College review by Lisa Bleich
It was a beautiful late summer afternoon when we toured Harvard Yard. Incoming freshmen clustered together in circles during freshman orientation. Some were deep in conversation; others were throwing Frisbees or footballs together. Harvard Yard was abuzz with awkward chatter and excitement for a new semester.
Harvard’s campus sprawls throughout Cambridge, but Harvard Yard rests in the center with a large open grass area surrounded by ivy covered brick buildings. A little behind the main quad lies Widener library with its impressive steps and pillars that scream learning and tradition. Just outside of the campus lies bustling Harvard Square replete with the Harvard Coop, cute eateries, shops, bookstores, and coffee/tea houses. Go a little further and you will find the various Harvard houses. Students are assigned to a house their sophomore year and live there through senior year. The houses vary. Dunster House, which I saw, has a lovely courtyard overlooking the Charles River and suite style housing. It is the quintessential college town and University.
Harvard students run the gamut in terms of looks and personalities, but what draws them together is a unique and realized passion, a deep intellectual ability and curiosity, and incredible drive and motivation. Students come from 70 countries and have achieved at the top level nationally or internationally.
Students have the opportunity to shop for classes the first two weeks of every semester before they have to decide. This is a great opportunity to try a class and professor on for size before committing to a class; since everyone is doing it, students do not have to worry about falling behind.
Admissions: When Harvard says that you get a world-class education, they are not kidding. They also want a student body that can support that statement. The admissions rate is 5.8%. Harvard looks for students with the highest intellectual ability and curiosity, students who have demonstrated leadership or world-class depth in a given area of expertise, and students who will get along well with their classmates and contribute in a significant way to the campus community.
Admissions talks about “top of career” candidates. These are students whose professors describe as being the top students that they have encountered in their X years of teaching. Unfortunately, with over 37,000 high schools in the United States alone, “top of career” students are in abundance in the Harvard applicant pool. Students not only need to be “top of career,” but also have to have distinguished themselves in an area nationally or internationally. So if you are a tennis player, “are you nationally ranked?”; if you are a scientist, “have you won the Siemens or Intel award?”; If you are an actor, “have you performed on Broadway? Or been in a movie or TV series?”
Athletics also plays a big role in admission as 80% of students participate in a club or varsity sport, and Harvard has the largest number and percentage of Division 1 athletes in the country. All of their sports are top notch, so again student athletes must be nationally ranked. Finally they want students who can carry on a deep conversation and fit in with the intellectual climate and ambitious community.
Financial Aid: Dean Fitzsimmons places a lot of importance on equity and access. Harvard is committed to bringing in a highly diverse class from a socio-economic standpoint. To that end, students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year do not pay anything to attend college, and families with incomes up to $150,000 only pay 10% of their annual income. Harvard has one of the most generous and widespread financial aid programs in the country, which is available to every single student including international students. They even have a winter coat fund to help students purchase a winter coat. Harvard’s no-loan policy makes it possible for all of its graduates to graduate debt-free. Finally, Harvard does not take into account the value of the student’s home; this is significant for families who have a home, but have fallen on hard times.
Summary: Harvard University is among the top institutions in the world, and its outstanding financial support makes it achievable for top students from every socio-economic echelon. However, it doesn’t hurt to be a world-class athlete or legacy.
1350 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138