- Gender: F
- High School: Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
- Transfer Student: Y
At Harvard, everyone's a leader. It's a bit exhausting and spurs untold numbers of inferiority complexes. It's a place that makes people feel like they should be extracurricular superstars as well as academic. There are a million student groups, tons of volunteer organizations and opportunities and a great infrastructure to support them (the Phillips Brooks House), final clubs, fraternities and sororities, political groups, and a bunch of other kinds of activities. Having transferred from a state school, I could hardly believe how much money the place has. It's evident everywhere, and most students have no context for appreciating how lavish it is. From the gorgeous dining halls to what struck me as amazing food and gourmet menus (that I of course eventually tired of) to the receptions and wine and cheese that followed lectures, to what seems to be hundreds of thousands of dollars given to undergraduates for research during the year and the summer. Being located in Cambridge is definitely a nice thing about Harvard, though the people of Cambridge might disagree. It's wonderful to have such beautiful and vibrant neighborhoods within walking and biking distance of the campus, though thanks to the Harvard Corporation, the corporate body alternately controlling or at odds with the faculty and administration, Cambridge is getting more and more expensive and commercially and demographically homogeneous.
I found professors to be much more approachable than I'd been warned they'd be. The biggest obstruction to close student-professor relationships, I think, is students' feelings of inferiority and insecurity. In many classes, and even smaller sections, students are afraid to ask any questions in class that aren't ubersophisticated and perfectly worded, and a sense of relief is almost palpable whenever somebody does ask a basic question. I did form some close relationships with professors, but it took a while to get comfortable enough to feel like I could be myself and that I didn't have to be impressive and well-poised all the time. Students are generally so extracurricularly involved that they really don't study all the time, but they somehow manage to do great work anyway. Many are somewhat closeted perfectionists who actually do manage to get great grades, run homeless shelters, have romantic partners, and run 3 miles a day.
When I came I was struck by how extraordinarily "put together" everyone seemed, in every sense. Aesthetically, academically, extracurricularly--people seemed to have a place and a direction and a sense of how to present themselves to themselves and to their peers and professors. Many people seem to be experts and spokespeople for particular causes, everyone impressive in some regard. Expert-amateur sculptors, linguists, scholars in any mainstream or obscure field, not to mention politically savvy socialists, feminists, Democrats, Republicans, and anything else. The great thing about Harvard is that there really are fantastic people there, and down-toe-earth people, would-be-Swarthmore students, people with eclectic and fascinating interests, people whose intelligence comes through in all sorts of ways, and people who are truly good and kind. It's just a matter of finding them, and thanks to what feels like hundreds of student clubs, you really can find them.
The Best Things
Intense, driven, creative students. Money for undergraduate research.
The Worst Things
The perception of/obsession with being the best.