My Experience at Harvard University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Anne received her Bachelor’s degree in Biophysics from Harvard University. She is currently a tutor in Portland specializing in Geometry tutoring, Physics tutoring, SAT Math tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Harvard University:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Anne: The Harvard University campus is extremely safe. I always felt comfortable walking around, even very late in the evenings and very early in the mornings. There are security guards who walk around the campus, and almost all the gates are closed in the evenings, other than a few main entrances. There are reliable, frequent shuttles, and there are multiple apps for real-time schedules and routes! The campus itself is based in Cambridge, so it is relatively urban, but I always felt very secure.

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

Anne: Academic advisers and teaching assistants are always available to offer help, support, and advice. Professors are busier, but they always take time and go out of their way for students. Office hours are a particularly great way to engage with professors.

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

Anne: Dorm life is quite active. In fact, it was frequently too much for me to handle! I lived in Kirkland House, which is one of the most amazing places I have ever lived. It was a 5-10 minute walk to most of my classes. The dining room was in the building, as were multiple common rooms, exercise rooms, and practice rooms (complete with pianos). The Junior Common Room hosted events, speakers, shows, and wine tastings, and you could reserve it for your own events. You could also just study or hang out there during the day, playing one of the two beautiful grand pianos! There were so many socialization opportunities with students that it was overwhelming a lot of the time. Still, one of my favorites was Kirkland Secret Santa, which was so much fun! You got to plan all these surprise gifts for someone else in the house, and everyone would help carry them out.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Anne: There is support for many different types of majors at Harvard University. However, it seemed to me that there were a lot of new and upcoming programs in Engineering Sciences and Business. I studied Biophysics because I was interested in research that applied physics to biological problems. My major turned out to be Physics with a track in Biology, which is what I wanted. The university did a great job of supporting my area of study – there were a number of classes at the crossroads of Biology and Physics, as well as professors who did research on a range of topics in biophysics. Although I switched my major during my first two years (I was vacillating between concentrating more on math or neuroscience at one point), Harvard University was always very accommodating and understanding of my interests and the way I wanted to structure my time while in college.

VT: 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?

Anne: It was very easy to meet people and make friends as a freshman. In fact, sometimes it was too easy, and it become hard to find the right balance between a social life and my studies! People were extremely eager to get to know one another, and there were always a ton of things to do on campus. I immediately met friends in my dorm after moving in, and a lot of them ended up starting their own campus groups, which I participated in. There were so many wonderful campus activities. I especially loved the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team, volunteering at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, working with ExperiMentors, and helping to run the Harvard Composers Association. Greek life did not play a significant role in campus social life. Although there are fraternities and sororities, they maintain their presence outside of campus, and they are not recognized or funded by the university.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Anne: The Career Center is extremely helpful and informative, and the staff there is always receptive and eager to help. The world’s best consulting, biotechnology, and finance firms recruit at Harvard University every year. However, I would have liked to see more recruitment by companies other than these, as it seems that Harvard University is strongly geared toward producing Business and Finance graduates (rather than graduates in fields like research, science, medicine, law, or public service).

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Anne: There are tons of wonderful study areas around campus. In my time at Harvard University, I did not even get to visit all the libraries and lounge areas and study halls. Harvard University has the largest academic library system in the world, which makes wandering in Widener Library all the more fascinating. You can always find a nook or cranny that works for whatever kind of study atmosphere you like, or you can go to one of the cute coffee shops in Cambridge (like Crema!) and work there. There is so much space that I never witnessed any kind of overcrowding.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Anne: Cambridge is one of the loveliest cities I have ever been to. I seriously considered moving there permanently after college. I did not go out to Boston all that much, although a lot of my friends frequented the city quite often. Cambridge was good enough for me, as it had an assortment of local shops and businesses that I enjoyed frequenting. I did do most of my activities on campus, as I participated in many campus groups. However, a lot of my campus groups were tied in with the surrounding community, like the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, ExperiMentors, and MIHNUET, which involved providing music as therapy for those in nursing homes and hospitals.

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

Anne: Our graduating class was around 1,600, which is quite large, but class sizes in general were very reasonable. Large lecture classes could have up to 300 students, and some of the very popular classes had even more. However, large lecture classes were always supplemented by small sections of 10-15 people with excellent teaching assistants, and professors were always accessible during office hours.

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

Anne: One of my most memorable experiences is working in a neuroscience lab, which I did for my last two years. My professor was great, and the lab did really amazing work. I remember staying late a couple of nights to finish up experiments, and one night I was so busy making agar plates that I had no idea that it was past 3:00 a.m.! In a way, though, I really enjoyed those nights. There is something really special and exciting about being the only one in a huge laboratory, conducting experiments that will allow you to be the first in the world to discover what will happen!

Check out Anne’s tutoring profile.

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