A Student Perspective on Harvard University

Sam is a current senior at Harvard University. He is majoring in human biology, and specializes in life sciences tutoring, test prep tutoring, and a number of other subjects. Below, he shares his experience at Harvard University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options. 

Sam: Harvard is a mix between urban and suburban. Cambridge is definitely not a suburb, but it’s also much less crowded than Boston, which is just across the river. Most of the undergrad buildings are around the Yard in Harvard Square, and you could get to most classes in a five- to 10-minute walk. The dorms are spread out, with shuttle services running to the furthest ones. The vast majority of undergrads don’t have a car; you don’t need it, and unless you’re a resident of Cambridge, parking is difficult. A bike can definitely make life easier, though. I’ve never felt unsafe on campus.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Sam: Generally, faculty are very available to meet with students. Most will provide weekly office hours. You are also free to arrange meetings with them at other times. TAs and advisors are always very accessible.

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Sam: Dorms are guaranteed for all four years, so pretty much everyone lives in them. The “houses” tend to be very tight-knit communities that offer a lot of opportunities to socialize, such as intramural sports or house theater groups. Each house also has its own dining hall. The food is pretty mediocre, especially if you’re a vegetarian. The rooms themselves are pretty variable. Some have been renovated in the last five years, while others look like they haven’t changed much since they were first built. The housing assignments are decided by lottery, with each house having its own specific method for assigning rooms. Generally, they all assign each student a random number, which gives a better or worse priority for choosing rooms.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Sam: The most dominant majors are computer science and economics, with social studies and various branches of the life sciences close behind. The amount of support you receive really depends on the department faculty. My major is human evolutionary biology, and we have two great undergrad advisors along with plenty of engaging professors and lecturers. I can’t really speak about other departments, but in general, faculty tend to be very approachable and supportive.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Sam: As a freshman, it was pretty easy to meet people. Greek life has a presence, but sororities are a lot more important than fraternities on campus.

How helpful are the Career Center and other student support services?  

Sam: The Office of Career Services (OCS) puts on networking events every week, and there’s a lot of exposure to employers. There are a number of career advisors with specific areas of expertise, such as nonprofits or the entertainment industry, who are available to meet one-on-one regularly.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Sam: There’s not really a student union; the closest thing we have would be the Science Center. It’s fairly central, with rooms and open spaces to work in. The main undergrad library is Lamont, which is open 24 hours every day except for Friday and Saturday when it closes at 10 p.m. During midterms and finals, it’s always pretty crowded. There are other libraries available as well, which are usually more accessible. Most of them have some kind of café. A lot of people just study in their dorms or dining halls, though. Usually, it’s easy to find an available space.

Describe the surrounding town.

Sam: Cambridge and Boston have plenty of things to do, but it can be expensive, especially going to shops and restaurants. A lot of students will go into the surrounding area for internships or other activities, but tend to socialize on campus. Having accessible unlimited food in the dining halls kind of reduces the incentive to leave campus.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Sam: I believe we have around 1,600 students per class year. There’s a wide variety of course sizes. Usually, you’ll take a number of large lecture courses, with 100 to 200 students, during freshman and sophomore years, as well as one or two smaller seminars, with less than 10 students. As you move into junior and senior years, this ratio shifts so that you end up in more seminars. Most big lecture courses also have smaller section components, where you meet in a group of 15-20 students and discuss the material with a graduate student. For the most part, I was happy with my class sizes.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Sam: My most memorable meeting with a professor was in the first few weeks of freshman year. I met with the teacher for my intro to college writing class to talk about a draft of an essay. I had been having a tough time adjusting to college, especially being surrounded by people who I felt no connection to in terms of interests, ambitions, and general personality. When she asked me how I was doing, I started crying. I was floored by the fact that she expressed even a casual interest in me as an individual, when it had felt like everyone around me was only interested in clubs, activities, internships, and job prospects. I doubt she was expecting it, but she understood the fact that I felt isolated, and helped me start to deal with it without feeling ashamed of it. I eventually took a gap year to pursue nonacademic interests, and came back with a much stronger, more focused state of mind. If I hadn’t had somebody in a position of authority in academics show me that it’s ok to do my own thing, it would have taken me a much longer time to get to that point.


Check out Sam’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.