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Harvard's beautiful -- it takes a while to realize that. One thing you have to know when coming to Harvard is not to set over...
Harvard's beautiful -- it takes a while to realize that. One thing you have to know when coming to Harvard is not to set overly high expectations because you'll be let down sooner or later. When I first came to Harvard, I felt disoriented -- I expected life to be perfect and the school to accommodate to my every needs. But, after having dashes of realism slapped to my face, I realized that would never happen and that Harvard is great as it is. If you go to Harvard, you're going to have to deal with the uncomfortable situation of people asking you where you go and then being shocked to hear the answer. It's a bit awkward because they usually react by believing you to be a brilliant person destined for greatness, to which you have to respond with a combination of modesty and agreement. I spend most of my time in my dorm room. I do frequent the dining halls, libraries, other people's rooms regularly though. On the weekends, when I feel overloaded, I like to go to the various shopping malls we have (3 big ones: Downtown Boston, Cambridgeside Galleria, Prudential). Boston's a great town and I'm excited to exploring it more. The complaints I have about Harvard's administration are I feel they could really do more in terms of school food and school-wide events. The food isn't great -- with that much money, shouldn't we have better food? Comparatively, though, I feel it's equivalent or a little better than most college campuses, so maybe I'm just a bit spoiled. As for school-wide events, Harvard seems to pool a lot of money into individual club events and such. There aren't many school-wide events for people to attend without club affiliation. Of course, club events are usually open to everyone, but still, it'd be nice to have more "Harvard" events to increase school pride. There is of course a lot of school pride about Harvard. Most everyone is happy that they go here and the "prestige" it lends to their self-esteem. For the most part, Harvard school pride isn't verbalized however. There is more overt "house" pride (upperclassmen are separated into Houses, where they stay from sophomore to senior year).
There are so many groups on campus that no student would feel out of place at Harvard. It can be hard to find the group that fits you, however, so make sure to sign up for list-serves (email lists) and attend lots of introductory meetings. Most students dress casually to class -- t-shirt and jeans are the norm. Different types of students do interact and are very open to each other, but for some reason the blacks always find the blacks, the asians always find the asians, etc. I feel that there can be a cultural barrier that is impossible to breach, where ever you are. Students are definitely politically aware and it is easy to get involved with a group of your political stances. Students rarely talk about how much they will earn in one day or their grades and SAT scores. I've heard that we're just not supposed to talk about our scores with each other.
Harvard doesn't have the shiny golden aura that most people perceive it to have. It's a great school that doesn't make or break you. Sure, there are tons of opportunities -- but no one hands them easily to students. Students have to be motivated and search for the opportunities themselves. As for grade inflation, it's true that if you study hard, you probably won't get a C or D. But look at it realistically -- Harvard students are people who are used to working hard and getting A's. Most of them work extremely hard, so getting a B+ and up can be very tough in most classes. Those who come into Harvard thinking it will be easy will be brutally shoved into real-life with the heavy courseload of essays and difficult exams. Harvard students are smart and hardworking -- but not all of them are brilliant and not all of them care about studying. Perhaps they did in high school -- but there are a fair number of students that slack off when they come to Harvard and end up nearly flunking out of the school. Many students who are not that smart are extremely hard workers -- and they handle the coursework as well or better than their "genius" peers. As for the party life, if you're into partying, it's definitely there and easily accessible. If the party life isn't for you, no fear -- you're in good company and won't be forced to participate.
Professors generally don't know your name unless you frequent their office hours constantly, which most people don't. This is in contrast to Teaching Fellows and Section Leaders who almost always know your name (since sections are taught in 15-30 people groups). My favorite class was Statistics because 1) the material was very interesting and applicable to real-life and 2) the professor genuinely cared about helping his students and held many office hours. My least favorite class was an animation studio class. It required so many hours of mindless drawing and the professor was pretty mean, too. Class participation is common when it affects your grade. If not, it's not uncommon nor common. Students are competitive but they often work with each other because not only is it nice to have a study friend, but it can be very beneficial to your grade. I feel that many students could not get by well if they did not have a good study group. Harvard's academic requirements are not hard; in particular, the requirements for my concentration (Economics) are relatively lax. There are some concentrations, however, that are very, very tough (Physical and Chemical Biology, Physics, etc.). We do have core requirements which can be a bother, though. Nevertheless, the core requirements allow for a full "liberal arts" experience. Education at Harvard is geared toward learning for its own sake. However, after going through its tough curriculum, most jobs will be happy to take you.
Harvard is supposed to be the "gold standard" of education; essentially, this implies that if you go here, you're brilliant and set to do brilliantly in life. Harvard is known to be a rich school full of opportunities. It is also known to have grade inflation; many have the idea that the hard part of Harvard is getting into it. Harvard students are stereotyped to be geniuses or at least people engrossed in academics. They are expected to be very hard workers who "don't have a life" and who don't party, do drugs, or have sex much. People assume Harvard students are preppy and rich.
I'm involved in this really low key game development group that I love. It's perfect for people who like programming and game development. The events at Harvard are pretty popular -- especially the ones that are well-advertised. The most popular groups/organizations are the ethnic ones (Asian American Association, etc.), Women in Business, and the Harvard Crimson. Fraternities and sororities are not allowed technically but a few do exist. Instead, we have Finals Clubs...but most people don't participate in these, only a select few. An event that happens each year is Primal Scream -- in which about 20 or so students strip naked and run through Harvard Yard. Everyone can participate but don't ask me about the details -- I'd never do it! You can do a lot on Saturday Night -- play games with friends (poker, Wii, PS2) or, my favorite, go to Boston to go shopping! There are also lots of great places to eat. Unfortunately, Harvard Square is lacking in good Japanese food but has a good assortment of Indian, Thai, and Mexican food. Boston is famous for great food. If I'm awake at 2am, unfortunately, I'm probably trying to do my Problem Set or doing some other sort of work. I wish this wasn't the case, but it's true -- most students have to study and work very hard.
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