I was wondering....what are the main ways people have fun at Harvard? How big is the social scene and what kind of interactions do people prefer on campus? What portion of the interaction is online and what portion is face-to-face?
In other words: how tensed is your life when you're a Harvard student? How much time is there left for friends and going out?
I'm cirious as well... I've heard that it is possible to have a great social life at H, but that you have to look for fun- fun doesn't come looking for you. I would imagine that is true at almost any college campus, though.
At Harvard you will find a good time like you would at any university. And as with all schools, freshman year is always rough in terms of finding stuff to do. But the situation at Harvard differs in some marked ways. First off, the closest thing to a full on fraternity scene are the final clubs, and they are pretty selective about admission. I'm sure you've heard the stories about the predatory upperclass guys and the vulnerable freshman girls - though slightly exaggerated, it's basically the gist of that scene. Of course, final clubs do not make up the majority of options. There are fraternities and sororities, they simply aren't as visible. One of the best parties I've been to at Harvard was thrown by a sorority in a local hotel.
The implications of this decentralized social scene are profound. Parties tend to be in suites of upperclassmen and particularly brave freshmen (though I can't think of a single party on the Yard that didn't get busted. Parties in the Union tend to fair a little better). The problem is compounded by Harvard's extremely diffuse campus. To get to the Quad, where generally the best events are thrown, you can either walk down Garden street in the middle of the night (I would not recommend this) or take the shuttle, which only comes every 20 minutes and shuts down in the wee hours of the morning, so you're own your own on the way back. However, this rarely stopped my friends and I from getting out to the quad houses. Truly though, you just have to keep your ear to the ground for the goings-on of the weekend.
The second important difference is that Harvard is in the big city. Well, Cambridge actually, but close enough. Boston is just a hop, skip, and a jump away by T and many people who are seeking an alternative to the college binge-drinking scene flee campus on the weekends (this tends to be seasoned upperclassmen and some adventurous frosh). Boston is WAY more interesting than Cambridge, and if going to another college for the night tickles your fancy there are so many schools in the area that it's not a problem. Popular destinations tend to be BU, Tufts, and MIT. The only drawback is that the T shuts down at 12:30 every night, so you better be ready to either catch a cab or spend the night wherever you end up.
Harvard gets a bad rap about not having a social life because of the nerdy and socially inept kids. I'd like to offer a different explanation. The will is there, but the resources are tough to come by. And among those resources I am including time. Harvard kids are often so busy that the sanctum of friday night is often not observed. I once walked in on a hallmate working on a p-set at 11pm on friday, no joke. It was a little bit depressing, but that happens a lot. But if there is a will, there is a way. Trust me.
there are usually at least a couple of plays/musicals/performances going on every weekend. also, people can apply to the undergraduate council for money to pay for hosting parties, so those happen pretty often. a lot of people also like going to restaurants and bars in the square, or possibly go in to boston
and no, fun doesn't come looking for you. you can have as social of a life as you like. you won't find many people in the library on a saturday night, but most people are not out at wild parties either.
It also depends on what you find the most fun. I've been to a few gigantic, sweaty frat parties in my time, and although it's an interesting experience, it's not my scene. If you like your parties more laid back (people, drinks, talking, dancing), you might have a lot more fun at Harvard than at Arizona State.
I'm still a freshman, so I can only give you an outsider's perspective. Then again, a lot of what people have to say about the houses are pretty much always biased towards their own house, so maybe an outsider's perspective would be the most objective.
The houses are like little families. That's the best way to put it. Each house has a committee that comes up with fun stuff to do. For example, in October Pforzheimer house threw a 90's dance for the benefit of its students (pfoho kids got in free, if I remember correctly). Mather throws the Mather Lather annually, a dance party in a few feet of foam, though I've heard this is being phased out. Then for the house residents only, there are always a bunch of things to do. I know Winthrop house functions per-entryway, meaning that the each entryway's tutor gets his/her respective entryway together sometimes. And if you want alcohol-fueled stuff, some of the houses have stein clubs, where beer is served to students who are of age. It's kind of like a booze-fueled study break, usually on wednesday or thursday. I'm not sure if these will be around next year, given the Administration's new rule banning alcohol at stein clubs, but some house masters are fighting back. We'll see how it turns out.
That's one thing to know about Harvard. The administration, Dean Pilbeam in particular, is a bit high-handed. They tend to act as though they always know what's best for the students. It's caused a lot of friction between them and the Undergraduate Council (UC) over the banning and re-instating of party grants. There is a general concensus among students (at least those I know. It's anecdotal, so you can take it or leave it) that the administration doesn't fully respect our collective and individual capacities for making responsible decisions as adults, warrantlessly.
"I'm not sure if these will be around next year, given the Administration's new rule banning alcohol at stein clubs"
I thought the new rule was only going to ban HARD alcohol. Limiting the Stein Clubs to beer or cider would be nothing new; that's what they generally had in the 90s, in Leverett at least. We used to use the House email list to vote on what should be in the keg each week.
In fact, I think it's kind of weird to have liquor at Stein Club at all; who drinks screwdrivers or margaritas out of a stein?