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I enjoy it a lot here. Not just the prestige, but the history. I just wish I had a spare moment to enjoy it sometimes.
I enjoy it a lot here. Not just the prestige, but the history. I just wish I had a spare moment to enjoy it sometimes.
People here seem fairly normal, and you can talk to people regularly for weeks before discovering in an offhand way that they're grand-prize winners at international science competitions, or world-famous concert pianists, or children of presidential candidates, or just in some other way ten miles smarter than you.
To some extent -- yes, there are people like that; no, not all of them are like that.
The two people who ask questions in lecture can really intimidate the other forty into thinking everyone else is smarter than them.
Students: Pretentious, arrogant, self-serving, preppy, exclusive; intelligent, professional, I don't know, things like that.
There are many people here with active social lives. I have never been one of them.
“Mother Harvard does not coddle.” --what I was warned in San Jose, CA, as a high school senior decided upon coming here F...
“Mother Harvard does not coddle.” --what I was warned in San Jose, CA, as a high school senior decided upon coming here Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers: “’Year after year we seem to deny the laws of mathematics. Here’s how we do it. We survey the freshmen, and we ask them, do you think you’re in the top half of the class or in the bottom half of the class? About 60 percent say that they’re in the bottom half of the class. We also survey seniors. Are you in the top half of the class or are you in the bottom half of the class? And almost two-thirds say that they are in the top half of the class. It’s really quite remarkable what we are able to do for you.’ Perhaps at first it will be hard and you will be discouraged, Summers seemed to say from his perch. But by the end of four years you’ll be one of us: the confident, the elite, the educated.” --Liz Goodwin ’08, Harvard Magazine Harvard, journey that it has been, is a true college adventure. Never before in my life (and never afterward, I suspect) have I been so intimidated yet empowered, surrounded by resources yet shut up by work. I am amazed by my professors and classmates, amazed by the opportunities that the brand name (and its money) brings, amazed by the obsession some outsiders accord to this place. Being a student here means you are a success; it also means there is a formidable amount of pressure on you to constantly keep succeeding. Studying here often means being inundated with work, but it’s the life lessons I’ve picked up and the things I’ve learned about myself that are far more memorable than anything I’ve been taught in class. I’ve loved being here, I’ve wished to God I weren’t here, I’ve tried to escape, I’ve realized there’s nowhere else I want to be (and a lot of people share this love-hate relationship!). Ultimately, I couldn’t be happier anywhere else, and I wouldn’t be the same person anywhere else. Yet Harvard is like those AP textbooks that condition you to the material by testing tougher than the exam itself: whatever my apprehensions about the future and the real world, I think to myself, “it can’t be much more difficult than this.”
The student body is both the best and worst thing about Harvard. The variety of people that can be found here is literally breathtaking; as a Harvard student, my fellow classmates are pretty much the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Harvard students as a whole are incredibly intelligent, talented, passionate, and dedicated. They’re good at identifying what they want and zeroing in on that goal until they get it. They are the most active people imaginable, tireless in their academics and extra-curriculars, constantly tapping Harvard’s resources and making the absolute most out of everything they’re handed. The student body includes Olympians, royals, children of prominent politicians, published authors, nationally-recognized scholars, Time Magazine honorees, etc. These are people who have patented inventions, started websites worth millions, played violin internationally, broken records, so forth. And the best thing about them is that they’re all completely normal. No one brags about who they are or what they’ve done; it’s not until you happen to sit down with someone and ask them what they do for fun that you discover “I play a little soccer” means they’ve actually won multiple international titles. More than anything else, Harvard students are incredibly unique, and none of them are even remotely like the rest. As is often said, there is no “average Harvard student.” This can make for some really interesting conversations (as you begin to learn who a person is and where they’re coming from), but it also means that it’s hard to find niches, or groups of people like yourself on campus, and everyone at one time or another feels slightly out of place. People’s interests are myriad—a single sit-down with a friend can broach everything from politics to religion to technology to economics. The University as a whole is a pretty liberal place, and while there are always open-minded people ready to listen and learn, conservatives do talk about how persecuted being in that particular minority can feel. Students hail from everywhere from Swaziland to Nepal, and there’s someone to call every one of the fifty states home, but a surprising amount of people are from California, New York, and Massachusetts. The average Harvard student comes from a six-figure-income home, but no one really cares how rich or poor anyone in particular is (famous cases are a little bit of an exception). One of the best things about Harvard is how democratizing it is: everyone lives in the House system, so you can’t judge a person by how swank their pad is. The T takes you everywhere you want to go, rendering a car (and judgment of how nice it is, or if a person can afford one) more or less completely unnecessary. Everyone has the same meal plan, everyone is entitled to the same classes, etc. That being said, people who all went to the same prep school in Connecticut do tend to hang out, just as minorities kind of gravitate toward each other. Once in awhile, the students here can make Harvard miserable. One of the things I hated most about high school was how people seldom participated in activities they actually liked, and instead gauged everything they did by whether or not it would get them into college. I had hoped Harvard would be different—unfortunately, it’s a lot of the same. For the most part, students join extra-curriculars because they’re genuinely interested and find them a lot of fun. The classes people take, the concentrations they declare, and the processes they go through (e.g. e-recruiting), however, are too often only in pursuit of top graduate schools or six-figure-salary jobs. Neither competition nor peer pressure are ever too hard to find: if everyone’s doing e-recruiting, you feel like less of an achiever if you’re not vying for the same. On a campus where the world-renowned musician is also a math genius who edits for the Crimson and volunteers at the homeless shelter, it can be hard to feel adequate, and there is always pressure to turn that Harvard degree into fame and/or success. As a result, students can become myopic and get caught up in the “Harvard bubble”—overly concerned about the next paper or p-set due, and oblivious to the things that really matter or the bigger issues impacting people around the world. Most unfortunately for the students themselves, many of them don’t realize that they are suffering from the same dissatisfactions as everyone else, and consequently make situations worse in thinking they’re alone.
For the most part, no, though the extent of how accurate they are does vary according to which social circles you run with. Contrary to public opinion, Harvard these days is much more diverse and egalitarian than its blue-blood puritanical past. We have international students, athletes, people from rural Kansas, and classmates with no apparent academic merits whatsoever. Not everyone who belongs to a final club is rich, and few people are so wrapped up in their studies that they?re constantly locking themselves up in their room.
Classes at the College, in my opinion, are actually pretty bad. Even when you realize that Harvard is a medium-sized school where large classes and little face time with professors are inevitable, it’s hard to square off the expectation of what a Harvard education should be with what it actually is. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with classes here: the professors here are world-class, the material is interesting and the readings very good. Yet one still expects more out of a premier institution. I’m only on my fourth semester here, but for the most part, when it comes to the meat-and-bones-textbook-and-facts part of my education, I’ve learned little. The material taught (multiplied four or five times over depending on how many classes you’re taking) is thrown at you at a rigorous enough pace that a lot of it doesn’t actually sink in. Classes are not so much an academic pursuit as they are requirements to be checked off in the drive toward a Harvard degree, just as discussion of the material, i.e. in section, is less about reasoned debate than it is about racking up participation points. Furthermore, for people who made it past the most strenuous admissions game in the world, students don’t always possess the intellectual curiosity that marks thoughtfulness and makes for the sophisticated kind of world citizens you want to be surrounded by. The Harvard admissions brochure will tell you there’s a ridiculously high percentage of classes with fifteen students or less. Between seminars, tutorials, sections, language classes, etc., the number is probably true, but misleading. Between Cores and intro courses like Ec10, Justice, and Life Sciences 1b, there are a multitude of classes that enroll anywhere from a hundred to over a thousand students, which makes for a drudging sense of nonidentity and/or feeds an already competitive culture. I’ve seen friends turned off by the fields of study they came to Harvard to pursue because of overcrowded classes, impersonal professors, or competitive classmates—especially in the sciences or economics, where competition exists most. Solutions would include expanding the Core curriculum, offering more fun and popular classes, and giving students more options among intro courses, but Harvard is only beginning to get the ball rolling on this. I say a lot of this because I’ve taken one really good class here and know what a world-class education should be like. In the spring of my freshman year, two of my dormmates and I teamed up to enroll in a lab at the Kennedy School of Government, where our project for the semester involved developing our own non-profit. This was the class that made my Harvard experience, and transforming school from an interesting experience to a place I loved. The class was hands-on and practical, teaching us how to network; everyone there was incredibly inspiring in their personal mission to save the world, the professor and teaching staff truly cared about us and kept themselves updated on our project, and having a chance to work so closely with Harvard friends I respected led to some of my most memorable moments here. So again, there’s nothing actually wrong with academics at Harvard; one just expects it to be better, and it should be.
The last time I saw the number, the count of student organizations on campus was above four hundred. There is seriously something here to interest everyone, and something exists to respond to every student need. There are groups that teach you how to be successful (Women in Business), political organizations (Institute of Politics, Dems and GOP), a cappella groups, dancing troupes, volunteer missions (PBHA), pre-professional clubs, advocacy groups, ethnic organizations, publications, etc. (I’m sure I’m leaving a hell of a lot of things out). A professor of mine once compared students here to those of a rival institution (let’s call it Winceston) by saying that while we were intellectually similar, Harvard students were involved with so many more activities and found so much more to do in our spare time. College is the time to meet new people and try unfamiliar things out, and a lot of students take this to heart. This weekend I attended a Cultural Rhythms dance show, where performers representing traditions all over the world shared dance, music, and food with the school. Not only was the breadth of the show impressive, but many of the performers were not actually from the culture they were presenting, having only picked it up for fun while at Harvard. Parties here widely vary in shape and size, from private gatherings to Happy Hours to dining-hall extravaganzas. People throw parties because they feel like it, clubs and sports teams throw parties all the time, small (and not so small) groups of friends get together to drink, and the College subsidizes the large, official parties that are excuses for students to mass-gyrate in different dining halls. Socializing is also where finals clubs and sororities come in (fraternities and female finals clubs also exist, though they’re slightly less-well-known). Greek life at Harvard is popular, but restrained, since the House system means people don’t actually live with their sorority sisters, etc. And partying in finals clubs is said to be classier and more fun than hanging out at larger parties, but it comes with political connotations given the elitist and sexist nature of said clubs. For those neither interested in partying nor drinking, there are theatrical/musical/dance performances happening just about every weekend, for affordable prices and in support of student groups. Boston is always a short T ride away for those willing to commute. And some of my most fun weekends have been spent just sitting around our common room, watching a movie, playing a game, or just laughing with roommates. The story of the dating scene is probably encapsulated by, “what dating scene?” This is not to say that people don’t have significant others—many do (2/4 of my suite, for example). Love lives on campus, however, tend to only encompass the “marrieds”—longstanding couples who spend a good deal of their time together—or the “hook ups”—people who meet each other at parties, hook up, and don’t really bother to see each other again. Between these two categories and the fact that Harvard students often have their mind on other things, people don’t really date (i.e. get together occasionally and see how things work out) around here. Lastly, I feel that any mention of social traditions should include a uniquely Harvardian one—blocking. The freshman-year concept of choosing the seven people guaranteed to share your House for the next three years is an infamous—and unnecessary—one. Every year, tears are shed, blame is leveled, and relationships ruined as friends unfortunately discover that their friends don’t want to live with them. Just about every blocking group has some harrowing story of the drama that went down before blockmates were picked. Blocking forces freshmen to constantly gauge and re-gauge their friendships as they hope that those they like, like them back. Freshman year is enough of an adjustment, and Harvard students are often already overstressed. While giving students the choice of who they want to live with is commendable, I feel that the Yale system of housing (where Houses are assigned before college starts, and everyone in your freshman dorm is also in your House) is the superior one. Many students block with freshman-year dormmates anyway, and being spared such an inevitably-offensive-but-necessarily-strategic choice would be beneficial to a lot of Harvardians.
Rich, white, WASP-y, and old money; elitist, entitled, and snobbish; collar-popping and arrogant; smarter-than-thou with 4.0s and perfect SATs (but no social graces). No wonder I’ve rarely received positive responses when telling strangers that I attend Harvard ;)
The best thing about Harvard is that it is extremely well-endowed. You can get funding for anything; up until this semester, ...
The best thing about Harvard is that it is extremely well-endowed. You can get funding for anything; up until this semester, there were grants given out by the undergraduate council for parties. There are financial aid ready for internships, research, anything you can imagine. Wealth provides endless opportunities. Oh yeah, I took this painting class, and all the materials are subsidized. I really wish that Harvard has a better art department. One thing I would change about Harvard is the horrible schedule - we have winterbreak before finals, come back for 2 weeks reading period, and then 2 more for exams, and then a short 1 week break. I always feel that I never get rested enough for the 2nd semester. But that will change in the 09-10 school year. I feel that my school is pretty large, there are always people that you will never know. But it is never a bad thing, because you're meeting different people everyday. Harvard is also great because it is right next to Boston. Symphony Hall and art museum and shopping malls are very convenient by bus or train. Harvard is a funny school because it is very liberal. There is "Primal Scream" every semester, at 12:00 AM of the start of exam period, and people (only those who wants to) run around Harvard Yard stark naked. It's not an urban tale.
There are such big varieties in Harvard's student body, it's hard to generalize. These questions are rather too general for me to answer.
I am pretty sure that Harvard students are smart. But then everyone comes from a different background, I am not sure that everyone is rich and privileged. I certainly am not. As for clothes, I haven't seen enough MIT students to be able to judge that.
How close you get to your professors depend on the class size, what class you are taking, and who you are. If you like to talk to professors during their office hours, or if the class size is small, or the class requires that you go to their office hours for homework, then you'll probably know the profs. I don't hesitate in asking my professors to go to my concert. My favorite class this semester is Music 1b, introduction to western music from Beethoven to Present. The professor lectures well, and the material is interesting. Students are quite enthusiastic in general, but sometimes there are people who fall asleep (we do study quite late into the night) occasionally. I feel that Harvard's academic requirements are quite reasonable. I do wish that I can take more electives. I never feel that Harvard teaches the materials that we need to learn to use in jobs, but Harvard teaches (indirectly, sometimes) the way how we can be successful at work.
We are smart, privileged and rich; we dress better than MIT students.
I am in the Mozart Society Orchestra, and we put on concerts about 4 times a year, playing mostly middle/late classical music for small orchestras. I like classical music, and I go to hear the Boston Symphony pretty often. There are quite a lot of events on campus, such as music shows, or cultural shows, or always something going on on a saturday night. Most likely several events at the same time. We do have pretty famous speakers, Daniel Barenboim, the conductor/pianist, and I am sure many others that I don't know. Tuesday night at 2am, most definitely sleeping. I go to bed pretty early, 1am at the latest. But right before that, my math problem set.
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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