Answering Some Tough Questions

One exciting piece of news from the past week is that I found out I’m going to be an Admissions Office tour guide! I decided to apply at the start of the semester largely because I wanted an outlet to share my excitement for Harvard with students interested in applying, and I was lucky enough (after an application process that involved an interview and a filmed tour) to be selected as one of the newest additions to the tour guide pool.

We’ve spent the past week going to various trainings in order to learn how to personalize our tours and work with admissions officers to deliver effective information sessions. One of the most difficult parts of training, interestingly enough, has been thinking about personal responses to “tough questions”. The idea is that there are certain types of questions that virtually all prospective students are interested in, and we (as tour guides) should put some substantial thought into the types of answers we want to give. Some of the questions are really difficult to respond to, while others allow a great chance to reflect on how fun and challenging Harvard is as a school. I was so excited to think through some of them that I wanted to take the chance to share a few of my favorite questions with my own personal answers. Feel free to respond to this post with other questions you might have!

Q: Is Harvard a competitive place?

I was surprised when I got here to find that Harvard wasn’t competitive in the crazy, head-to-head race way that I had imagined it would be. Especially being a pre-med, I had pictured an environment where students were unwilling to help each other and would be stealing my lab equipment during class to sabotage a project. Luckily, that certainly wasn’t the case and I’ve found instead that students are more than willing to collaborate, form study groups, and help each other work through difficult concepts. Instead of defining Harvard as “competitive,” I would say it’s intense – students are very driven here and are extremely engaged in the classes they take, which means that everyone is willing to put in the extra time to succeed. It’s really an inspiring academic environment to be immersed in, though, because you constantly feel challenged to push yourself harder.

Q: What’s your favorite part about living in an upperclassmen House?

Definitely my favorite part of the House is the dining hall. It’s the most central space in the House, where everyone meets up to eat meals, grab a snack at “brain break” late at night (yes, the dining hall staff leaves us cookies!), or meet with classmates to go over a problem set that’s due. It’s also a great place to meet other people in the House, because with the long tables in Dunster, I always find myself sitting next to someone new that I’m excited to introduce myself to. The dining hall definitely embodies the sense of community that students come to love while living in a House.

Q: How do you choose your classes?

The process of choosing classes at Harvard is actually one of my favorite parts about our academic system in general. At the start of each semester, the first week of classes is known as “shopping week”. During this week, students are allowed to attend introductory lectures for as many classes as they want, and end up “shopping” about 6-8 potential courses. Rather than registering months ahead of time, Harvard students register for their classes at the end of this shopping week, which means we all have a really good idea about the syllabus, professor, class size, material, etc before we enroll. It ends up resulting in an academic community where students are truly engaged with and excited about the classes they’re taking, because they’ve been hand selected to fit their own specific interests.

Another cool part about course selection is the “Q guide” (which I recently learned was originally the CUE guide, for the “Curriculum for Undergraduate Education) – we use this system as a way of rating our classes and giving professors feedback. All students are allowed to go online and access the average rating (on a scale of 1-5) for the class overall, the professor, the workload, and the discussion section. Being able to read honest advice and feedback from other students makes course selection a lot easier.

Q: What’s your favorite story from your time at Harvard?

It’s difficult to narrow it down to just one story, but I do have a particular favorite from freshman year. I lived in Mower Hall (one of the dorms on the Yard), and Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore lived across the hall from each other in my entryway (yeah Mower B!) when they were freshmen. Around November of my freshman fall, Al Gore was in town for a book talk/signing and a whole bunch of us from my entryway decided to go get him to talk to us. We showed up at the event decked out in Mower t-shirts and face paint (as I remember it, we were coming back from an intramural ultimate Frisbee game) and stood in line to talk to him. When we approached the table, Al Gore saw our shirts and completely lit up, and talked to us for a few minutes about how much he’d loved living in Mower as a freshman. It was really incredible to hear how much his time in the dorm had impacted his time at Harvard. Such a cool moment!

Mower Intramurals

I hope some of these were of interest to those of you thinking about applying. I’d love to answer questions you’re specifically interested in, though, so feel free to reply with your own!


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1 comment

  1. Bill’s avatar

    Hi Caroline! Thanks for providing such great comments about your life at Harvard Law. I have so many friends that are considering law school, but most of them with the GPA/LSAT combinations are a bit intimidated at the thought of facing such a competitive atmosphere (as documented in Scott Turow’s One L). I really appreciate you providing your perspective, and look forward to sharing this with friends.

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