BackgroundInterview Date:July 2018
Gender Identity: Female
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Private Catholic school in Chicago, IL with a graduating class of about 300 people. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: My biggest extracurricular is I’m on the school paper, The Crimson. I’m also involved in College Democrats.
In what ways did being a member of the school newspaper impact your experience?
The paper is where a lot of my social life is and a lot of my friends are. It’s also where I’m professionally fulfilled and intellectually fulfilled. I know a lot of people at Harvard who are in clubs that are either very socially fulfilling or professionally fulfilling, and there are clubs that do both. I think the paper is one of the biggest [that does both]. Model UN and Model Congress are like that as well. If you really dedicate yourself to one, like I spent a lot of time with the paper this year, you can get a really good feel for the people and the process and the work that goes into maintaining it.
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.
What was your least favorite class last year?
This is a common answer, Intro to Economics. I never took Economics in high school, but I thought it was important to do it in college and hated it. It’s one of the biggest classes Harvard offers and it was incredibly frustrating feeling like a cog in a system. Also, guidance in that class really depends on the type of T.A. you get, and even then, they sometimes don’t have enough resources to help you just because there are so many students and it’s a very decentralized system.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it depends on your concentration. It’s fairly collaborative, especially if you surround yourself with the right people. If you are going to Harvard, there are going to be people who are very competitive and maybe not in overt ways, but sometimes it can feel like people are sizing each other up. I think if you really try to be collaborative and surround yourself with people who are not in it just for themselves, you can find that. It does take a little extra effort on your part to focus on doing your best and being a good person.
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.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: I lived in Wigglesworth, which is a freshman dorm in Harvard Yard. All freshmen live in the Yard. I had one roommate. It was a nice dorm, it was like a miniature apartment. We had a bedroom, a bathroom, and a common room.
Sophomore: Lowell House. [Harvard sorts] people into houses in the second semester [of their freshman year]. Students have to turn in blocking forms that show the people you want to live with next year. Not necessarily in the same room, but in the same house. I had a blocking group of six, you can do up to eight people. I will be in a double next year in Lowell.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Harvard Square can be a little sketchy at times. I’ve only felt “unsafe” like once or twice and that was pretty late at night when I was either alone or with a very small group of friends. During the daytime and even at night, if it’s not too late, I feel very safe.
How was transitioning from Chicago to Cambridge, MA?
I love Chicago, so Boston was a little hard adjusting to. I was happy that I was coming from a big city, so I knew how to take public transportation and stuff like that. Boston’s a smaller city, so I had trouble with things closing down early and Boston being a little more traditional than Chicago in a lot of ways. I think the transition was easy once I found places that reminded me of home or created some good memories in Boston that I don’t have in Chicago. The college does help you go do different activities in Boston and they offer a lot of things for you to do so that you can be comfortable with living in a city for people who don’t have that experience and also just living in Boston.
What is your favorite off-campus restaurant?
Area Four, it’s a really good pizza place.
What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
I love the Museum of Fine Arts.
Pros and cons of being located in Cambridge, MA?
Pros: (1) It’s a little smaller than Boston, so it’s a little more manageable for the first time if you’re living alone. I think the idea of being in a huge city alone can be a little scary, even if you come from a big city.
(2) 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.
(3) There are lots of cheap restaurants and good places to be.
Cons: (1) 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.
(2) There are a lot of different squares in Cambridge, so there are a lot of little town centers. I wish there was one big area where Cambridge comes together, like one downtown Cambridge.
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.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Harvard? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I was really happy once I stopped caring about what people were thinking of me. The biggest thing I would change about Harvard nightlife is at the beginning it seemed to me like there was a lot of pressure to get involved with nightlife pretty intensely. I wasn’t a huge partier in high school, so I was very innocent and unaware of what happened at college parties. I think if clubs and other social organizations made more of an effort to invite freshmen to parties and make them feel like they have a place to go for the weekend that would be really great. Once I knew where to go and had friends, I didn’t really mind not having something to do because at least I had people to spend time with, that was when I really started liking Harvard’s nightlife.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I met them at our first [newspaper] social. I was not expecting to meet any of my close friends there. I went alone and kind of shy and we ended up going back to my dorm and hanging out until like 4 in the morning.
How would you describe the social scene at Harvard?
I think it’s what you make of it. If you want to be involved in it you have to make some effort to be, but I don’t think it’s hard. It can be a little daunting especially if you’re new to parties and stuff like that, but that’s a lot of people at Harvard. If I had to give it a rating out of 10, with 10 being the best social life I could think of, I would give it a 7. I think it really depends on how much effort you want to put into it.
How would you describe the student body?
I think the student body is very diverse. I think there is diversity in a lot of different ways. There are people who fit the Harvard stereotype, but more people than you think don’t, and I think that’s really awesome. I don’t think there is one type of Harvard student because Harvard is really trying to bring a diverse class, but I think there is still a lot of ways to go. I think the student body is smart, incredibly capable, they have good intentions and are incredibly ambitious. Sometimes that can be intense, but I think it really prepares you for going outside of Harvard and being the best person you can be because you’ve been challenged for four years by your peers.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
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.
Reasons to attend Harvard:
1) You’ll be challenged by your coursework and your peers and that’s really good for your development.
2) I think you learn a lesson in how to be the dumbest person in the room. I think that’s a really good lesson to learn, so it’s weird to say attending Harvard can humble you, but it can in a lot of ways.
3) I love my school newspaper and I think the clubs at Harvard are really amazing and do a great job of coloring your life.
4) I think house life is super cool. It’s really unique.
5) 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.
Reasons to not attend Harvard:
1) If you don’t want to be challenged academically, don’t go to Harvard. If you just want to have fun for four years, you’re way better off at a different school. It’s hard at times and you really have to remember why you’re there.
2) I don’t love Boston as a city. If you don’t want a midsized city.
3) The food is not something to brag about.