harvard students tend to stick to their side of the Charles and frequent the campus-adjacent pubs and breweries. Should they decide to head downtown to sample Boston’s college-heavy nightlife, Boston’s mass-transit system, the T, makes stops on campus. Nearby Allston, which Harvard is eying as an ideal location for science and technology expansions, is a little more industrial and gritty, unlike the quaint college-brochure charm of Cambridge.

    There are exactly three campus traditions at Harvard, and they’re collectively known as the trifecta of embarrassing things all undergraduates must take on before graduation. The number of Harvard College students who even try to complete all three is most probably very low, but it’s certainly a badge of honor if you can say you’ve managed the feat. There’s no point in going to a prestigious Ivy League school, after all, if you can’t personally defame it a little.

    "Pee on the John Harvard statue—-it’s almost a side requirement for one to be drunk while doing this, which makes completing this tradition all the more dangerous because a) It’s HARD to mount the roughly ten-foot-tall statue, and b) It’s slippery to do so, due to the veritable parade of students who unload on it on any given weekend night. Keep in mind that this is the same John Harvard statue whose foot reputedly has the power to grant one admission into Harvard, meaning that by day you’ll see parents holding their babies up to kiss it, foreign tourists taking pictures with it, high school prospects trying to hug it, etc., all woefully unaware of what happens to it by night.

    "Have sex in the stacks of Widener library—-it’s dark, it’s musty, and it’s big enough to (somewhat) guarantee privacy. Fact 1: few Harvard students are sexually promiscuous; fact 2: all Harvard students spend substantial amounts of time in the library. Therefore, if you are one of the few undergraduates who does enjoy a random hookup or two, the stacks become an inevitable place to do it.

    "Run Primal Scream: twice a year, the night before Exams Period begins, Harvard students who care to do so take to the Yard and streak around it (stark naked). More than the two others, this is the Harvard tradition most students absolutely refuse to take on, because a) the outside public knows about it, and everyone and their grandmom shows up to watch—-creepy!, and b) spectators of every sort take pictures, and you never know where those are going to end up. Yet every semester, a sizable contingent of students continues to show up to run.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1821) was an American essayist and author.

    Presidents John Adams (1755), John Q. Adams (1788), Theodore Roosevelt (1880), Franklin Roosevelt (1903), John F. Kennedy (1940) all graduated from Harvard.

    Sumner Redstone (1944) is the corporate leader of Viacom and CBS.

    T.S. Eliot (1909) was a well-known American poet.

    Conan O’Brien (1985) is a comedian and late-night TV host.

    Natalie Portman (2003) is an Oscar-nominated actress.

    You might not expect Harvard to be a jock school, but the college boasts one of the largest Division I athletic programs in the country. Over 1,500 student-athletes compete on 41 varsity teams in the Ivy League conference. A dozen or so intramural sports pit residential houses against each other in sports like table tennis, kickball, dodgeball, and the annual Charles River Run.

    While its football team might not ever be coming to a BCS bowl game near you, students and alumni take pride in the storied history and traditions surrounding athletics at Harvard. The Harvard-Yale Regatta is one of the oldest continuous college rivalries in the country, with the first crew match dating back to 1852. And the annual Harvard-Yale football game (“the Game” to insiders) draws a huge crowd on every Saturday before Thanksgiving.

    Cannonballs thrown out of dorm windows during the Revolutionary War are responsible for the dents in Harvard Yard sidewalks.

    The original library from John Harvard was destroyed in a fire. Only one book survived—-it was snuck out by a student.

    "Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf" refers to a collection of “great books” that former Harvard president Charles Eliot compiled to form the basis of the liberal arts literary education. According to him, all you had do to was spend 15 minutes a day reading from the collection to get a proper education. It formed the basis of many literary curricula that came after.

    Before getting its own name, Radcliffe was known as the “Harvard Annex for Women.”

    Harvard’s library contains 15 million volumes, making it the fourth-largest collection in the world.

    The Harvard Lampoon humor publication has such distinguished comedic alumni as Conan O’Brien, Andy Borowitz, John Updike, George Plimpton, and Robert Benchley.

    Among its many pop culture appearances, Harvard provided the setting for: Love Story, Stealing Harvard, Legally Blonde, The Firm, The Paper Chase, Good Will Hunting, How High, With Honors, Soul Man, and Harvard Man. However, following Love Story (and until The Great Debaters was filmed in 2007), Harvard banned camera crews from actually using the campus to shoot.

    Weld is one of the most popular freshman dorms. A good location, elevator access, and spacious quarters add to its appeal. Stoughton is another popular one, due to its close vicinity to classes, good layout, and wood paneling. Other well-liked freshman dorms include Matthews, Grays, and Wigglesworth. Pennypacker is a dorm primarily known not for packing freshman into close quarters (I mean pennies--bad pun) but for being far from campus. To be honest, I think Pennypacker defeats the purpose of having freshmen conveniently situated, because Pennypacker residents must walk a good deal to attend classes and to eat at the freshman dining hall, Annenburg.

    Canaday is probably the most disliked freshman dorm. Really, it’s not THAT bad, because it’s very closely situated nearby classes, but when your friends live in very Harvard-esque beautiful buildings and you’re staying in one that’s extremely plain, you feel a little bit sad. The terrible layout makes Canaday one of the worst (if not the worst) Harvard dorms. Apparently, Canaday originated as a dorm to house Harvard students that rebelled and rioted (rioting being a very common occurrence in Harvard’s history). So when you wonder why you’re staying in a dorm that resembles a jail cell more than a student residence, you’ll understand.

    While upperclassmen dorms (called “houses”, like in Harry Potter!) are farther from classes on the whole, I prefer them because they are more spirited and closer to dining halls, which are smaller and more accommodating. One of the most popular upperclassmen dorms (the most popular one this year, according to freshmen) is Quincy. Quincy has a great location (being pretty much at the center of everything) and a fantastic dining hall. Unfortunately for most, upperclassmen dining halls are variable in their quality, but for Quincy residents, this is only a positive. Fabulous cookies and weekly ice cream are noted Quincy attractions. Other popular houses include Adams (closest location to classes), Kirkland (closest to many eateries and the gym), and Lowell (again, good location). Leverett Towers looks very “un-Harvard” in that it lacks the red brick, but is awesome because of its huge rooms and fantastically large windows. Unfortunately, your chances of staying here are slim unless you’re a senior in Leverett (sophomores and juniors tend to stay in Old Leverett, which isn’t that great). Other upperclass houses include Winthrop, Dunster and Mather. The last two are known for having bad locations and smaller rooms (though Dunster dining hall is one of the best).

    The Quad houses are the ones that tend to be furthest from classes. Freshmen tend to avoid the Quad because of its very inconvenient location, but once becoming Quad residents, they seem to change their minds, and they learn to love it. The rest of the residential houses can be found here, including Cabot, Currier, and Pforzheimer (PfoHo). Dudley, the 13th and final house, doesn’t house any students but provides food and social activities for interested grad students or off-campus undergraduates. On the whole though, Harvard dorms are awesome. Even if their dorm is “unpopular”, residents tend to love it anyway, because of the strong social bonds they develop with their housemates. Encased in red brick, wood floors, and ivy, Harvard dorms are beautiful things.