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Concerns about Harvard Student Body

CCW1321CCW1321 9 replies2 threadsRegistered User New Member
edited October 2013 in Harvard University
Hey all,

So as I have mentioned in a previous thread, I'm getting well into the applications process and am starting to consider more closely the pluses and minuses of schools I will be applying to. A few months ago I visited Harvard, and was left a little concerned. Let me preface this by saying that I'm a double legacy at Harvard, so I a) expected to love it based on my parents' experience and b) wanted to love it because my chances of getting in there are marginally better than at similarly competitive schools.

However, I was disappointed by the student body. In the classes I sat in on, students seemed disengaged (often lecturers would ask a question and be met with no raised hands and several minutes of silence). In the dining areas I was in, students seemed to all be doing work, and almost none were socializing. On the whole I just got a feel of students who are not too accustomed to just having fun, or even learning for the sake of learning. To be clear, because I'm going to sound really negative here, I kept trying to look for the good, because I felt I had to be wrong. However, the impression was remarkably vivid.

So my question(s), primarily for any current or recent undergrads, but I'm sure to hear some interesting things from others, are these:
Is it just not the school of passionate, interesting people I imagined? Are students more concerned about performance and future careers than following academic passions?
Are people not all too social?
Is there just too much work/stress for people to relax?
I've heard most of the social life revolves around intense commitment to extra-curriculars, is this an accurate portrayal?
Am I just totally wrong and it's really an awesome place with fun, passionate, talented people galore?


p.s. Since I got this comment on previous threads, I realize it's very presumptuous to be asking all this without having even applied to Harvard. I am fully aware of how ridiculous admissions are and where I stand as an applicant. I would never assume that I can count on being accepted, but I think it's still worthwhile to know which schools are the best fits for me before applying (particularly for EA purposes).
edited October 2013
29 replies
Post edited by CCW1321 on
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Replies to: Concerns about Harvard Student Body

  • gibbygibby 10528 replies246 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Harvard currently rejects about 70% of legacy applicants, so being a legacy isn't what it used to be back when your parents attended the school. Bottom Line: even though you are a double-legacy, you shouldn't consider acceptance a fait accomplit. Personally, I know of one double-legacy two years ago who had top test scores and grades who was rejected. She's now at Georgetown.

    FWIW: http://mbwong.com/2012/05/29/why-harvard.html

    "Generally students spend a lot of time in dining halls, which not only serves as a cafeteria but also form open spaces for studying and gathering until wee hours of the night."

    " . . .sometimes we Harvard kids just don’t know how to have fun. Harvard sometimes feels a bit more like the working world than a loving or nourishing community."

    "Contributing to this culture is the university administration’s desire to prevent students from having too much fun. To them Harvard is a place of learning not enjoyment."

    "That is not to say that Harvard kids don’t party. If you want fun, it’ll be there."
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  • bstrekhabstrekha 15 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    I know how you feel. I go to Penn, but not everyone is brilliant here. I expected....more. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of very smart people that I met and am friends with, but not everyone.

    The same applies to any (elite) school. Some people get in because of huge family donations. Others have rich parents who pay big bucks to have SAT tutoring. Some people get into the elite schools not because they were necessarily smarter, but have better resources.

    Another thing: there are different groups of people at our type of schools. Some are at the top financially, and some with grades. However, there are those who are brilliant/genius-type, and then there are hard workers. Getting into Harvard is tough and great, but doesn't mean you're a genius. A girl from my school got into Harvard while I got into Penn (I didn't apply to Harvard). Harvard usually ranks higher than Penn. However, I always score higher than her and learn much faster than her in the classes we are in together. She just studies 24/7 and rarely socializes. I'm sure Harvard has a lot of those type of people, as does any top-ranking university.

    That being said, Harvard is a great school and you will find your friends. You will meet highly intellectual people (if that's what you are looking for) and will have a great time. You will never find a school with 100% genius students who don't study 24/7 and know how to have fun.
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  • exultationsyexultationsy 1091 replies9 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    This post got long, because your experience sounds similar to mine back in the day. I'm also a double-legacy, and my first visit was also a disaster. Mine was a disaster for slightly more obviously temporary reasons than yours--my host had had the flu badly until a few days before I came and was still recovering, and her phone had died or something, and so then I got stuck in Lamont Library for a bit more than an hour, not knowing where she was or if she was even coming, before she turned up to find me.

    In general, I don't think Harvard students are very good to pre-admittance student visitors, which may cause some bad impressions among prospective but pre-application visitors. It's all, "what are the chances of you being in the 6% who will be arriving here next year? ...About 6%." It's not the most nice of us, but even I--who have spent quite a bit of time trying to help applicants during the whole process here on this forum--am somewhat guilty of this in person. I'm not confronted with it often, but if this is a big problem for you, there it is. Sorry about that, if you got any such vibes when you visited. I got similar, and was very ambivalent about the whole thing between visiting in February and decision day in April. I was kind of hoping I'd be rejected, so I didn't have to make a hard decision and could just go to Chicago, where I'd gotten in EA. (Note to past self: If you were worried about people studying too much, picking Chicago rather than Harvard would have been an UNHELPFUL CHOICE. Luckily, I didn't.) Harvard hadn't seemed so great, my visit had gone terribly, but I guess I'd still applied because maybe that was just a bad first impression...

    Then I visited Harvard twice in April, after admittance, and knew immediately it had just been a bad first impression. I committed before the actual visit days. (That was a mistake because everybody wanted to talk about how they were choosing between Harvard and Yale, and that was truly obnoxious, while I was just like "eh, I've committed," but that particular brand of obnoxiousness gets beaten out of almost all Harvard and Yale freshmen once they actually enter their respective schools.)

    I'm in one of the biggest social science majors besides gov and ec, and I have never had a problem with lack of enthusiasm here. Pervasive (although not overwhelming*) enthusiasm for something was possibly my most important criterion in selecting a college. When I was in high school, I was talking about some article about demographics with an acquaintance on the school bus. I started going off about how this related to (what I understood of) Thomas Malthus, and so this acquaintance and I were just discussing the population trends of the planet with eagerness and maybe not that much knowledge. Then my better friend turned around and said, "Why are you talking about that? I have never heard anything so boring in my life. Let's talk about movie stars." When my counselor asked what I wanted out of college, I told her that story and said--I want a place where that could never happen to me again. Harvard has pretty well served.
    *I'm a bit cynical, and I might have had trouble with a college full of people who added! too! many! exclamation! points! to their sentences! Some of the more peppy LACs, maybe. But disengagement was, is anathema.
    So it's taken me a while to find my right friend group here, but in all the odd friend groups I've cycled through in my time here, they have all had that enthusiasm in common. (Can't sing, can't dance, don't care, but I spent a couple months freshman year hanging out with the musical theater crowd, for example. I wouldn't type most musical theater geeks as particularly bookish, but I bonded with one girl when she told me how much she LOVED the library, and me kind of agreeing.) I've found that baseline enthusiasm for something almost everywhere, whether it's sports or art or class or solving the world's problems, or some combination thereof.

    However, I would agree that Harvard students can be disengaged, but it really depends on what group and what concentration you're in. I don't know how strongly I'd recommend Harvard if you're looking to major in government or economics and have a lot of lively intellectual discussions about those subjects. My boyfriend's in one of those two, and he's that rare creature in his department, even in his upper-level classes--a guy who is really enthusiastically nerdy about the material in all his coursework. He's struggled some, because a lot of his classmates are disengaged or focused on the purely practical aspects of his subjects. He's like the only nerd. Sociology's explosive growth may have pushed it in that direction, but those are 3 concentrations out of something like 60. If your likely major lies elsewhere, I worry less about my recommendation. (I can't speak with any real knowledge about the life sciences or the premed track. People in smaller biology and science majors also seem very happy.) But even if you are majoring in a typical pre-finance or whatever if you come in with the engagement you're seeking, you will find and click with people who are also engaged. I think we're a sizable majority here, but the ones who aren't have never bothered my life in any way. I can name my hundred closest friends (according to the Facebook definition, perhaps), without naming one who's disengaged. Most have academic passions as well as extracurricular ones. The one exception I can name is my friend who's one of the 5 people most important people in the business that is the Crimson, who doesn't care so much about her classes, but that's because she cares so much about her extracurricular. Most everybody else really does like their major, as well as whatever they do outside.

    Addressing a couple more points in random order.
    1. When did you visit? The campus you describe sounds exactly like exam-time. "Almost no students socializing" in a dining hall is something I've never seen otherwise. And yes, we get intense during exam week when we realize we have to buckle down and maybe catch up on some topics we were too busy doing nonacademic stuff during the semester to learn really well the first time, but I'd guess that's the same at exam-ish time anywhere. If it wasn't...it doesn't sound like the campus I know. Maybe it's that inhabitants of the River Houses don't know how to have fun, if you were eating down there ;)
    2. Some people think I don't know how to have any fun because I don't like to go out multiple times a weekend. At my state flagship, it seems normal to go out and get drunk at parties 3-5 times a week. Whereas although I think I have fun, I party with my friends maybe 2 weeks of 3. We hang out more casually much more often, I have time to watch TV, etc... But I suppose that may put almost all Harvard students in many peoples' definition of "doesn't have any fun". I disagree with their definition, but if that's what you're looking for, it's hard to find at Harvard.
    3. I'm not "intensely" committed to any extracurricular. I do stuff. Less than many people. More than many people. It's probably hard to have a social life if you're not even a peripheral member of anything, but if you're the type of student who can get into Harvard, you won't want not to join anything.
    4. Although the odds are still against you, my legacy friend, drop me a line if you do get in and want to talk during prefrosh weekend. It sounds like we shared many of the same concerns about how to choose a college, so I might be able to give you a useful perspective on something. I'm not on this forum that often any more, but PMs get a notification sent to me in my real email.
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  • notjoenotjoe 1178 replies3 threadsRegistered User Senior Member

    "In general, I don't think Harvard students are very good to pre-admittance student visitors,..."

    Really? That's very interesting. Part of the reason my son chose Harvard was because of how warmly his student hosts treated him when we visited.
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  • CCW1321CCW1321 9 replies2 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Hey guys, I'll get back to all of the responses in more detail later, but I had a few very quick questions for exultationsy. First off (not a question) but thanks so much for the detailed response, to which I will respond more thoroughly at a later time. Just off the top of my head: is your boyfriend in econ by any chance? That is my intended major (though gov is also possibility) and is the major in which I experienced the lack of engagement the most clearly.
    I had thought it was possible I was there on exam week, but never confirmed. I was there on April 1st and March 30th. Was that an exam period? Also, I was a little careful to say dining "areas" because I couldn't get into dining halls. I was just in the food area in the science center and one other place that slips my mind. Would these happen to be more work-oriented locations for some reason?
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  • NewYork94NewYork94 214 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    I'm torn about what I want to concentrate in right now. I've been considering a concentration / secondary field of Econ and Government respectively or just doing Social Studies, which I recently learned about and strikes me as a very comprehensive concentration. Exultationsy, do you happen to be concentrating in Social Studies?
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  • exultationsyexultationsy 1091 replies9 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @notjoe It might also be an age thing. More freshman sign up to host prefrosh than they need to host all of them, I think, and I remember my friends being fairly solicitous of all their freshman. I stayed with a junior, and I think all us upperclassmen feel more removed from high schoolers than freshmen do.

    @CCW He has a secondary in economics, but I've heard less about his experiences there. I did meet a lot of very bright pre-economics people in one class freshman year, and they seemed engaged. I don't know enough about economics to tell you for sure if they were engaged-for-the-sake-of-it or engaged-because-finance-industry, though. Should you get in, that's where I'd recommend trying to talk to more people in the concentration.

    And oh, okay. No, the Science Center Cafe is not a location for socializing. At any point in the year. The vast majority of kids you see there will have gone there to get coffee/snack/didn't-have-time-for-a-real-dining-hall lunch before or between classes in the science center, and so will be frantically trying to finish up a pset. I've been known to do this myself, almost every time I'm eating there. Because it's so busy and so studious, nobody ever meets there to talk. People do meet in Lamont Caf
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  • condor14condor14 156 replies10 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Really my first impression was that you visited a few months ago, meaning late January or anytime in February. Those are crappy times to be anywhere when there is cold snowy weather. The holidays are over and maybe they were taking finals (I don't really know Harvard's school calendar). But everyone where it snows is pretty much just biding time until spring. I have been to places where I have gone at two completely different times of year, completely different experience.
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  • DwightEisenhowerDwightEisenhower 1677 replies27 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    For what it's worth, four years at Harvard has left me with the impression that the common trait of Harvard students is the ability to succeed at stuff, not necessarily intellectual curiosity. A sizable percentage of the student body is counting down the days until they graduate and become consultants.
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  • uddhavagitauddhavagita 47 replies4 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    That sizable percentage is only 16% this year. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/5/28/senior-survey-2013/
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  • JHSJHS 18401 replies72 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I'm sure Ike wasn't being literal; he may have meant to include the additional 15% who are going into finance jobs. 31% qualifies as a sizable percentage, although it's probably lower than you would find at Penn (another place where people sometimes complain about lack of intellectual curiosity).

    On the other hand, those percentages look like they are percentages of graduates taking jobs. The add up to 95%, and only about 61% of the class is actually going to be working this coming year. Others are going to graduate school, or taking fellowships, or bumming their way to Tierra del Fuego on the Pan-American Highway. So, yeah, the number of students marking time until they can go to their high-pay, high-prestige job in business may be 15-20%.

    That's sizable, too.
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  • vivian_vivian_ 17 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Sorry to be a bit off the topic, but I am curious to learn how much exactly "the high-pay, high-prestige job in business" pay per year?

    What DwightEisenhower was saying may explain why Harvard's engineering program has been ranked so low - Harvard usually would not apeal to the hard core engineering students and a portion of Harvard's engineering students may convert into social science/econ majors during their four years at Harvard.
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  • bud123bud123 699 replies6 threadsRegistered User Member
    When you visit universities it's wise to observe the students in the cafeteria, student center, library, dorms and walking to class. At some schools they are alone, don't talk to others, and look like they are on their way to their mothers funeral. At other universities the students socialize in the cafeteria, dorms, student center, on the way to class they walk together talk and even laugh. Visit as many schools as you can and trust your intuition.
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  • JHSJHS 18401 replies72 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    vivian_: The University of Pennsylvania Career Services Office has the best data going. http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/undergrad/reports/CAScp2012Report.pdf That's for the College of Arts and Sciences there; they have separate reports for Wharton, the Engineering School, and the Nursing School.

    Anyway, in investment industry jobs, the starting base salary range for the class of 2012 topped out at $100,000, with an average starting base salary of about $66,500 (somewhat higher at Wharton). For management consulting, the top of the range for base salary was $90,000, and the average about $65,000, and in software development (far fewer kids) the top of the range was $105,000 and the average $72,000. In addition, a significant number of students reported signing bonuses averaging $7-8,000 and/or relocation expense reimbursement, and many also reported expected annual bonuses (at Wharton, up to $25,000).

    Which I think we all can agree is pretty impressive, if not scary.

    Between the College and Wharton, you are talking about 300-400 reporting students with jobs in those three categories, so the averages are based on pretty broad samples. The top of the range may be only a few students in each category.

    I believe the numbers for Harvard in those fields would be very similar to Penn's.
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  • sherpasherpa 4730 replies93 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    JHS - Great link

    Most consulting offers this year were in the range of $60-70k with projected bonuses of up to 30% of base salary. Most also came with signing bonuses of $5-10k.
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  • Canadian786Canadian786 2 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    I can understand your concern and I want to congratulate you for having your parents set a path for you to follow. Personally, I can say that Harvard as well as an other Ivy League school is exemplary in terms of education. If you find that certain people are not seizing the opportunity be there, then just be make sure to shine brighter and become a leader for them.
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  • T26E4T26E4 23243 replies1031 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    say again?
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  • WindCloudUltraWindCloudUltra 1703 replies58 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Anyway, in investment industry jobs, the starting base salary range for the class of 2012 topped out at $100,000, with an average starting base salary of about $66,500 (somewhat higher at Wharton). For management consulting, the top of the range for base salary was $90,000, and the average about $65,000, and in software development (far fewer kids) the top of the range was $105,000 and the average $72,000. In addition, a significant number of students reported signing bonuses averaging $7-8,000 and/or relocation expense reimbursement, and many also reported expected annual bonuses (at Wharton, up to $25,000).

    The irony of all of this is that while a low six-figure salary right out of college may seem extremely impressive, you have to remember the number of hours required on these jobs. Some involve extensive amounts of 'airport time' and depending on the season or deal cycles, you maybe working 80-100+ hours a week. Do some quick math and you'll see the per-hour rate to be not-quite-so-impressive.

    One of my favorite quotes courtesy of Y Combinator founder Paul Graham:
    Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That's the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn't suck, they wouldn't have had to make it prestigious.
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  • CPUscientist3000CPUscientist3000 5346 replies104 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Gibby... What is that website you linked to? It's one person's assumptions about the entire student body (even if they are a student). Maybe *s/he* doesn't know how to have fun. (I'm not attacking you.)

    OP, I wonder what "dining areas" you were in and what time you went. If dining hours are in session (eg breakfast, lunch, dinner, brain break--late night) you will see people talking and socializing and.... Being normal! If they aren't in session, dining halls (more so upperclass halls since we have 24/7 access to them unlike the first year dining hall) are great study spaces. All the drinks you want right next to you. Just because people are "studying" doesn't mean 1 they aren't socializing and 2 they're actually getting work done (if they're with people). It also depends on what part of the year you came. It's technically always midterm season, which doesn't help, but October and March are generally when people have midterms (last fall I had 2 midterms in science, 2 or 3 in math. Last spring, two in math). End of the semester, finals. Admitted students weekend is at the beginning of reading period, and students have papers to do, study sessions to attend, etc.

    Harvard doesn't have a student center. No (official) central location for students to go to. Social spaces are limited mainly because 1 it's a city school and there's just no space and 2 these buildings are historic and no one is tearing them down or renovating solely for bigger party spaces.

    Fun does not mean partying... Many students prioritize ECs over academics. I for one do not like academics at all (sitting in class, doing homework, etc) and I learn way better and more with hands on activities.

    When you are talking about a school with smarter than average students, including flat out almost-curing-cancer geniuses, yes, academics are more prioritized. As they should be. This whole college as a social thing is overrated, and it's a privilege to sleep away at school. The vast majority of American college students DO NOT.

    If you want to drink (responsibly please)/party on weekends as your idea of fun, there are plenty of opportunities. There's definitely a "work hard, okay harder mentality" among some/many.

    Harvard is different than when your parents were here. I'm guessing 70s/80s but I could be wrong. The student body - racially, socioeconomic ally, and gender-wise - is COMPLETELY different.

    (I didn't read anyone else's comments nor did I fully read OP's post. My comments are general and widely applicable to various different questions.)
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  • CPUscientist3000CPUscientist3000 5346 replies104 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Play* harder
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