With admissions offers out and many people struggling to choose between different colleges, I thought I would throw my two cents in along with the others. I therefore warn you in advance that this post will be mainly focused at admitted students to the class of 2017, but I hope this will give anybody interested in Harvard a better insight into life here. I’ve been keeping an eye out on the 2017 Facebook group, so I’ll attempt to debug a few myths about Harvard which seem to keep cropping up.
One of the most interesting things I found was the notion that Harvard professors aren’t accessible to undergrads, and are solely focused on post-grads. This is a complete fallacy. Although it does vary between faculty members, I have found all of my professors so far to be really interested in getting to know their students, and in the vast majority of time it’s that the students don’t take the initiative to seek out them out. Every professor will hold what we call ‘office hours’ each week, which is where anyone in their class is able to go along to their office and sit and chat to them. Although these can be busy with the larger classes, I’ve never found it a problem to speak to a professor, and most of the time they will happily schedule appointments outside of their given office hours. Every class I have taken has started with the professor urging the class to come and see them, so they definitely want to get to know their students! Coming up in a couple of weeks we have what is known as a faculty dinner, which is where students can invite their professors to eat with them and discuss anything from class topics to current affairs, so that’s a really great thing the college do to encourage contact. Some professors will even hold their own lunches, such as my government lecturer last term professor Levitsky, who organised a whole lunch series throughout the course to get to know his students. And it even works both ways with the grad schools as well. One of the greatest things about the college is that there are courses offered at the grad schools which are open to undergrads, so you can even access the professors at Harvard’s phenomenal post-grad schools as well.
Another worry I’ve had some people ask me is that Harvard is an incredibly stressful place. While I’m not going to lie and say that it isn’t, there are times when it can be stressful especially around deadlines, one thing I always emphasise to people is the one aspect about Harvard which surprised me most: their system of pastoral care. There is so much support at Harvard that no matter what problem you have, you will always be able to find someone who knows you to speak to. Whether it’s a problem in class, in which case teaching assistants can help, matters regarding course selection, an area your academic adviser who is assigned to you at the beginning of freshman year can help with, to worries about more general, social issues, Harvard has a plethora of different options. Every freshman is given a PAF, a peer advising fellow, who is an upperclassman who is there whenever you need someone to speak to who has gone through it before. As well as this there is confidential counselling available to every student run by students, and Memorial Church features 36 chaplians from 25 different religions and denominations who are always available to speak to you. I wasn’t aware that Harvard had such a fantastic system of support when I accepted my offer, but it really makes me feel as though whatever problems I may face in my time here, there is someone who I can go and talk to about it.
Lastly, a common questions I see is ‘do Harvard students have fun?’ This question is easy. Harvard is full of incredibly outgoing, sociable people who whilst are very smart, live to socialise. I’ve met some of the best people I know so far over my (almost) year here, and have had so many laughs along the way. I’ve been to sports games, concerts, meals out, formals, semi-formals, gigs, shows, dances, parties, I could go on, and never has the adage ‘work hard play harder’ been more relevant, as much of a cliche as it is. As great as the courses offered here are, class at the end of the day is class, and it’s always great at the weekends to get out, do something different, and relax. Off of campus Cambridge and Boston are both fantastic places to explore, and I couldn’t wish for a better place to live during my time at college.
If you are undecided about which college to choose between, I hope this has been helpful in giving you a bit more of an insight into life here at the big H. Whichever college you choose will be the right one for you, as it will be the factors which make you choose it which will end up being more important. But that place should be Harvard (sorry, I swear I’m not biased).
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