Harvard University Top Questions

What are the academics like at your school?

Surya

The ambience is very competitive. We have the case methodology for every class where student participation is very critical.

Hunter

I'm going in for biomedical engineering. It's intimidating that it's mostly make dominated.

hash

Yea, all the professors know my name

Prabhat

Great!

Rohit

Student friendly, innovative and advanced.

Nicholas

Classes are Harvard are usually described as impersonal, "taught by grad students", etc. In my experience those claims are untrue. There are some large lecture classes but any class with more than 20 students in it is required to hold smaller, break-out weekly sections (these are usually taught by grad students). Professors are incredibly accessible, because they are required to hold office hours each week (these regularly fill up). Outside of the structured access, I know many students who get coffee with TA's and professors. The quality of the education is another matter. I don't think the content or quality of the academics at Harvard are that much different than another other top-tier American university. Moreover, the liberal arts nature of the academic requirements results in many students graduating having gained no practical skills from their education. That lack of training is supplemented heavily by students' extracurricular pursuits instead.

Nicholas

Classes are Harvard are usually described as impersonal, "taught by grad students", etc. In my experience those claims are untrue. There are some large lecture classes but any class with more than 20 students in it is required to hold smaller, break-out weekly sections (these are usually taught by grad students). Professors are incredibly accessible, because they are required to hold office hours each week (these regularly fill up). Outside of the structured access, I know many students who get coffee with TA's and professors. The quality of the education is another matter. I don't think the content or quality of the academics at Harvard are that much different than another other top-tier American university. Moreover, the liberal arts nature of the academic requirements results in many students graduating having gained no practical skills from their education. That lack of training is supplemented heavily by students' extracurricular pursuits instead.

Daniel

The beginning classes are really large and taught by very famous professors, while the higher level classes get much more personal and concentrated. My beginning Economics class had 800 people, while upper level ones have 10-15 sometimes.

Bonnie

Academics at Harvard are incredibly rigorous in that you're challenged to a much higher degree than you were in high school. At the same time, there are so many different classes and concentrations ("Majors") so you can form your own path in academics. One thing to be aware of is that Harvard is a liberal arts institution and NOT pre-professional. Therefore, while you'll have groups and resources for pre-law, pre-med, finance, accounting, and consulting, you'll never find that here in official academic courses.

Alyssa

Great. I have no complaints at all. I will preface by saying that there are only 60 people in my major so my experience might be atypical. However, I love most of my courses and find that they are incredibly stimulating. I also do not really find myself doing busy work and can see the merit in most of my assignments.

Ryan

I found professors to be much more approachable than I'd been warned they'd be. The biggest obstruction to close student-professor relationships, I think, is students' feelings of inferiority and insecurity. In many classes, and even smaller sections, students are afraid to ask any questions in class that aren't ubersophisticated and perfectly worded, and a sense of relief is almost palpable whenever somebody does ask a basic question. I did form some close relationships with professors, but it took a while to get comfortable enough to feel like I could be myself and that I didn't have to be impressive and well-poised all the time. Students are generally so extracurricularly involved that they really don't study all the time, but they somehow manage to do great work anyway. Many are somewhat closeted perfectionists who actually do manage to get great grades, run homeless shelters, have romantic partners, and run 3 miles a day.

Valerie

Professors know your name if you make an effort to meet them (go to office hours), or if you take a seminar class. One favorite class was a seminar with Prof. Steven Levitsky. Least favorite class was a core, "First Nights" -- big waste of time. Class participation always happens in section, sometimes in lectures. Some students have intellectual conversations outside of class, but I'd say it's a minority. Most students are not too outwardly competitive, except for pre-meds. Most unique class - I haven't taken it, but I'd have to say it's the wine-tasting seminar. My major was Social Studies -- interdisciplinary social science, fantastic. Rarely spent time with profs after class. Academic requirements were fine, though they are changing (Core is being replaced by Gen Ed). Education is mostly geared toward learning for its own sake. Preprofessional training happens extracurricularly, and those programs are very good.

Tate

Academics at Harvard...difficult but worth it in the end?

Dave

People study a lot in order to do well. The curve usually sucks. Classes are hard. Professors are generally decent, but most of the time I find myself just studying the book and doing just fine. I don't see professors outside of class. The academic requirements are reasonable.

Katie

No, my professors don't know my name--but my section leaders do, which works for me :) I think also your class size and relationship with professors depends on what type of classes you are taking (your concentration) and how involved you make yourself in the class. I personally participate in class a lot, but student participation varies. Yes, harvard students have intellectual conversations outside of class, but that's not ALL we talk about :) Sadly, I think much of the students' personal investment in their own education is motivated by the desire for a job, not learning for its own sake There are billions of cool classes!! and some really boring ones you have to take--the CORE system kind of sucks.

Tate

Students are fairly competitive. But, at the same time, there are loads of students who just say something for the sake of saying something. It's very unfortunate that a lot of class time is wasted on people talking nonsense.

Torry

Certain intro science classes are too large. Students are very competitive, sometimes cutthroat.

Wally

The professors of some of my smaller classes do know my name (math 25), and it's kind of nice. The large classes are sometimes too large, I feel; and the TF quality varies widely. Students here tend to be competitive in a sort of passive way; I feel like everyone works hard on their own and there is a lot less voluntary helping among students.

Charlie

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.

Paige

Academics can get pretty aggressive at Harvard. Being premed, those courses are extremely competitive. People are very smart and some are capable of studying very efficiently. If you don't get it right, you lag behind and it's hard to catch up because other people are getting smarter and better. I know maybe one professor somewhat well but only because I took a freshman seminar and two semester courses with him, in addition that I will soon be a course assistant for one of his courses. I feel like if you make it happen, you will get a professors attention but you have to work for it. Class participation is very much integral in sections but not so much in lectures unless they are very small. The math department, my department, has very smart people and it can get quite intimidating. You have to find your niche though and work hard to understand things, even if you feel you've come from a strong calculus background.

Vick

Classes are sometimes big, but you can still talk to professors at their office hours, although few do. Class experience sometimes is based on the TF you have, which sucks if you have a terrible TF, despite being in a fun class.

Chris

You can Harvard classes what you want them to be. If you are willing to pay attention in class and do your homework and reading they can be stimulating, thought provoking and fun. On the flip side if you neglect the above requisites then they become unintelligible, annoying and burdens. Its normally the students call.

Torry

The core program is pretty inconsistent in terms of quality (a lot of the science and math cores are pretty bad), but the administration is really working on changing it. Harvard seems like a big place, but within your concentration dept it is a lot more personal, even with big concentrations like English. The library tends to be pretty full Sunday - Thursday, which actually makes it kind of a social hot spot. The quality of discussion will almost always be far beyond anything you had in high school, although sometimes you get one of those extremely annoying Harvard kids who just loves to hear their own voice. But in general it is a fairly laid back environment, people work together and make study guides before finals, etc. Harvard's classes are definitely not geared towards getting a job and there are no pre-professional concentrations. By junior year, though, a lot of people are preoccupied with getting i-banking and consulting jobs, and Harvard definitely tends to push people towards those types of careers.

TJ

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.

Kelati

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.

Alex

Students are competitve and I wish more intellectual conversations took place outside of class. Again, I believe this is a function of too much work being assigned that keeps people busy and no designated space for students to simply hang out.

Shelby

Harvard classes range in size from 4 to 1000+ students. The amount of direct interaction with course-leading professors varies inversely with the size of the class. Class participation is generally welcomed by the teaching staff and is thus quite common. Students also have incredibly stimulating intellectual conversations outside the confines of the classroom. Caveat: there is really no such thing as an "easy class" at Harvard. Doing well academically will require a persistent, sustained effort; indeed, my favorite classes thus far have been among my most work-intensive and challenging.

James

There's a lot of work to be done at Harvard. Just like any other university, actually, you can find classes to coast through or courses that will challenge you more than you ever thought possible! (The likelihood of those "coast" classes is probably lower here, of course...) Harvard students study, study, study, but at the same time it's pretty difficult to get a terrible grade if you do your work. The key to enjoying your courses (and challenging yourself) is, at least in my opinion, finding small classes -- which is almost always a possibility at the higher levels of any department. That being said, the huge intro-level courses are often well-taught, and help is always available if you're feeling lost.

Bobby

Professors are distant from students unless you make an effort to meet them. But the students are extremely smart.

Bevan

economics classes are great, bio classes suck

Alan

Students study a lot, especially for science classes. I am a Chemical and Physical Biology concentrator who is thinking about being pre-med. Still, what scares me the most are Core requirements; I hate writing essays!

Alex

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.

Blake

Amazing. Professors are approachable. The resources are there, you just have to reach for them.

Aaron

Yes, all of my professors know my name. There is a very close student-faculty relationship here.

Lindsey

The sciences in my opinion are more rigorous that the humanities. Some concerntrations particularly those with a lot of pre-med students have a more competitive atmosphere.

Peter

My professors mostly know my name. The best course I took was Social Thought in Modern America (Hist 1661) with James Kloppenberg. He gives a very challenging, comprehensive reading list and you have to read it all. But in return, he gives excellent lectures, hires quality teaching fellows and requires that you come to office hours to meet with him. Taking the course triggered a ton of intellectual conversations with my friends over meals. Our study group met every day for at least two hours for a week to prepare for the exam - it was awesome in its intensity. Students don't really talk about grades. That's probably a good thing for our health. Education at Harvard is geared towards academic life, which makes a lot of people not care since they are focused on getting a job anyway.

John

poor teaching, but great professors - they are amazing resources

Jessie

Not what you expect. There are classes that are poorly taught, while others can be just phenomenal.

Ryan

I can sum up the academics at Harvard in the following phrases: - Some classes are ridiculously hard. Some classes are ridiculously easy. There is nothing in between. Therefore GPA says little about your intellect. - Some professors are totally awesome (who actually care), and the others are simply terrible (who don't care at all). Again, there is no one in between. The amount of knowledge you gain is correlated with how much the professor cares, not with the level of difficulty of the courses. - Good TFs are the key to good understanding of class materials - I can't emphasize this enough. If your TF is obviously unprepared/annoyed to teach the section, GET OUT. You'll suffer.

Toby

Some professors are really nice. They care about students and are really interested in students' development. I am fortunate to have some of these professors. Harvard is not a job-seeking oriented educational institution. It focuses on education for its own sake.

Annetta

Challenging, mostly from peer pressure, in the sense that most students work hard, but people also work together well. Most classes form study groups and review groups.

Shawn

The level of intensity and amount of work varies greatly between students .

Sean

Are the academics geared toward getting a job? Well, thats what recruiting is all about - if you want to work for somebody. The education provides the tools, and its up to the individual to learn how to use them to build something.

Alex

Professors are awesome here. Student are very competitive and that is simply they are somewhat insecure. Education at Harvard is geared torward succeeding in every aspects of life. I love Harvard!!

Jamie

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.

Alex

Some of the professors know my name. They are all quite nice.

Jordan

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.

Andy

The professors are very nice and helpful; even the most famous of professors take the time to hold office hours. There are unlimited resources available to help students understand the material taught. Large classes are often split up into smaller sections to help students get an even better learning experience.

Grace

If you're not careful, classes at Harvard can be extremely intense and competitive. The pre-med and pre-investment banking courses (economics, statistics, etc) can be cutthroat, so be prepared to invest a lot of time in these courses. Take a balanced courseload and don't discount the importance of humanities courses in making up a well-rounded tutorial. As an economics and pre-med concentrator, I've sometimes given the humanities courses short shrift, much to my intellectual development's dismay. I think that education at Harvard is geared toward learning, usually, but it's very much up to the student what they want to make of their college education. You can go through Harvard never having read Socrates or heard of Mahler, but Harvard's requirements make it harder to do so. The most unique class I've taken is my Economics tutorial - which consists of five students and an economics graduate student as the teacher. Meeting biweekly, classes consist of discussion of 3-4 economics papers that cover a variety of topics, from health to psychology to history to the philosophy of science. The major project is writing, basically, an economics paper, and it's been one of the most difficult things I've had to do academically thus far.

Harper

Being a freshman, I find that intro classes suck, especially Life Sci. Generally, other classes are good and professors are willing to be available. I find the students study at the last minute a lot because they are used to doing that in high school. Intellectual conversations tend to happen more outside of the class than inside of the class because many students have diverse interests that are not completely covered by the classes that they take. I find that there are a lot of people at Harvard who just want a job, but there are also more people here than at other schools who want to learn for its own sake. I've actually asked my friends at other schools about this and I feel as though I have more intellectual conversations here that they do at their schools.

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