My family's been prodding me to apply to Harvard next year [and I don't want to make it sound like I'm some dream applicant who's "considering" Harvard; they just think that good test scores and grades are enough to give one a really good chance] and I've been saying no because, frankly, I think CC has skewed me against Harvard. I read so many posts where people bash Ivy-League schools as overrated, for whatever reason, I think I've absorbed some of that feeling.
In my mind I've been telling myself that "I don't want to be the type of person that goes to Harvard," i.e. convincing myself that Harvard students are probably something they aren't.
So back to my original question - why should I apply to Harvard?
I have no idea why you should apply to Harvard, but here are some succinct reasons why it's so great:
1. It's the greatest university in the world. More leading scholars in more fields than anywhere else. An intellectual hub for the planet -- people there are making an impact on the world, and lots of people making an impact on the world visit there.
2. It's the wealthiest nongovernmental nonprofit that there has ever been. Unparalleled, unprecedented resources.
3. It attracts wonderful, ambitious, accomplished students, both undergraduates (your prospective friends/peers) and graduate students (your TFs).
4. A great location in a fun city.
5. Lots of its housing for upperclassmen is great; many of the Houses are beautiful.
6. Excellent need-based financial aid.
7. Crimson and white actually looks pretty good on almost anyone.
If you want an objective reply, which some on this thread seem to fail miserably at giving:
Nope, can't think of a thing. Seriously."
from a Berkeley student, who knows several math professors who went to Harvard as undergraduates: it has some departments that're just spectacularly out of the world good. The math department is amazing! I didn't even apply to the school, but I think I might've enjoyed it if I had gone, for similar reasons to why I like my own school -- a big school that's a scholarly powerhouse. The one distinction is that Harvard is a private school, and there's probably something more for undergrads in general...but otherwise, they're almost the same in strength to a guy like me, who just wants elite scholars + great academics [with enough academic resources in terms of classes, etc, that only a large school with top departments, as opposed to small, focused school, can provide].
It depends if you're academic for the sake of being academic. I don't know personally a single Harvard student who is, but I know they must exist. Heck, at least they did back when my math professors went to school! If you're not the above, then the second advantage is that generally, while it is certainly a crapshoot to get in, usually your classmates will be accomplished to a degree. And of course, it is prestigious, which will carry you to a degree.
Overall, don't be afraid to go to a school like that just because people bash the admissions system or something [which I think is strange too, but I respect the people who get in...as long as they aren't idiotic egomaniacs who think they're amazing just for getting into Harvard]; it really does have amazing academic resources that not every school does.
"and no one really needs to convince you to apply somewhere--if you don't like it, don't apply."
I would ignore posts like this, frankly. It's quite simple -- the OP was asking why to apply, and felt disillusioned -- not so simple as "I like it" or "I do not," and people dismiss questions as stupid without understanding them all too often, I think.
I think what makes Harvard so special is that there is something for everyone. For instance, Harvard has the reputation of being full of overachieving pre-professionals. And while there are indeed a number of such students (they are usually nice people regardless so don't worry), they don't represent the whole student body. There are a number of us here who genuinely love learning and hope to make a career of it. The upside to being the minority is that we often get the undivided attention of arguable the world's strongest faculty. Faculty LOVE to work with students who enjoy learning the material. I've had hour long discussions multiple times with top scholars after class and in office hours, and they've proven themselves to be amazingly caring and interested in my well-being. I had some qualms about coming to Harvard, as I was weighting it against schools like Reed, Berkeley, and UChicago. But I'm very glad I made the choice to come here, as the opportunities are unmatched.
"The upside to being the minority is that we often get the undivided attention of arguable the world's strongest faculty."
Yeah, I think this is a nice way to put it -- I might've attempted to mention this in my earlier post. It certainly is a great advantage of going to Harvard...and I have said in many threads that I wish schools like Harvard and Princeton made it more feasible for students who *just* are incredibly academic + intellectual for the sake of it to make it in. Maybe Harvard does this already -- I don't know. Because as the above says, the faculty are just insanely reputed, and you get to work closely with them if you're in the minority of shining potential researchers and academics. I have found this to be true at Berkeley very much, and I personally myself would choose a school like Harvard [if I'd applied] for similar reasons I chose Berkeley.
"Mathboy - so nice to see a considerate reply!"
Sure! I actually think the OP's question is pretty important, as generic as the title may sound -- if one looks at it closely, the question seems to be about shielding himself/herself from the barrage of criticism a school like Harvard can get [e.g., perhaps about how admissions are conducted somewhat unpredictably, the school's elitism, ec]. I wanted to make it clear why I myself think it's a great school, and coming from someone who might give an unbiased view, having neither been accepted nor rejected by the school.
Well, meaning that advising any given people ain't going to help or hurt....and perhaps the poster above doesn't even recognize Harvard's strong points. There are lots of good schools, and some better at Harvard at some things, some lacking things Harvard has...asking what its strong points are is a proactive question.