SUPER sorry I’ve been MIA these last two weeks! I promise to be more consistent as of now since I’ll be living with a host family (THE nicest host family in the world!) in Peru for the next two months and will have internet access. These past two weeks I’ve been living out one of my personal dreams: Euro-tripping with friends. In a whirlwind of two incredible weeks, we were able to hit up Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Barcelona.

Crepes + Eiffel Tower = as Parisian as we could get!

San Marco Plaza in Venice: Home of the Scariest Pigeons

Florence: Illegal but mandatory picture of me and David! Can't believe Michelangelo touched that and I stared at it!

Perfection and Happiness captured at the Leaning Tower in Pisa – mini trip during our stay in Florence

The Roman Ruins are anything but literal

Barcelona but not the Sagrada Familia…oops

The Peruvian group beachside! It's like I never left home 🙂

I never thought I’d be able to freely roam Europe in great company, but the generous Harvard funding that I received for my summer internship in Peru bestowed me the freedom to apply my personal savings towards granting one of my own wishes. Although my Euro-exploration will always be a source of exciting/embarrassing/once in a lifetime stories that will cease any awkward silences to come, I was also without wifi whenever I wasn’t in the vicinity of a McDonald’s or Starbucks which not only made communication slightly impossible, but also made blogging a feat I could not triumph.

My Peruvian internship (don’t worry I’ll definitely be blogging more about this!) and reliable internet access begins at such a clutch time because this summer, Harvard College gives undergraduate students June 4-18 to submit our PTP (Pre-Term Planning).

Since I now proudly hold one year of organic chemistry education under my belt, whenever I see the three letters PTP chained in this specific order, I automatically think of the electron sink cofactor and freak out. Before I was enlightened (cursed?) with this knowledge, I equated PTP as PLP: pre-life planning – the mechanism Harvard used to passive aggressively force students to plan out their lives in concrete. Both these perceptions are entirely wrong.

What is pre-term planning??

PTP can be perceived as a win-win situation. Deadlines for PTP provides the needed kick in the butt for students to start thinking about next semester’s classes, how their graduation requirements fit in during their remaining time at Harvard, and future plans in general. On the administrative end, PTP gives the university a slightly more accurate count of course enrollment so that faculty can prepare and allocate resources as needed such as how many teaching fellows (TFs, pretty much the same as a CA: course assistant or a TA: teaching assistant). A student’s PTP declaration is in no way binding. You can think of it as a casual conversation with a friend who asks you what classes you’re thinking of taking next semester. Here are two official websites that explain PTP:

PTP is a new tool that started the same time I began college (Fall 2010) so you can expect that there have been a few bumps in the road. However, you can also expect that the university is actively working towards smoothing out these bumps – you can see their reaction to student suggestions through this technology forum.

The undergraduate campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson chronicles the history of PTP pretty well in these successive articles:

But I know it’s the summer and these articles have a lot of words. I’ll try to summarize its history below, especially for those with senioritis – although if reading these blogs is your form of procrastination, I completely condone (and empathize)!

I think PTP was instated because Harvard’s system of course selection is one of the most relaxed I’ve ever heard of. Students do not have to know what courses they’ll be enrolling in until a week after the semester begins. The first week of every semester is termed “Shopping Week” because students are allowed to sit in – or walk out – of any classes they choose in order to sample the class and evaluate if they’d like to commit to the material and professor for a whole semester. With this super chill system, it can be difficult for faculty and administration to anticipate how to allocate resources in a timely manner in order to get the semester rolling. PTP helps give staff a better idea of students’ interests and more adequately prepares them for the upcoming semester.

The theoretical purpose behind PTP is awesome because it aims for optimal efficiency and doesn’t call on too much effort from students. However, in PTP’s early days, the tool used to submit our anticipated classes was absolutely horrible – and even more dreadful if you take into account the technology and coding we have available today. The tool was super redundant and NOT user friendly at all which made every student feel completely technologically incompetent. Also, the university use to request PTP super early i.e. when you haven’t yet become accustomed to the current semester’s workload which encouraged students to not complete PTP as accurately or genuinely as they could have.

The majority of the hassle on the students’ side has been diminished with the new way to submit PTP. With this most recent PTP submission, students are able to submit their intended classes directly through in the same way that students commit to their classes so the routine is not only familiar, but also easy.

Here’s what it looks like now:

much more self-explanatory!

Positive results have also been reported by Harvard: “This early and generally accurate information has allowed us to more effectively allocate course sections and to minimize late TF (teaching fellow) appointments. Possibly related, last fall we had the lowest number of TFs in recent historical memory who scored poorly on the Q (Q guide).”

…proving my original hypothesis that PTP is a win-win. Now it’s up to how much we all win!

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  1. YJ’s avatar

    Hi! Whoa it looks like you’re having an amazing summer! I wanna go Euro-tripping with my friends sometime too 🙂 I’ve never been to Europe but it looks like such an awesome place. Omg, I wish my high school had something like PTP/Shopping Week! Are there any courses you’re required to take at Harvard? Or are you free to choose which courses (and how many) to take from the beginning of your freshman year? Also, just curious, does your room/roommate every year?

    1. Jeanie Nguyen’s avatar

      I hope you get the chance to Eurotrip YJ!! I’m not a history-oriented person at all, but I definitely came to appreciate all the history classes I took in high school when I saw all the architecture, paintings, etc. in front of my face!

      Yes, Harvard College has required courses. Don’t quote me on this but I think no matter which concentration (major) you choose to pursue, all students will have to take Expository Writing 20 – you can read more about this here:

      Each concentration, secondary field, and citations also have requirements. Here are some pretty good websites that explain this – I’ve listed them from most helpful to helpful (in my opinion!)

      Also, Harvard provides a liberal arts education so there is also a set of General Education classes that need to be fulfilled. (The Core shouldn’t apply to you – The Core was replaced by the new Gen Ed)

      This may seem like tons and tons of requirements – but don’t freak out!! It’s totally not! Some requirements overlap and whatnot. As a freshman, you’ll get an Academic Adviser (typically a staff member at the College) as well as a PAF (Peer Advising Fellow who is an upperclassman) who will both work really hard to make you feel comfortable academically. After your freshman year, you’ll get new advisers once you declare your concentration; there are always tons of resources at your fingertips!

      Most full time students enroll in four courses per semester (this is plenty!!). If you’re an upperclassman and are pretty much done with your graduation requirements, you may be able to take less classes depending on your situation. Students may also opt to take 5 classes within a semester; most students trekking down this path, however, normally drop their fifth class. I’ve also heard of students taking 6 classes per semester, but I’m pretty sure you need to petition some deans and what not to tackle such a rigorous course load!

      Sorry if this was such an information overload!! But you asked really great questions. Thanks for not being shy about the questions!

      And regarding roommates: you get assigned roommates your freshman year. As an upperclassman (sophomore and beyond), you get to choose a group of friends (called blockmates) that you’ll get to live in the same House (dorm community) with for your remaining time at Harvard. Your rooms (typically) change every year – hopefully it’s an upgrade!

      Good to see you’re still reading and inquiring YJ!

      –Jeanie Nguyen

    2. Scott Yim’s avatar

      Wait…I submitted my PTP using the old tool. I had no idea we could do it through my.harvard! Whaaaat??

      1. Jeanie Nguyen’s avatar

        You’re clearly guilty of not reading your emails! But at least you read our blogs 🙂

        –Jeanie Nguyen

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