BackgroundInterview Date:January 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Private school with a graduating class of about 90 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Concentration: Biology. I’m not on the pre-med track.
Secondary Field: Art
Extracurricular Activities: I write for The Crimson, I am in the Conservation Society, and I do some public service through PBHA. I’m involved in music, so I play in different orchestras and chamber music groups. I also have done research.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
PBHA did because I’m part of the music service program so that combined my interests in public service and music. The Crimson has because I’ve been making art as part of that organization, so that has been wonderful. The Conservation Society has also has played a big part because that is what I’m interested in
How easy was it to get involved in your undergraduate research?
It was pretty easy. You send a couple of e-mails to professors that you might be interested in working with. I did that sophomore year. Don’t expect every professor to say yes, but there will be at least one or two that will say yes. It is pretty easy to get involved.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
The intro courses require more problem sets and exams. The upper-level courses are more academic paper-based, so we get into scientific literature and current research. It’s a mix of problem sets, labs, exams, and essays depending on the class.
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.
How accessible are your professors?
Very accessible for the most part. They all have office hours. Some of the office hours are in the morning, so if you’re a night person those aren’t quite as accessible, but they’re always accessible through email. They’re happy to meet with you, and getting to know the professors and going to office hours is something I wish I did more as an underclassman.
What is your favorite class you’ve taken for your concentration?
Biology of Plants.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I am happy with my choice. I chose it because I have an interest in getting experience in lab work, field work, and environmental work, so I found this to be a great way to combine those interests. The courses have been really flexible and really wonderful. In my branch of Biology, you can take courses in a related field that count towards your major, which is great. Once you get past the intro level courses they become more interesting. You have to stick with it.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
I lived on campus for all four years, which is pretty typical here.
Freshman: Suite of five in Harvard Yard
Sophomore & Junior: Double room
Senior: Suite of seven with all of us having our own room. It’s really nice.
How was transitioning from Baltimore, MD to Cambridge, MA?
It’s nice. Living in Cambridge is nice because it’s a city of its own and is very connected to Boston by public transportation, as well as the outer suburbs. I like it because it’s very connected and you don’t need a car to get around. I walk and bike.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I think it’s pretty safe. We have the Blue Light System here. Sometimes late at night if you walk not on the main roads it can get a little sketchy. As long as you’re careful about where you’re walking at night it’s fine and during the day it’s fine. [The overall crime rate in Cambridge, MA is 17% higher than the Massachusetts average but 24% lower than the national average. In terms of violent crime, it is 22% lower than the Massachusetts average.]
Pros and cons of living in Cambridge, MA:
Pros: 1) It’s very accessible to other places whether you’re walking, biking, taking public transit, or driving.
2) Boston is just across the river, so there’s a bigger city next door that you can go explore. It’s the mini-city next to the larger city.
3) Campus and the area around it is kind of isolated.
4) If you like red brick, there’s a lot of red brick here [laughs]. Harvard Square has a nice, warm vibe.
Cons: It gets cold here. It’s very cold right now. If you don’t like cold weather, I would not recommend coming here.
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.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I met a lot of them through my pre-orientation camping group. Then also freshman year we had a very close entryway, so I met a lot of my friends through there. I also met people through classes, extracurriculars, and some just sitting in the dining hall.
How would you describe the social scene?
I’d say it is kind of scattered. Every club has a group of friends and each social organization does its own thing. I’m not sure how I feel about that because if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know, and if you do know then maybe you know of a couple things going on. All of the extracurricular clubs try to hold get-togethers and social events, so the clubs that you’re in will [shape your social scene].
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
It depends on what kind of clubs you are part of because that determines who has those interests. If it’s a cultural affinity club then that’s going to attract a certain group of people, or if you’re in a club that supports gender rights, that’s going to attract a certain group of people. It depends what clubs you are a part of because the clubs attract the kind of people you interact with.
How would you describe the student body?
It’s diverse, which is something I do appreciate. That’s a large part of the reason why I came here. I wanted to come for the people and meet different types of people who I hadn’t been able to meet in my small private high school. It’s diverse in terms of where people come from, sexual orientations, etc. A conservative voice is not as strong here, so that kind of diversity may be lacking. [In the Class of 2022, 12.8% of students are international, 15% are African-American, 22.9% are Asian, and 12.3% are Hispanic. Socioeconomically, 4.5% of students come from the bottom 20%, among the highest for the Ivy League, and 39% of students come from the top 5%.]
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. 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 helped me meet people with different perspectives to talk about serious issues with, so it’s been really powerful in that sense.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Harvard by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Harvard?
I think it depends on the individual, but, personally, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I think people who take advantage of all the resources that Harvard has to give and are able to embrace the wealth of opportunity leave really happy and grateful for the experience.
How do you like the size of Harvard in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [There are about 6,700 undergraduate students at Harvard.]
It’s been good because it hasn’t been overwhelmingly large, but also large enough that I keep meeting new people wherever I go. There are always a couple of familiar faces at least, but also there are new people to meet through senior year. Also, everyone’s so cool that I’m glad they’re all here.
How strong is the Asian community on campus? How would you describe it?
I haven’t been extremely integrated into that ethnic community. I have friends who are Asian, but I haven’t been part of the clubs that identify as such because I’ve been involved in so many other things. I felt like I wanted to get to know people who are different than me. There is a large population and a strong community here and there are a number of groups that promote that kind of ethnic community building.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I personally have not gone through them, but I’m sure they do help. I know the alumni association and the career office have done a lot for students.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
They hold different events to prepare you for, broadly speaking, different careers. They hold resume writing workshops and other kinds of workshops and lectures for developing different types of skills you may need in the professional world. Online, they have a big list of job and internship opportunities you can be connected with over the winter and summer. They have office hours and are always there to help you through anything you might need help with.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned Excel on my own through research. I took the large Intro to Computer Science course and learned some Python there. I also took a Statistics course and learned R there.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful were they?
Yes, I am on financial aid. The school is need-blind and meet students full need, so they accept you without looking at your financial situation and meet all demonstrated need. That was incredible and I didn’t have to worry about not being able to afford college. They’ve been very generous. [For the typical student in the Class of 2022, Harvard, federal, and outside scholarships covered $56,550 of the total cost of $72,300.]
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Harvard before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew college is hard [laughs]. There is a lot of stress that is involved and it’s not an easy walk in the park. I wish I knew that I’d be working a lot. It also would have been nice to know how many resources there are here that you can take advantage of and find your place in. They fund so many things, offer so many opportunities to go abroad, do research, or anything else.
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.
Reasons to attend Harvard:
1) The people. The students are incredible. Your friends with brilliant people so you learn so much from each other. You can have really thoughtful conversations and develop friendships that really mean a lot. I’ve met a lot of good people here.
2) The professors are at the top of their field.
3) If you like living in a city and in the Boston area. You can go hiking in the mountains through the Outing Club or by renting a Zipcar. The location’s really nice.
4) The resources are unparalleled. There is an unbelievable amount of extracurriculars.
5) You can get connected to so many people through Harvard. There is a wealth of resources available to achieve your goals.
Reasons to not attend Harvard:
1) If you don’t like the cold, it’s cold for most of the year here.
2) 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.