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Harvard University

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What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

I would recommend looking at the whole package - the feeling of the campus, academics, how many students are involved on campus, etc. One of the most important aspects of my experience was the strong community feeling that was acheived through student groups and on campus house life in particular. I am now a graduate student at a state school where most undergraduates live off campus. Seeing the other side of the spectrum really makes me value the fact that I went to a college where the vast majority of students lived on campus. Rather than college just being classes and homework, it was a life experience involving not only high level academics, but also collaboration and socialization with other students from a diverse range of backgrounds. When picking a college, it is also important to look at things which might be of interest to you in your junior or senior year that you may not have thought about yet, such as opportunities to join research labs. My experiences in a physics research position set me up well for graduate school, something that didn't consider when I chose schools and might not have happened at a small liberal arts school.

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Dear Self, As a college student, I have some important advice. Read carefully. Open up. This includes peers AND (gasp) elders. Though it seems unlikely, professors do generally enjoy talking to their students. And though it's intimidating the first few times, I guarantee that you will not only get your money's worth (college isn't free), you will also gain important advice not obtained anywhere else. And talk to your classmates! Your experience will be so much greater if you make friends. Don't be scared; take initiative. Smile. Chances are some of them will grow up to be famous, and you can tell your grandchildren how you knew them or at least smiled at them once. Nothing is handed to you. College is filled with MILLIONS of opportunities at your fingertips, but YOU have to take advantage of them. Ask around for research opportunites; shop extracurriculars on your own. Choose your major based on interest, not job prospects. You will be so much happier if you do. Many successful people have great jobs with seemingly unprofitable majors. And lastly eat. Don't worry about the Freshmen Fifteen. I think it's a myth. Sincerely, Gina

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I would advise students to really take notice of the feeling they felt on their first visit onto the college's campus. Your gut instinct can tell you more than you intially believe. Students should ask questions that are otherwise unobvious, but would impact their daily life greatly. How clean are bathrooms kept? How noisey do the dorms get? Is the area safe at night and within walking distances of certain necessities? I would also suggest talking to students actually attending the school rather than just administrators and parents. They are the ones experiencing first hand the college experience that you can expect once you arrive there as a student. Furthermore, I would suggest finding the right balance for the student between academics (demands, classes offered) and social life (diversity of people, activities offered). If the student's prefrence for the balance of those two factors are in line with that of the rest of the campus, than I'm sure it will be a perfect fit. Lastly, I would advise giving yourself time to get used to such a major change. Growing up is a transition and college can be a fun part of that process.

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The best thing that an individual can do for herself in selecting the right college is to figure out her own inclinations. In addition to burying herself in piles of Princeton Review guides and stacks of school mailing materials, she must engage in enough soul-searching to know exactly **what** aspects of a school are most important for her. The athletic teams? The riverside location? The history department? Bigger isn't always better, and prestige isn't everything to everyone. That said, probably even more important than choosing the "right" school is simply knowing and using the resources of the school in which one ends up. In college and in life beyond the ivory tower, you can't always choose the situations into which you're thrown, and it's the people who revel in their coursework at a small-town night school, who I feel, ultimately lead more meaningful lives than those who skip four classes a week at an Ivy League meatgrinder after choosing to enter just because they got in. It's a matter of perspective, and THEN action--because without the right attitude, you're just going through the motions, and then what's the point?

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Dear Claudia, As you enter Harvard take time to reflect on what has made you a successful scholar and now a first-generation college student. You have been relentless in your studies and you have devoted yourself whole-heartily to your community. Study the subjects that you have always loved and those, which you have never explored, but always wanted to. Embrace your brilliance in the humanities and social studies. The best students at Harvard have moved from the phase of self-doubt and uncertainty about their futures. The gift of knowing yourself is one possessed by few, even at Harvard, and having it will certainly help you make the best use of the wealth of opportunities that await you. At Harvard you will meet very friendly, interesting, and intelligent people. Now is the time to be social and to learn by experience. These are the people you have been looking for your whole life. The friends you make here will be like a second family, and once you make great friendships, Harvard will finally become a home away from home. Lastly, remember life is precious and only worth living if one is happy. Live life to the fullest.

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My advice is simple: don't sell yourself short, either financially or personally. Parents, don't assume that all private colleges are too expensive -- the really good ones usually have financial resources to help anyone who's qualified attend. Students, don't be afraid to shoot for the stars. Apply to many colleges, including a bunch of "reach" schools. These four years are often hailed as "the best years of your life" because of the freedom and fun of college, but they are also some of our most important formative years -- personally, academically, socially, culturally, religously, politically.... During this time you will rise to academic challenges, be exposed to a diversity of viewpoints, give back to your community and develop a sense of self that will carry you forward into the future. When I left my tiny town for Harvard, I came face-to-face with people from all over the globe and learned more than I had ever dreamed possible -- and my life will never be the same for it. Don't be afraid to put yourself on the line in the application process. Don't sell yourself short. You never know where you might wind up.

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My first advice to my senior self would be this: don?t worry so much ? instead, channel all nervousness into realistic preparation and hard work. Some worries about college life, relating to such aspects as workload required and extracurriculars offered, need to be addressed as legitimate concerns, but the response should be purposeful study and active advice-seeking from knowledgeable sources rather than needlessly feeding anxieties. Another tip I would give myself: people you meet won't fit in the boxes you?ve created for them. While I may have thought that I would have to know everything there is to know about politics or pop culture in order to have a decent conversation with my worldly-wise college friends, my fear was unfounded. I've found that my peers are not only more well-rounded and diverse than I gave them credit for but also just as eager to make friends as I am, relieving much of the pressure I felt. Lastly, I would give myself the encouragement that college life is what I make of it. I have the great opportunity to solidify and expand my interests and to join (or create) groups of friends who share them.

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I attended a small high school, and so when I finally arrived at high school, it's fair to say that my world exploded. I have taken classes on subjects I've never explored before, including Japanese History, and all the classroom experiences have led me to consider a concentration in East Asian Studies. I've also learned what true dedication is. College is different in that you focus only on a few clubs, and for me, it's kendo and the Taiwanese Cultural Society. In both, I've decided to step up to the plate and undertake responsibilities as, respectively, equipment manager and educational chair. In addition, I've started creating connections with students, professors, and alumni that I'm sure will be of great benefit in the years to come. Since I've learned to reach out more, I've gotten so much excellent advice on everything from internships to science. I surround myself with kind, intelligent, and successful people, and because of that, I'm starting to change for the better. Finally, college has encouraged me to take better care of myself, since I've truly realized that a healthy body and mind is best for success.

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The key piece of advice that I would give to myself is somewhat paradoxical: preserve the old, but embrace the new. In high school, it's easy to get caught up in cliques and upholding a reputation for yourself, but in college, make it a goal to meet new people and try new things. Take the opportunity to start fresh, from the people you choose to be your friends to the clubs and extracurriculars you decide to join. What you learn from the different people you meet and the exciting things you try will shape you into a wiser, smarter, and more cosmopolitan person. That being said, always remember to hold onto the values that are most important to you. Learn to be independent, strong-willed, and driven, and don't let others sway you too easily with peer pressure. College is about finding a balance between schoolwork, family, friends, and just about a million other things, but most importantly, it's about finding a balance between finding yourself and shaping yourself. Preserve your personality and the things that make you unique, but always be open to learning and embracing new lessons inside and outside of the classroom.

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College is not only a time to develop your career path, but it's also a time for personal growth. It's a place where you learn about who you are outside your family, friends, and hometown. This can be an exciting and confusing time. Choose a place that you feel comfortable and can see yourself being happy. When you are happy, it's easier to focus on your studies and really engage with your classmates and resources available to your school. Of course, money, location, and major is always important to consider. Just remember, it's not just about a name brand school that counts, but rather, a place that will help nurture you to achieve your highest potential. Finally, to make the most of your college experience, continually ask yourself what it is you want to learn more about about. This can be in the classroom or with extracurricular activities. Then, seek those people out. At college, there are an infinite number of ways to learn about anything you are curious about, and people to support you in that process. Remember, you are in the driver's seat now and your reality is sincerely your creation.

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