One Student's Opinion of Harvard University

Josef earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard University. He specializes in psychology tutoring, Spanish tutoring, and a number of other subjects. Below, he shares his experience at Harvard University.

Describe the campus setting and transportation options. 

Josef: The college campus setting was inspiringly picturesque, boldly embodying through its historic architecture Harvard’s timeless global role as the foundational brick-and-mortar exemplar of Western education. Because the college was founded within and built around the city of Cambridge, Harvard’s unique Ivy League campus boasts both urban and suburban components, as more rural regions—including but not limited to Concord’s Walden Pond, the National Historic Landmark popularized by the works of transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, the most famous of which, Walden; or, Life in the Woods, was inspired during Thoreau’s two year, two month, and two day stay in a waterside cabin contiguous to Walden Pond owned by none other than Thoreau’s friend and mentor, fellow transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson—of the scenic state of Massachusetts lie within easy reach via either public or private transportation (i.e. Uber, Lyft, etc.).

Not only do Boston’s reliable T, as well as Cambridge’s extensive bus system and Harvard’s on-campus shuttle service, collectively provide ample opportunity for both on-campus and off-campus student travel, but Boston’s Logan Airport also offers one of the most convenient, far-reaching national springboards for international travel, work, and study abroad opportunities, all of which are made excessively accessible to each and every undergraduate via the Office of Career Services, among multifarious other dedicated on-campus sites and services.

Though there are buses, trains, and shuttles within walking distance of all dormitories, I personally found that owning a bike helped me get around campus more quickly, manage my time more effectively, and thus glean a more comprehensive “Harvard experience,” of which each and every prodigal Harvardian has his or her very own. One certain truth from firsthand experience living in the hallowed dorms: one needs neither a car nor even a bike to get around Harvard’s seamlessly-immersed quaint collegiate city-campus, as the greater Cambridge/Boston public transportation system is excellent and virtually every incredible resource available on-campus to undergraduates is easily accessible on foot. Finally, and most importantly, there was not a moment during my undergraduate career that I felt unsafe on campus; I always felt very safe.

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

Josef: Most of Harvard’s professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants are warmly and welcomingly available, some openly over-and-above the contractual call of duty of even an Ivy League educator, perhaps because Harvard educators all seem to love what they do very, very much. To that end, regular—and necessarily not-so-regular—office hours are hosted weekly by each of the aforementioned, with academic advisers often generously offering 1:1 sessions even more frequently than weekly! Professors’ open-door office hours provided some of the most intensely intellectual discussions that could possibly occur on campus, consequently fostering truly free academic discourse among Harvard’s intelligentsia not only within, but also outside of, the classroom. I was so greatly impacted by Harvard University’s phenomenal faculty that, having graduated in 2014, I still keep in touch with many of my former professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants, and even plan to work with some of them in the foreseeable future.

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

Josef: Dorm life at Harvard University was nothing short of spectacular in virtually every manner imaginable, from freshman fall all the way through senior spring, of course including but not limited to Annenberg Hall, on which the Harry Potter film franchise magical dining hall was widely rumored to have been loosely based. As an Annenberg frequenter throughout much of my freshman year and having seen the Harry Potter movies myself, I can safely say firsthand that the rumors are actually not so far-fetched; the similarities between the real Harvard and fictional Harry Potter dining hall are indeed quite uncanny! And whether it was magic, innovation, or inspiration, there was certainly a palpable aura in the air around the dorms at the college.

Living in the dorms, I always felt motivated to not only be doing, but also to be doing outside of my comfort zone, which is such a rare phenomenon to find that it sticks with one for life. In terms of the rooms, I was always comfortable and had more than enough space for all my stuff, which was admittedly a lot, as I hadn’t yet learned the value of packing light upon moving into college. Dining options were outstanding, not only because of the delectably delicious array of buffet-style gourmet meal options, but also and perhaps even more importantly because of the dedicated dining hall staff serving the gourmet meals to us hungry Harvardians. Indeed all of the college’s dining hall liaisons—and especially those of the Quincy House dining hall staff—were nothing short of a second family to me in my four-year home-away-from-home at Harvard.

Aside from all that open opportunity for on-campus and off-campus networking, the opportunities afforded to Harvard students for socialization with other Harvard students are unrivaled. After all, Harvard literally has its own active Facebook just for Harvard students, though it looks little like the actual Facebook social networking site. After all, Facebook was created by none other than Harvard drop-out Mark Zuckerberg—it is not at all an uncommon on-campus occurrence for Harvardians to take time off and even drop out altogether for the sake of investing in time-sensitive passion projects that soon become internationally-ingrained institutions, as with Bill Gates’ Microsoft—so it makes sense that Harvard would have its very own fully-functional version of the social media mogul’s fan-favorite Facebook operational on campus.

In addition to an intra-Facebook shared amongst Harvardians, there are more multifarious activities and multitudinous opportunities—including intramural sports, Harvard Student Agencies (HSA), Harvard Business School’s (HBS’s) Innovation iLab, and a plethora of other university-subsidized socially-geared gatherings and extracurricular activities—for both student-to-student interaction and socialization alike than any one human being actually has the time or energy to execute in a single undergraduate collegiate career. Perhaps that’s why so many college undergraduates return to Harvard years later to earn their graduate degrees.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Josef: The best represented majors/programs—uniquely coined “concentrations” at the college—are as follows: social sciences, biological sciences, general history, economics, mathematics, engineering, physical sciences, life sciences, neuroscience, and, last but not least, psychology. I studied psychology not only because it was and is the most universally applicable concentration that I could practically apply within virtually any and every profession that my entrepreneurial spirit would ever endeavor me to declare, but also because I could see a technological revolution in the form of artificial intelligence and virtual reality on the horizon, a cross-section of science and entertainment that I very much hope to explore extensively throughout my multifaceted professional career.

Harvard provided the best hub for psychological and neuroscience studies that any undergraduate institution could have provided, and indeed served as the quintessential springboard to a life of committed learning about the most fascinating subject of all: the ever-evolving human condition. Thus, Harvard did not do a good job; Harvard did the best job supporting my particular concentration of psychology. And not only did the college do the best job supporting my primary psychological concentration, but Harvard also did a stellar job supporting my secondary concentration and lifetime passion of film studies via both academia and Harvardwood, which have collectively prepared me very well for a lucrative career as a Hollywood screenwriter and producer, should such a pathway open up to me at any point in the foreseeable future and synergistically align with my multifarious other ambitions. After all, I’m a natural-born storyteller with a growing slew of stories to tell who believes wholeheartedly in the potential power of modern media as a global impetus for positive social change, once a proper cutting-edge contemporary equilibrium between objective and subjective media is established.

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?

Josef: It was honestly difficult not to meet people and make friends as a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. In fact, the best part(s) of my Harvard experience was/were the people: not only the huddled mass of hard-working Cambridge Harvardians emitting a tangible aura of inspiration and innovation—a pall of contagious productivity, per se—but also each and every awe-inspiring person whose path my journey as an undergraduate fortuitously happened to cross.

Every one of the inspirational individuals that I met at Harvard had a unique story to tell, which not only encouraged me to do better, but also to do more, and in doing more, to meet more people, and in meeting more people, to do more, and so on and so forth until senior spring. Not only did I find myself immersed in a productivity pall within Harvard’s hallowed halls, but I also found myself looped into a never-ending networking spiral, both of which influenced my ability to produce tangible, data-driven results in real-time during my time at the college. Upon graduation from the world’s most renowned learning institution, I quickly discovered that my four-year networking journey had effectively become fully habituated into a conditioned personal best practice, which allowed me to internalize one of the most important networking modus operandi of all: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

Greek life does play a significant role in the college campus social life, but, with that said, one certainly need not be affiliated with Greek life in order to reap the benefits of an infinitely fruitful networking career as a Harvard undergraduate. Many undergraduates and alumni alike do consistently claim, however, that the bonds formed among peers in Greek life and final clubs tend to be among the most cherished, beneficial, and long-lasting relationships forged during their four years. As an alumnus who remained virtually independent of the Greek and final club scene at Harvard, I can safely say firsthand that the relationships I formed—both personally and professionally—on that quaint Cambridge campus still are among the most cherished, beneficial, and long-lasting relationships extant in my life today. So what’s the bottom line? Your Harvard experience is ultimately up to you, and as a rite of passage, do expect to meet at least a few awesome people during your unique, life-changing Harvard experience.

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

Josef: The Career Center and other student support services are incredibly helpful. No, seriously. I didn’t realize myself prior to attending Harvard just how many resources the college offered, and upon graduation, I must say that I still don’t really believe how many groundbreaking, world-shaping, and cutting-edge resources were openly available to me at such an incipient point in my academic career.

Given that some people go a lifetime having rarely achieved or tragically never achieving the requisite resources for mere survival, I still find it unreal to this very day how much was available to me as a young Harvardian and how open to undergraduates Harvard was about the availability of its unbelievable stockpile of cutting-edge student resources. Not enough could even be said in an entire encyclopedia about the enormity of ever-growing resources available to Harvard undergraduate and graduate students alike, as well as the freedom afforded to such prodigal factotums to liberally experiment with said resources in order to customize their respective Harvard experiences and ultimately hone in on their prospective professional passions.

Speaking of professional passions, as far as the question of whether or not many reputable companies recruit on campus, the simplest one-word answer to that question is: “Yes!” The more accurate, comprehensive, and objective answer to that poignantly-pragmatic question is: “Yes, all of the most reputable companies recruit on Harvard’s campus.”

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

Josef: Harvard boasts one of the largest libraries in the country in Widener Library, but one of my personal favorite study areas happened to be right next door to Widener in the Lamont Library Multimedia Lab. I spent many a sleepless night in the Lamont Library Multimedia Lab editing countless video projects on iMovie and Final Cut Pro while simultaneously working on other assignments and studying for upcoming exams. In addition to the larger libraries, each of the dozen or so undergraduate Harvard dormitories offers its own smaller study, of which I subjectively believe that Quincy House’s Qube Library happens to be the coziest study spot; but again, as a Quincy Penguin sophomore through senior year, I am, of course, a biased source.

In addition to the open accessibility of all libraries to all undergraduates regardless of housing designation, each library was also surprisingly under-crowded whenever I needed it (except during midterms and finals weeks, at which point all collegiate libraries are typically packed), easily available on foot from any dormitory, and spacious enough to spread out and perhaps even take a power nap upon arrival. The great geographical component of the college’s campus, though, is that whenever one library or study area happens to be over-crowded, another study spot always lies right around the corner. And as far as outdoor study spots go, it doesn’t get much better than studying riverside on a clear, sunny day with your fellow classmates and future world leaders on the Charles River. The Charles River is perhaps as spacious a college study space as collegiate study spaces come!

Describe the surrounding town.

Josef: As far as school location goes, I could absolutely not have asked for a better place to live, breathe, learn, love, and network than the college’s surrounding town of Cambridge, with its neighboring city of Boston serving as one of the most salient springboards for national and international travel that the continental United States has to offer. Due to the ready availability of the public and private transportation system surrounding the Harvard campus, most students go to the downtown area of Boston rather frequently. However, despite the readily available public and private transportation services within the greater Cambridge/Boston area, some students claim that there is simply too much to do within the “Harvard bubble” of Cambridge to ever even dream of venturing into Boston. Still others prefer the quieter urban pleasure of downtown Allston to the modern urban bustle of downtown Boston, or even the quaint allure of nearby suburban Newton to the rustic rural quintessence of close-by Concord. Though I certainly prefer having more to do closer to home, I cannot say that I was one of those students who never made it to Boston.

Having visited Boston (as well as Allston, Concord, and Newton) fairly often, I can safely say that there is not only plenty for a college student to do in Cambridge, but also plenty for virtually any type of college student to do in downtown Boston to occupy all four years—and indeed an entire lifetime—at Harvard, not to mention on the campuses of all the other fantastic undergraduate schools in the historic city of Boston, each of which offers an additional networking opportunity with the planet’s future leaders just in case networking at Harvard simply isn’t enough for those precocious networkers who got started “getting started” early on. Remember, aspiring graduates: “your network determines your net worth.” In addition to networking in Cambridge and Boston, there are countless cafes, bakeries, shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, theaters, concert venues, and music halls for more casual or informal gatherings, while there are also much more elegant ballrooms, museums, art studios, suites, and culinary institutions for more formal engagements, professional interviews, investor presentations, and celebratory occasions, as well as virtually anything and everything else that any type of college student could possibly want to do in four years between both contiguous cities. One quite simply cannot go wrong going to school in Cambridge, especially with the beautiful city of Boston never more than mere minutes away from any given point on Harvard’s expansive campus.

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

Josef: Though the Harvard undergraduate student body is certainly large—over 6,600 students strong, excluding graduate students—the class sizes never felt very large at all. Even the most widely-taken freshman lecture(s) in Sanders Theatre and the most vastly-applicable courses taught in the Science Center’s large lecture halls never exceeded a couple hundred students. Even to a student whose entire graduating high school class was about 200 students, a couple hundred students or less in a lecture course—and a freshman lecture course, at that—was and still is relatively unheard of for an undergraduate class of over 6,600.

As one progresses through one’s own unique concentration track, the overall class sizes of each course become smaller and smaller while the course subject matter itself becomes more and more specific to one’s own academic pursuits. Throughout the entirety of anyone’s undergraduate career at Harvard, however, everyone gets the opportunity to attend section meetings, in which the material from the lectures are reinforced and discussed within smaller classrooms, often in a roundtable-like conversational style not unlike that implemented in Camelot during the days of the Knights of the Round Table, although—unlike the actual Round Table of Camelot—the tables in section meetings are frequently rectangular.

I know that I was personally pleased with the class sizes, especially those of my more advanced psychological, psychopharmacological, and evolutionary psychology courses, which lent themselves toward freer classroom discussion, even in lecture!

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

Josef: Though certainly not my most memorable moment at Harvard, one memorable experience that I had early on during my undergraduate career with a Harvard professor and a particular class involved world-renowned author, cognitive scientist, psychologist, and educator Steven Pinker teaching his college fan-favorite introductory psychology course: Science of Living Systems (SLS 20). I don’t remember whether it was a Tuesday or Thursday lecture, but I do remember distinctly what and where I ate beforehand. I had gone to the Chipotle—only one option out of three or four competing Cambridge taquerías—in the Square to grab a pre-lecture burrito: a true hand-crafted carnitas bombshell with white rice, pinto beans, mild salsa, corn, cheese, lettuce, a touch of sour cream, and a dab of guacamole. With more than enough time to spare, I sat down outside to eat a few nourishing bites before lecture and, of course, to casually people-watch in the Square: an undoubtedly timeless classical pastime of both many a Harvardian before me and many a Harvardian after me. Looking down from the microcosmic Boston bustle presented before me in the quaint form of cozy Cambridge to my brown Chipotle bag in anticipation of packing up to leave for lecture, I happened to notice the writing on the bag itself prior to wrapping up my burrito and placing it inside. The writing happened to be a quote from none other than Steven Pinker, the very same professor for whose SLS 20 lecture I was packing to depart: “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.” I didn’t quite know how to verbalize it yet, but Professor Pinker’s quote resonated so deeply with me that, from that memorable moment on forward, I had become an impassioned observer and lifelong learner of the human condition.

Furthermore, it was in that very next SLS 20 lecture taught by none other than Harvard’s very own Professor Pinker himself just as he had done so many times before in so many years prior that I first seriously considered studying psychology—a cognitive social science—rather than engineering—an applied physical science—during my time at Harvard. Steven Pinker’s SLS 20 course was, in fact, the incipient reason that I chose to concentrate in psychology, though I only continued to be thoroughly impressed thereafter by all the dedicated faculty members with whom my undergraduate academic path ultimately ended up intertwining, as well as by the aforementioned enormity of cutting-edge resources available to undergraduates in regards to the cognitive sciences and psychological studies, including but certainly not limited to the latest functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology and the entire Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, should the appropriate initiative be taken by the student.

Check out Josef’s tutoring profile.

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