There are always a million activities going on: student theater, both good and bad, art openings, speakers, dialogue groups, film screenings, and anything else imaginable. It's rare to find a student who's uninvolved in some sort of group, and people take them very seriously. The student body is divided up into houses, which are equivalent to Yale's residential colleges. Students "block" at the end of their first years with a group of friends, and though the houses are all now supposedly equal, there is certainly a general impression that some are better than others. Adams remains the sort of elite house, the one with the most gilded feeling and which happens to be closest to campus. Some student rooms and suites are really stunning, and especially as they become upperclassmen, people tend to leave their suite doors closed and socialize mainly with their blockmates and roommates when they're at home. The Dudley Co-op is an alternative to the Houses which more students should know about and visit, whether or not they decide to live there. Big hot dinners every night, 32 creative students in two Victorian houses, front porches, fresh bread, cheaper than the houses, endless food and much love, not to mention the persistent dream of a naked lunch.
I'm pretty sure that the Harvard Crimson is the biggest student organization, with something like 700 student editors. More people than that overall participate in athletics though. Phillips Brooks House Association has about 1000 volunteers doing some kind of public service, but it's a lot less cohesive since it's done through about 70 different programs. Fraternities are not important, though the rich Harvard version of finals clubs are important to some people. That said, I've never partied there and they don't really affect me. On a Saturday night not drinking: go to the pub and play pool, see a movie, go to a play, go ice skating downtown. During the day: go to Harvard's art museums (3!), natural history museum or anthropology museum. Athletic events ("The Game" = Harvard-Yale aside) are not well attended.
The typical harvard prototype is a the male guy who is on the crimson and does crew. yeah, I know a couple. However, that's not the case at all. The social life can be whatever you want it to be. I tend to think I can assocaite myself easily with any group I want. I met my closest friends by being their neighbors and then eventually roommates. Also other close friends are people I share classes with. People who are awake at the random 2 am are probably studying or trying to do something productive. Yeah, there's the ocassional goofing off, yes we do procrastinate. Harvard students are not machines. There's always that house grille to go to at 1 am and drinking isn't an issue until the weekends. Rarely will I leave campus b/c honestly I see no need.
Athletics aren't that big at Harvard, but some really good friendships and relationships are made on the athletic field, so it's definitely a good idea to join one. Crew is especially popular. Students don't generally leave their doors open - the administration actually frowns upon that for safety reasons. The best known extra-curricular activities are usually the big name ones: Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, Hasty Puddings, etc. People generally party once a week, I think, if they party at all. Spring and Winter formals are pretty big, and my social life on the weekends mainly consists of going out to eat, watching a show or concert, hanging out, and occasionally going to a party.
The social life at Harvard is odd. I feel that the way social life happens on campus is often extreme...I have met many a student who can't seem to function or have fun without alcohol. I personally party every once in a while but at times it can get monotonous. I am very happy that Harvard doesn't officially have frats and sororities and I make it a point to stay away from finals clubs (even though I have friends in them). Harvard has made great strides to amp its social scene on campus. I feel that because many of us don't venture out into the Boston community, we do support our fellow students and attendance at campus shows is always heavy.
As a science student who didn't really get out much freshman year, getting into an upper-class house was a god-send. I met a great group of friends and got really close to them. The dozen or so of us eat pretty much every meal together and even though we don't have much time to go out and do stuff, we often study in the same room so we can talk and socialize when looking up from our work. However, it is easy to get complacent in that clique and fail to branch out; now, I think we've grown a little weary each other and although we'll look back on our years fondly at graduation, it is probably a good thing that we only have one more year here.
I meet my closest friends through either my entryway or activities that I do (which are mostly cultural/religious) There are loads of guest speakers who are pretty cool/famous, and it's pretty amazing to get to go see them. I find that my social life involves dance parties and shows, mostly because I don't drink, but there are many people who go out during the week (although they are not the majority) and get drunk. Frats and sororities are not as important on campus as they are on other campuses. You can definitely have a kickass social life and not be associated with any greek organizations or finals club.
-like i said, its whatever you make of it: if you want to find people that party hard 4 days a week, you can find them, and if you want to find people that stay in the library until closing on the weekends you can find those people too. -its kind of hard to date here, although i know plently of people that do it...it seems everyone i know is either in a multi-year relationship or just hooking up with someone for the heck of it... -athletics aren't important...no-one seems to be able to muster the energy to walk across the river
Harvard offers an unimaginably large roster of extracurricular activities to choose from. If your interest is not represented by one of these preexisting organizations, you can always establish your own group. In terms of social life, Harvard is working hard to promote college-wide events bringing together people who live on different parts of campus. Parties are confined mostly to the weekends; people can be happy either going to these parties or abstaining from them.
Extracurriculars at Harvard are a GREAT way to meet new people, get advice from upperclassmen, and build a lasting friendship. Small organizations foster a family bond through common interests or backgrounds. With hundreds of different student organizations, everyone can find a place where they can chat with friends of common interests.