Harvard's academics are pretty difficult. Everyone is so smart and driven that you feel pressured, in a way, to work harder than you may otherwise ever have. Let's say Person A decides to study for a few hours. As he's finishing up, Person B sees Person A studying, and decides that she'd better study, too. So, Person B begins studying...and Person A sees her. Though he was going to stop, he figures that because she's studying, he'd better study more, too. Now, time passes and Person B wants to end, but sees Person A studying. ...So she studies more, too. Pretty soon, everyone is studying all the time.
As an art history concentrator, all my concentration professors have known my name and gotten to know me pretty well in the academic setting. The classes I have taken outside of my concentration have been let-downs because the opposite is often true. People don't seem competitive in general, though I have known a few. Too often, people see learning as a means to an end, and thus don't enjoy their time here nearly enough - if I could change one thing about the school, that would be it - people should stress less about jobs (especially seniors) and give themselves a chance to enjoy learning.
The initial impression of classes as a Freshman is that you are isolated from the professors. However, as you become more specialized in your concentration, you get more involved with them. There is a lot of freedom. How much you get out of your education is proportional to how much you put into it. You can get by really easily by taking easy classes, but most people don't. There is vast territory to challenge and explore, and I would recommend exploring. You must be proactive in approaching professors whose research interests you, etc, but once you do, many many doors are opened.
Who cares about academics when there's six-figure finance jobs eagerly advertising themselves at OCS's career fairs, which are unrivaled in their balanced representation of the careers available to Harvard students? Why study for final exams in January when there's 50 companies to apply to on E-recruiting? With Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers to impress, who wouldn't take Capital Markets and cross-register for Accounting at MIT? So much talent and so many dreams enter Harvard every fall. Somehow, they emerge from the crucible as so many cogs for the finance machine.
Favorite class - Music 93r and First Nights. Class participation is common. Harvard is the best place for intellectual convo, inside and outside class. Students are competitive in premed classes, but internally. No bitching or catfights. Just intensely competing against self and against the grade curve. Professors come eat at house dining halls sometimes, very accessible. Academic requirement - kinda hard, demanding, more than prepares you for med school. Education geared towards learning more than job, although there are a lot of advising at the OCS for career prep.
Some of my professors know my name, but it's true that most of my classes have been large, impersonal lectures. Students study a lot, although it varies rather widely depending on what classes you take. Pre-med classes, for example, are quite competitive. Math and science concentraters spend a lot of time working. But if you take the right Ec or Gov classes, you can sail through without doing all that much work at all. CS is a pretty time-consuming major, but I think Harvard does a solid job at teaching it, especially considering that we're not a tech school.
My favorite classes have been my Expository writing classes. Those were very small classes of about 10-15, where we worked on developing college writing skills. The professors for that class were amazing and I continue to talk to one of them even though I am not still in that class. I have even gone out to coffee with my expository writing preceptor from last semester. Professors are extremely accessible if you shoot them an email requesting time. The most unique class I took was a course called Madness and Medicine last semester as one of my core requirements.
Competitive! But also a great way to develop intellectual skills. Students engage actively in class discussions, and the class I most enjoy this term is my Expos 20 class: Modern Art and Its Philosophy taught by Marlon Kuzmick. Intellectual conversations are often brought outside of class, too, where, in dining halls it is not uncommon to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything. Though most of the time students here are too busy to sit through a deep conversation except at the most random times; the night before a final, 7am breakfasts.
I feel like academics is important for many people but the real movers and shakers on campus are those who can balance decent academics with a lot of meaningful extra-cirriculars. Even among peers it is much more impressive to be heavily involved in the IOP rather than spend all of your time studying. I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that grade inflation allows students to do so.
Yep. I love language classes. I hate those math classes where the professors just think we're all stupid. Some of them always, most of them before the midterms, all of them in reading period. Of course. Idem. One I'm taking with the "god" of the field. They're nice...sometimes...ok, most of the time. Kind of. They want us to die. Getting a job (I know, it's sad)