Harvard University: A Student Interview

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Keena is a Chicago tutor and 2006 graduate of Harvard University, where she studied psychology. She specializes in math tutoring, psychology tutoring, and a number of other subjects. See what she had to share about her time at Harvard University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Keena: Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is really just a smaller part of Boston. The campus is pretty urban, but borders on residential areas which makes it feel a bit quieter and more neighborhood-y on the edges (I always liked this part because there were lots of people walking dogs, and I missed mine). Harvard has a shuttle bus that can transport students to and from various parts of the campus. The shuttle is a great option for students, since the campus itself is huge and it can take a long time to walk from one side to the other — especially if you include the athletic facilities and graduate education buildings. A bike is also a good idea but be careful! Cambridge is known as the bike theft capital of the country and given the number of thefts I’ve seen on campus, I believe it.

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

Keena: The professors, academic advisors, and teaching assistants make themselves fairly available, but it’s important to remember that they are all involved in their own research or professional projects and often it’s difficult to get on their schedules. Sign up early, and make sure you know what you’re going to talk about when you go to office hours.

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

Keena: The Houses at Harvard are one of the best parts of the University, in my opinion. Each House has its own personality and traditions, and being part of such a vibrant mini-community in the University has a very humanizing effect, especially since Harvard can be a cold and intense place at times. The Houses each have a dining hall and host various social activities for both house members and visitors, and it can be great to go from House to House experiencing the different atmospheres. I think it’s extremely important to take time to build a social network and put down your work for a while, especially at a place that’s as academically intense as Harvard is. You’re supposed to be having fun, too!

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported at Harvard University?

Keena: I’m not sure I can speak to which programs are best represented and supported — I do know that a lot of students come to Harvard and dive into a particular field without giving themselves the freedom to experience new fields, which I think is a big mistake. As an example, I started school thinking I wanted to be pre-med, but switched out of that track midway through my sophomore year because I didn’t like organic chemistry. I graduated with a degree in social psychology, but if you asked me now what I would have done in retrospect, I would have chosen history or creative writing, since that’s what I liked the best. It’s incredibly important to take classes in new fields and focus on what you really enjoy doing, not just what you or someone else thinks you should be doing.

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?

Keena: It was easy for me to make friends as a freshman. Harvard offers incoming freshmen the chance to go on a hiking trip with other new students before classes start (it’s called the Freshman Outdoor Program, or “FOP”) and it was through FOP that I met some of my best friends, friends I am still close with today. There are a lot of socialization opportunities within the dorms as well, and each “entryway” has two “Prefects” assigned to it — upperclassmen who host weekly social activities with their freshmen, to help them make friends and integrate into the community. Greek life plays a pretty minimal role on campus; there are a handful of fraternities and sororities around, but they don’t have houses and operate completely independently from the University itself.

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

Keena: I don’t remember the Career Center being particularly helpful. I do remember a lot of huge companies recruiting on campus my senior year, mostly through dinners and social events designed to show students how fancy their lives could be after graduation. Some of my friends went this route, and had good experiences. For me, finding professors in fields I liked and who I could connect with gave me the most insight into what I wanted to do after school. Harvard is a big place, but finding upperclassmen and professors who you can connect with can help a lot in figuring out what you want to do.

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

Keena: The libraries at Harvard are the coolest. There are two main libraries (though I read somewhere that Harvard has more than 90 in total across various campuses): Widener (absolutely massive), and Lamont (smaller, more Undergraduate-focused). Widener is a lot of fun to explore, and there are many little nooks and crannies for students to hole up in for hours at a time to do work. Lamont is more social and feels warmer since it’s a bit smaller and has big, public study spaces. I studied at both and really liked having the opportunity to work in such interesting and well-designed spaces. They are both easily available.

Describe the surrounding town.

Keena: Cambridge is a very interesting town. There are a lot of stores, restaurants, and bars, and it feels urban but without the size of downtown Boston. A lot of establishments have been in the same place for decades, so it’s always possible to go back to your favorite haunts when you visit. Most undergraduates will tell you that “the Kong” is a perennial favorite among the students, though I also enjoyed going to Grafton’s, Cambridge Common, and Pinocchio’s Pizzeria. It’s very easy to take the T to downtown Boston, though most students stay near campus since there is so much to do.

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

Keena: The student body felt big to me, though in reality the undergraduate enrollment is only around 7,000 students. Many of the introductory lecture classes are very large, but these always include smaller group sessions made up of 8-12 students with a Teaching Assistant. The smaller lecture classes are often between 10 and 30 students, though you are able to find classes with only a few students in some of the smaller fields.

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

Keena: Harvard is famous for its Human Sexuality class in the Psychology department. This class covers a wide variety of topics from sexual orientation and gender identity, to societal views of sexuality and sexuality in the media. It’s an extremely popular class and was one of my favorites. The lectures were often so thought provoking that my friends and I would go out after class and spend hours talking about what we learned in class and how we felt about it. I would highly recommend every student taking this class if they can. In terms of regrets — I regret taking too many classes that I thought I had to take (conceptual mathematics, organic chemistry, etc.) instead of classes I wanted to take. I didn’t realize the freedom I had to dictate my own curriculum, and I wish I had figured that out earlier in my undergraduate career.

Check out Keena’s tutoring profile.

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