As the oldest, most heavily endowed and generally considered the most prestigious college in the nation, Harvard is generally well-known – but not known well. That is, a number of myths and misconceptions have developed outside the realm of the Harvard community. Below are some of those myths, along with facts, which we hope will dispel any misconceptions.
MYTH: Harvard is only for geniuses.
FACT: Harvard rejects literally hundreds of candidates with 1400-plus SAT scores and 4.0 GPA’s in favor of students with lesser academic achievements. The truly brilliant students are almost always admitted, but the other 90% of each class is composed of students who meet a variety of factors, including intellectual ability, unusual attractiveness of personality, outstanding capacity for leadership, creative ability, athletic ability, maturity for a liberal arts education and geographic distribution.
MYTH: I can’t afford Harvard.
FACT: Because of Harvard’s unequaled facilities and faculty, the total charge was $36,800 for the academic year 2002-03. However, over 70% of all students receive financial help. EVERY STUDENT ADMITTED TO HARVARD WHO IS JUDGED TO BE IN FINANCIAL NEED IS GIVEN ASSISTANCE. Assistance is solely based on financial need, not on superior academic (or other) achievement. Harvard expects students with financial need to earn and borrow a certain amount of money each year and have their parents give a set amount (if judged capable of doing so). After that point, grants are sanctioned, the result rarely being a full scholarship, but ALWAYS a package that permits EVERY admitted student to attend Harvard without unreasonable financial sacrifice, need for a full-time job or excessive borrowing.
MYTH: The pressure at Harvard is terrific.
FACT: 98% of all students admitted to Harvard eventually graduate from Harvard; flunking out is rare. A student is not admitted unless the college is convinced that he or she can handle the work – in fact, close to 70% of recent graduating classes have received honors. A normal course load is four courses of three one-hour classes per week (12 hours of class each week). Most students spend one and a half to two hours in work outside of class for each hour of class.
MYTH: Last year’s valedictorian wasn’t admitted and he/she was smarter than I am, so I don’t stand a chance.
FACT: Maybe you offer qualities which the other person didn’t have – a superior creativity, leadership ability, motivation, athletic ability, etc. As noted before, many factors besides intellect matter. Harvard does not want, or have, a student body of “grinds” who are non-creative, plodding regurgitation of knowledge.
MYTH: Harvard is full of “intellectual snobs.”
FACT: Harvard students and faculty generally pursue a scholarly approach to matters, but are rarely snobby – respect for other views and examination of all sides of issues are an part of a liberal arts education, and are truly treasured at Harvard. Thus, Harvard has generally been and continues to be an institution where reason and discourse lead to change and the improvement of the Harvard community. Harvard believes that it takes many different kinds of people to make a productive community. Harvard has “bookworms”…and students whose extracurricular take up much of their time. It has students donned in grunge attire…as well as its share of preppies. It has “98-pound weaklings”…and nationally and internationally recognized athletes. There is probably more diversity at Harvard than almost anywhere else. Harvard aggressively seeks such diversity to avoid stratification.
MYTH: Harvard isn’t interested in athletes or athletics.
FACT: Harvard Athletics is the most comprehensive in the nation. There are 21 men’s and 20 women’s varsity and many junior varsity and club teams competing at the intercollegiate level, more than any other institution in the United States. There are many freshman dorm teams and House Intramural teams for upperclassmen, plus an extensive recreation program. Harvard teams in the past several years have been national champions or involved in national championship competition in a number of sports, including hockey, soccer, baseball, crew, swimming, tennis and squash. Harvard has represented at all the Olympics of modern times, since 1896. There are Harvard graduates playing professional football, baseball, hockey, squash, and tennis. Harvard is very much interested in good athletes – if they meet the college’s academic standards. No athletic scholarships are awarded, but all students who are admitted will be provided appropriate financial help if needed, including athletes.
MYTH: Harvard is too big (or small) or too urban (or rural).
FACT: Obviously the above statements are judgement and may be true in comparison to some colleges. In reality, Harvard is as big or as small as a student wants to make it. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 undergraduates, but most activities center around 17 freshman dorms or around the 13 upperclassman Houses (averaging 400 students and faculty). Each House has its own dining hall, library, and social/recreation rooms, and 95% of the students live in this campus housing. Harvard is located in the heart of Cambridge, MA (population 90,000), but the college is basically self-contained and the feeling of being within a big city is not often clear. Downtown Boston, with its many attractions, is less than five miles from Cambridge, and a ten minute subway ride away. Thus, Harvard finds itself with “the best of both worlds.”
MYTH: A Harvard education is an impersonal one, with large classes taught by graduate students.
FACT: There are almost 3,000 courses at Harvard, some large and most small. The average size of a class at Harvard is ten students to one professor. Some of the basic courses may have 200 to 500 students or more, but these generally meet en masse only once or twice a week, with students divided into sections of 20 or so for other course sessions. The entire Harvard faculty, from Nobel laureates to associate professors, teaches undergraduates; no one on the college faculty just teaches graduate students or just does research. Many sections are led by teaching fellows or graduate assistants working on PhD’s, but in such cases there is unlikely to be attenuation of quality. The professor who teaches the course is always available; some live in the Houses and all hold office hours, or may be available after classes or during meals.
Furthermore, seminars for freshmen and the tutorial program/independent study for upperclassmen offer unique opportunities for small group and individual research and study with professors. Senior thesis work, for those who wish to undertake it, does so on an even greater scale. In sum, there as is as much contact with the eminent faculty as students’ desires and programs dictate.
MYTH: My swimming won’t improve if I attend Harvard.
FACT: Every year Harvard seniors swim lifetime best times and the 2004-2005 season was no exception. As a team, we were undefeated in 2005 and won the 2005 Ivy Championships with 2 All-Americans, 8 NCAA “B” times, 6 National qualifiers and 81% swimming best times in at least one event. Our goal is to win the Ivy Championships next year and be top 20 at NCAAs within the next four years.
With dedication, enthusiasm and focus, a swimmer should improve every year that she is in college.