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Harvard University

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

Be yourself. Yes, at first being surrounded by peers who seemingly save the world on the weekends is intimidating, but they will love you for who you are. Make sure you keep a good sleeping and exercising schedule - it will help you more than you can imagine. But, most importantly, do not stress about your grades. Although there will be a ton of pressure from competitive classmates to worry endlessly over your grades, don't. This does not mean "don't study hard" or "don't worry about homework" - you will have to put in a lot of effort to get good grades, more than high school. But once you pass in your paper or finish the exam, let it go. When you study, don't panic. If you need help, get help, and don't be afraid to admit you don't understand something. There are so many things in this world that can go wrong, but grades are one thing you have control over. So, take a deep breath, do what you got to do, and get on with life. Because college may be the best four years of your life, you need to enjoy them, too.

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The college years, while being perhaps the most formative of early adulthood, also pass by the most quickly. The rigors of academic life and the possibilities of social life upon up and accelerate like never before, as you become immersed in a community of learners. While this is a wonderful time for exploration and it is vital that students use their college experiences to gain a broader understanding of the world with its many different cultures and peoples, and it is also intensely important to reach out to your fellow students to gain insight into the variety of backgrounds and interests of others of your generation, college is the time to find your passion and to begin a foundation in that passion that can guide your life. College is a place where we go to find out what we really love, and this quest is best completed in a place you can love. The ideal college stimulates by challenging and engages by encouraging. Find the community that will be most likely to allow you to propel yourself to this.

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As someone who has been very satisfied with their college experience thus far, there are only two pieces of advice I would give to myself if I could go back in time to when I was a senior in high school. Firstly, I would advise myself to focus on career opportunities, even if I am unsure about my potential major and career path. Experience in any field is better than no experience at all, and it would have been extremely beneficial to dive headfirst into an internship and develop a strong work ethic in the summer before I went off to Harvard. Secondly, I would stress the importance of trying new things in terms of extra curricular activities. While I am proud of the immense impact I've had on one major student organization on campus, it would have been even more gratifying (and educational) to take on smaller roles in other different types of organizations. Not only would I meet new people with different interests and talents, but I also would gain essential knowledge in fields I am not as skilled in.

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Dearest Grasshopper, Take a deep breath and relax, for you have chosen well. These past few months at college have been some of the best of your life so far - but not for the reasons you anticipated. No, it is not the thousands of classes advertised in the course catalog you skimmed incessantly or the low student-to-faculty ratio you calculated. It is not the career path you have chosen or the calculus class you passed. Instead, it is the roommates you laugh with late into the night, your peers who are passionate, creative, and best of all, witty. It is the majestic, Harry Potter-esque dining hall to which you and your fellow freshmen flock for late-night study breaks. It is the a cappella concerts and guest lecturers, from Yo-Yo Ma to Al Gore, that pepper your calendar. It is the community you are immersed in - it is the home you have searched for. Step back from the websites, brochures, and statistics, open your eyes, and jump. The landing will be softer than you think. Yours gratefully,

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I think the most important question to consider is "What will this college do for you?" Will it guarantee you your dream job? Help you meet your future spouse or the best friends of your life? Will it give you time to figure out who you are and delve deeply into a subject of personal interest? Will it teach you a useful skill that you can quickly apply to a career you want? A lot of students jump into elite 4 year schools, when perhaps they would rather have been accountants or dental hygienists. Think about your own priorities and what will make you happy. There is no one fit answer for everybody. Some students go to Harvard, hate it, have no idea what they want to do afterwards, and end up working at the University in admissions or the library while paying off 200K in loans. But if you make the wrong choice, don't despair. Students transfer all the time- a few of my friends transferred and they fit in fine and are very satisfied with their decisions. It's never too late to be happy!

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From my experience and observation, almost all students end up loving the university which they attend - keeping this in mind while applying for schools will help reduce the stress greatly. When looking for colleges, be realistic, have back-up options, and find universities that have programs and students that will be engaging for you. Before you apply, ask yourself WHY you want to attend college, WHY you value what you value, this will help you express these feelings in your essays and interviews (it's what the colleges want to see). While college is obviously a place to get a good education, it is also a place to make connections that you could use for the rest of your life. Wherever you end up, meet as many people as you can, get involved in as many organizations you can, and take classes that you find engaging and interesting as those are the courses you will succeed in the most. Aim high, strive to succeed, believe in yourself, make friends, and make time for yourself.

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Choosing the right college is something that is very personalized to each student. It's great to aim for a college like Harvard, but like any school, Harvard does not suit every individual's needs and preferences. The best question to ask yourself is, will I be happy here, and will I be able to maximize the opportunities given to me? Will classes be so hard that I am left struggling and studying every minute of the day, or are they going to be so easy that I find myself bored all the time? Choose a college that will allow you to explore new subjects, and discuss your thoughts with people who might disagree with you, and choose a college that will allow you to give back to your community in terms of volunteer options and career options during and after graduation. Above all, ask yourself if, ten years later, you will look back and consider yourself a better person for going to this college, whether it be the education you received, or the friends you made.

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Though I have no regrets about the college trajectory I am currently following, I would advise all high school students to enter college with an open mind. And open mind to making friends, joining clubs, selecting a major, and picking classes. Don?t be afraid to stray from your initial friend group and join the chess club or an environmental group- you?ll meet really interesting and diverse people and be a better person because of it. Stay active with your body by joining intermurals or a club sports team. But most importantly, stay open-minded! The most valuable thing I have learned throughout my first three years at Harvard is to be well rounded. Don?t let yourself get too caught up in one activity or class because there is so much in the world to try and experience. College is an incredible opportunity for young adults to dabble in everything and anything and high school-ers about to enter, should definitely be taking full advantage of it!

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Well, my friend, you made it. All that effort has actually paid off--congratulations to you! I know (I was you, after all) that you're imagining college--what will happen, how the people will act, the classes--and getting ready for that experience. Trust me when I say you should throw your plans out the window. If college has taught me one thing, this past year, it has been that life is far too fluid for a high school senior to plan what his next year will be. Everything you assume will be one less thing you are prepared to deal with when things do not go the way you planned. So, what to do? Well, if I may humbly offer some advice--don't expect anything. Be like a child, as the Taoists say. Let life show you the doors before you plan on which ones you will be opening; just get out there and see what happens! If I were you, I would never have expected to be where I am now--and, as me, I could not hope for a better place to be.

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Decide what it is that you want to get out of your college experience and choose accordingly. If you're sure of your intended major and the career path that you want to pursue, then pick a college for its program based around that subject. If it's important for you to explore fields, play sports, join a sorrority, etc. also pick around what specific environment(s) you'll feel most at home in. Of course, balancing other factors like the types of social events and the students that attend is important. If your "average" student at a college in question does not have interests that match up to your academic or social interests, you should likely keep looking. Visit a school, both before and after you've gotten in, to determine if it is really a place you could see yourself living in and enjoying for four years. Remember when picking a schoolthat it should adapt to your interests and persona, not that you should adapt to its.

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