A couple of weeks ago, someone left a fantastic and thought-provoking question on my blog. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the comment on my page until this week and at this point the comment section is closed on that post.
SO, my solution to this dilemma is to use this post as an opportunity to respond to the question. Here is the original comment:
Good day Kemie,
I am of African ancestry and the proud dad of 2 daughters who I am prepping for admissions into Ivy league Universities. I was perusing Harvard’s website and I saw your blog.
I am a big believer in gathering data before jumping into a new project, so I was hoping—perhaps quixotically— that you might provide a few words of insight in answer to the 3 questions at the bottom of my message.
Either way, thank you for empowering young black girls by being a positive example.
1) What single factor do you think most helped in your admission application?
2) If you had to write a to-do list for someone serious about getting into and/or succeeding at Harvard what would the top five items be?
3) What myth about Harvard do you think is most damaging?
There’s really no way for me to know exactly which part of my application was the most instrument in my admission to the College. I’ve heard that once you are enrolled at the College, you have the option of heading over to the Registrar’s Office and submitting a request to view your application. I haven’t done it myself, but I have a few friends that have checked out their applications. If I ever take a look at my old application, it will probably be my second semester senior year. However, I kind of like the idea of leaving it a mystery.
I am not an Admissions Officer, and so I am not really qualified to say what exactly what someone should and should not do in order to be admitted to Harvard. However, I can definitely tell you about what I’ve learned so far about being successful as a student here.
This is all completely subjective, but here are my top three factors to success…or at least happiness (in no particular order). I could honestly go on and on, but I feel that three in-depth responses should give you all an idea of where I am coming from.
1. Go to the activities fair, and actively explore the different student organizations. Harvard has over 400 student organizations, so there is at least one group out there for everyone. At the beginning of the first semester, the College hosts an activity fair where different groups set up tables and talk to interested freshman/other students about what they do. It’s really important to get involved with a couple of extracurricular activities on-campus, because so much of Harvard life occurs outside of the classroom. I have formed some of my strongest bonds with people that I met from my student groups.
2. Take a seminar or a course with limited enrollment your first semester. As a freshman I was really intimidated by small classes, because I didn’t feel like I would be as impressive as other students in a focused discussion. As a result, I spent my first few semesters taking large lecture courses and avoiding situations where I would be obliged to actively participate. However, my freshman spring I took Expository Writing 20, the freshman writing requirement course, so I was forced to learn in a seminar-style setting. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I truly enjoyed being heard by my peers and hearing what other people had to say as well. Obviously, my experience last spring has had a lasting effect on my undergraduate experience. I am now a History and Literature concentrator so I spend a lot of time in seminar courses.
3. Take some time for yourself! All work and no play makes Kemie a dull girl. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t spend at least one hour doing something completely unproductive, and just for me. Whether it is checking out the links of Buzzfeed, watching the latest episode of the Vampire Diaries, or just taking a nap, I take some time away from my work to decompress. That way, no matter show overwhelmed you are, you know that you got to keep that small part of your day to yourself.
I think the most damaging myth about Harvard is the fallacy that all of the students are cut from the same cloth. There is no typical Harvard student, and I think that is what makes the Harvard experience so rich and dynamic. I am a first-generation born-American, from a public school in Virginia, and I love celebrity gossip, trashy television, and hanging out on my sofa. There is obviously a lot more to me than just those few details, but my point is that I am not necessarily the student that comes to mind when people imagine the stereotypical Harvardian. I think that the idea of a homogenous student body is the most damaging Harvard myth, because it fails to acknowledge the manner in which students here are exposed to people of different nationalities, religions, political beliefs, and more. I know that I am a more open-minded and informed person because of the people that I have met in the past three semesters or so, and it’s a shame that some peoples’ misconceptions can take away from that.