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.
Pretentious: some. There are definitely students who are full of themselves, and some elitist groups (finals clubs, for example), but most students aren't like that. Study all the time: No. We just tend to overburden ourselves, which leads to us studying when we don't have anything else to do. Rich: Somewhat. The socioeconomic range is pretty big. Very difficult: Depends on the classes you take, and how many. Generally we overburden ourselves with other things (extracurriculars) and that's what makes things hard...classes can vary from easy to extremely difficult. Fantastic living space: Ha. Beautiful outsides of the buildings. Not so great rooms, depending on which House you end up in. Immensely talented and brilliant: Actually, this one is true (I speak for the general population--there are a few exceptions, haha). I've learned more from Harvard students than from most other things on this campus.
In terms of the first two stereotypes, it's true that many students here fit into one of these two categories (and a very few fit into both), but students are here for all sorts of reasons other than rich parents or supreme intelligence. With Harvard's massive financial aid initiative, the campus is becoming more economically diverse every year, and students are just as likely to be here for a special talent or ability as they are for a perfect SAT score. In terms of the balance between work and play, Harvard students do generally work too hard and too long, but it's something the place honestly requires of us -- and contrary to the stereotype, we do know how to get out of the library and have a good time. For many students, partying on the weekend is proportional to work during the week!
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.
In response to... - Grade inflation: We compensate for it with harder classes. - Bad parties: If you're a guy, pay 10k a year and join a finals club. If you're a girl, start coming onto those rich boys. - Stuck-up kids: Fine, don't go to a finals club. - Too much sex: Ever heard of True Love Revolution? You'll fit right in! - Too little sex: Ever heard that the condom boxes are restocked weekly? And that you can buy the birth control pill at a blowout discount from the Harvard pharmacy?
for the most part, no. the financial aid is very extensive, so there is a lot of diversity across social/economic groups. it is always interesting to discover people's hidden talents, skills, and experiences. people generally are very intelligent, but people are accepted on a far wider criteria than "school intelligence". The competitiveness depends on the Major: pre-meds and pre-laws are the most competitive, but in general people like to cooperate much more.
People do care about their work, but there are plenty of people who go out more than two nights a week -- I usually do something 3-4 nights. You can get as much attention as you seek; all professors and teaching fellows have office hours, and are generally very eager to help you out. Difficulty of classwork varies by department, but you definitely need to work hard to do well.
The first one is true, and the second one is not. Harvard is difficult (at least for me), but it's very rewarding. The people here, however, are wonderful. The diversity is so great that there's people from everywhere and from every socio-economic class. In addition, most people are wonderfully nice and supportive.
In some cases they are, is other cases they are not. I have friends here who exemplify the preppy new englander stereotype, and others that could not more unlike that. The one that is probably true, though is that everyone here is pretty smart. Even the athletes I've met are for the most part very clever.
There certainly are a lot of people that fit that mold. Not everyone is like that. The atheletes certainly aren't, but even aside from them there are regular people at Harvard (you wouldn't know they went to Harvard unless they told you kind of people).