Impressions Of
Harvard College

Academic Experience

Female Undecided on Concentration C/O 2021

What was your favorite class last year?
This is an unusual answer for Harvard students, but every freshman year there is a required writing class, and it ranges from very bad experiences to very good experiences. I had a very good experience in mine. My class was called Respectable Ladies, Rebellious Women, so it was about feminism and women rising up for themselves. It was a really great class. I had a professor who I got very close to and now rely on for advice and mentorship.

Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes and no. I think there’s a culture at Harvard where they want more schools of thought in the classroom so you’re rewarded when you bring them in to a certain degree. But, if it’s too much of a different school of thought there are a lot of people who can easily counter that. I think bringing in new schools of thought in the learning environment is smiled upon, but it can be an intense experience sometimes because you have to be ready to be in a room with people who can [give a counterargument]. They don’t do it out of spite, they do it because they know what they’re talking about in a lot of cases and they like to argue and debate. I’m kind of a shy and introverted person, so that can sometimes be an intense experience, but it builds your confidence. You have to be prepared.

Female Biology Concentrator C/O 2019

Is there anything that you feel your concentration’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
Depending on what background you come from, the classes can be very fast paced, especially in the intro and mid-level courses. For me, the classes were fast paced and the exams were hard. If you came in with a stronger background in science, you might be okay. It was hard for me to catch all of the material. The professors are incredible. They are at the top of their field, so it is incredible to have them as professors. They are very accessible too, so if you have any questions or you want to get to know them, the teaching staff is there to help.

Can you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it is what you make of it. I have taken the collaborative approach so I think it’s collaborative. I’m also not pre-med, so that might have an impact. For doing problem sets and studying, it’s a very collaborative atmosphere. All of my friends are very willing to help each other, which is great.

Female Social Studies Concentrator C/O 2019

Is there anything that you feel your concentration’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
I think they do a really good job in creating the sort of excitement and drive in their students because they pride themselves on being interdisciplinary, which is cool for someone like me because I have no idea what I want to do postgrad. I had no idea of what I wanted to study in college and I saw how open Social Studies was to students interesting in doing research for the rest of their lives, but also students interested in consulting and finance and going into the government. I was really excited about that because I wanted to keep pushing off actually deciding and closing doors. I also think there’s something to be said of having an overall sense of history and how we got to this thing called democracy. I feel that it has made me a more critical and well-rounded person.

Can you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I would say I don’t necessarily feel very competitive with my peers at school. That’s super subjective and others might. I have the mindset where I am going to get as much out of college as I possibly can, but at the same time, if somebody’s doing something cool maybe I can find something similar. I don’t see it as much as competition, I see it more as an overwhelming amount of opportunities that Harvard offers and some people do a better job of taking advantage of them. [I don’t feel competition] in Social Studies as well, you raise your and hand say what you want to say and the teacher is receptive.

Social Opportunities

Female Undecided on Concentration C/O 2021

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I like a lot of the club social scenes, club meaning like The Crimson [newspaper] or Model UN. There is a well-known Final Club scene – especially [well-known] outside of Harvard – and I think that’s for people who that works for, but for me personally, that’s not my thing.

Where are the club parties held?
They’re held a lot in dorm rooms and occasionally in a dorm common room. There are some party spaces in dorms that are pretty famous and they are sometimes held in those. They are usually registered with the school, but it’s not like someone from the school is there and watching.

What is an alternative to going to a party that you like to do?
I think people go into Boston a semi-regular amount, but I wouldn’t call that an alternative to the nightlife. There’s the Co-Op, which is a little more alternative and indie and don’t really subscribe to the traditional norm in their parties. There are a lot of things to do in Cambridge itself, like going to other schools’ parties. I really like going to Boston, I think it’s really relaxing. Sometimes you have to escape the Harvard bubble.

Female Biology Concentrator C/O 2019

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in?
I volunteer with the PBHA on Saturdays. I hang out with my friends, we do jam sessions together with music which is fun. There are always so many concerts, events, and performances going on. For example, there is an opera this weekend and two different science events and make-a-thon things going on. There’s never a shortage of things going on.

What have been some of your favorite events to go to?
I always try to go to support my friends in orchestra concerts if I’m not in them. There’s an Outing Club, so whenever they have different outings, whether it be a hike or an off-campus trip, I’ll try to go on those. I’ll also just go hiking with my friends.

How happy are you with the weekend options at Harvard? Is there anything you would change about them if you could?
I do find myself doing a lot of schoolwork on the weekends unfortunately [laughs]. The party scene isn’t super-duper strong here, but they do happen. The administration is trying to make the social scene more accessible and inclusive to everyone here because in the past it has been centered in final clubs and more exclusive areas. They’re working on making the social scene better. I’m not the most social person in terms of going to parties, but it’s been enough for what I wanted.

Male Economics Concentrator C/O 2021

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you participate in at Harvard?
I like to go out a fair bit. I was pretty involved with extracurriculars that threw a lot of get-togethers. For me, I’d go out Friday and Saturday and one day during the week. Friday night was primarily a dorm night and Saturday night was a dorm night unless there was a party going on in an upperclassman dorm. The older students tend to have better spaces for parties.

How happy are you with the weekend options at Harvard?
I’m very happy with it, but I think that’s because I made the most of the situation I was in. There are people that weren’t as fortunate as I was in terms of getting involved in organizations that would make it so the nightlife was there, and some people didn’t want to go out and that’s fine, but there were some who wanted more. I was very satisfied.

Campus Culture

Male Economics Concentrator C/O 2021

How would you describe the social scene?
It’s deflated compared to what you would imagine from a normal college scene. I’m able to recognize that because I visited people during my gap year, so I can get a sense of what it really feels like. For people who don’t know that and only know Harvard, it’s a little deflated in the sense that there’s a cap on the amount of fun you can have. It’s not as wild as other schools. Not to say there aren’t fun parties, but it’s at a lower level.

How would you describe the student body?
Very, very diverse in every way possible. There is a social split between people who go out and don’t go out. There are people who don’t go out because they don’t enjoy it and that’s fine. I’d say most of the students do go out once a week, but that’s not limited to just athletes or other denominations. It’s cool in that way because you run into more people at random parties. What surprised me was how many relaxed, social people there were who would be considered, for the lack of a better word, “nerds,” at another school.

Male Government and Romance Languages and Literatures Joint Concentrator C/O 2021

How did you meet your closest friends?
Mostly through the First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP). That’s where I met most of the friends that I had the first semester and then the friends that I have now are either those same people or people that I met through them.

To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Harvard is a really accepting place but I do think that at times people don’t mix as much as maybe they should. I don’t think it’s on purpose. I think it’s just almost a coincidence maybe. I don’t think there’s any negativity whatsoever at Harvard towards people of other races or other cultural backgrounds.

Female Social Studies Concentrator C/O 2019

How would you describe the student body?
It’s really, really diverse. It’s super diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and [geography]. We have a significant percentage of international students. [About 12% of undergraduates are international students and about 41% of students are White.]

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Overall, Harvard definitely welcomes and includes so many different types of people and perspectives and breeds an environment where people will somehow have to connect with someone really different from them. So, maybe you’ve never met a gay person before, or you never had a really close Black friend and now you’re in a double in a freshman dorm with them. I think there’s a lot of that that happens in general at schools, but I think Harvard does it a little more intentionally. Harvard has given me people with different perspectives to talk about serious issues with, so it’s been really powerful in that sense.

Cambridge, MA

Pros of

  • “I always say that the location is the trifecta. We have our own little college town with everything you need in Harvard Square. You also have the rest of Cambridge around you with bigger stores, like Target. Then Boston is a 15-minute ride on the red line [on the MBTA].”
  • “The culture is very hospitable to students. It’s a huge college town, as is Boston, so it’s very welcoming to see a lot of young people.”
  • “It’s very accessible to other places whether you’re walking, biking, taking public transit, or driving.”
  • “If you like red brick, there’s a lot of red brick [laughs]. Harvard Square has a nice, warm vibe.”

Cons of

  • “It gets cold here. It’s very cold right now. If you don’t like cold weather, I would not recommend coming here.”
  • “I think sometimes Cambridge can be a little isolating. People are all fairly similar to each other and living together outside of Boston. I think that can cause a bubble.”
  • “Traffic is awful. Harvard Square is an old place so they don’t have the best system.”

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

Female Undecided on Concentration C/O 2021

What is something you wish you knew about Harvard before entering as a freshman?
The biggest thing is I wish I was more honest with myself about what I liked and didn’t like, and who I was even if that disappointed me. So, taking a class because I think it looks good that I took it, or because I think it’s required of me to take if I want to be that sort of person was really frustrating and put me in a lot of bad situations I didn’t want to be in.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
If you can visit the river houses, even if that means quickly popping into the houses of the upperclassmen. I think you should check those out because that’s where you’ll spend most of your time and they’re really beautiful, especially if they’re on the river.

Female Biology Concentrator C/O 2019

What is something a prospective student interested in music may want to know that we haven’t touched on yet?
There’s a large music scene here. The orchestras are top caliber and the musicians are incredible. There’s a full range from symphony orchestra, to chamber ensemble, to jazz, to acapella, and musicals. There is so much going on that you will definitely be able to find a group to be a part of. There also opportunities to perform on campus and people to just have jam sessions with.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The Charles River is nice. It’s a nice spot to go to and walk alongside it. Then if you like chocolate, go to L.A. Burdick because they have the best hot chocolate.

Male Government and Romance Languages and Literatures Joint Concentrator C/O 2021

What is something you wish you knew about Harvard before entering as a freshman?
It’s ok not to be rich. I thought everyone was going to be incredibly rich and most of the people aren’t rich. If they are, they’re incredibly humble or very sincere and genuine people. [Socioeconomically, 15% of students come from the top 1% and 4.5% come from the bottom 20%.]

What is something that a prospective LGBT student should know about?
It’s a great place to be LGBT because there are so many schools near it. Also, it’s really close to the city, and Cambridge is really hopping. I see it as kind of a college town where most people are attending university in some capacity. It’s a really great place and I think Boston is a really accepting community.

Reasons to attend and not to attend Harvard College

To Attend

  • “The opportunities it gives you really open your mind and a lot of doors. The Harvard name is nothing to be shy about, it opens opportunities.”
  • “The people. It’s super diverse and people are really passionate about something similar to your or someone who is weirdly passionate about something else. It’s really fun to sit down and have conversations with people who come from different places and are passionate about different things.”
  • “The academic facilities are incredible. Every field has a lot going on.”
  • “The connections. There are a lot of successful Harvard alumni who are willing to help out Harvard kids.”

To Not Attend

  • “If you are someone who doesn’t do well under social pressure. If you were thinking about going to a school with a frat party life and the reason you didn’t go there is that you didn’t think you would do well in that environment, you probably shouldn’t go to Harvard because it can be similar.”
  • “If you’re somebody who is super competitive and gets paranoid when you hear your friend got an interview with a certain company and you didn’t. If that’s going to make you explode, then maybe Harvard isn’t the place for you.”
  • “Harvard is not going to spoon feed you anything. You have to be proactive to find the resources and help that you need or will help you do what you want to do. If you don’t want to do that, this may not be the place for you.”
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