El Segundo High School

Wicked smart– a tour of Harvard University


The thing about Harvard University is that from the moment you step foot in Harvard Square, you feel an energy that can best be described as an electric buzz of adrenaline, as if all the intelligence that is concentrated in Cambridge, Mass. is somehow diffusing into the air and infiltrating your veins.

To begin your tour, you will start at the world-famous Harvard Yard: “the Yard.”  Harvard Yard is a large square of green grass surrounded by 18th century colonial brick buildings that serves as: housing for freshman at Harvard; undergraduate classrooms; and the main Widener library.

At the center of Harvard Yard sits the John Harvard statue that many tourist and aspiring future Harvard students pose with for a picture. Many pose while touching his foot, but you should not touch the foot (I can not share with you why- just trust me, don’t touch it). People become captivated as they walk through Harvard Yard, imagining themselves as a student atone of the most prestigious university in the world.

The campus was founded in 1636 making it the oldest college in the United States. It is situated on 5,000-plus acres and is an urban campus. While Harvard Yard is a quintessential Ivy League campus with classic buildings, it is surrounded by Harvard Square, a commercial square of restaurants and shops. Of course, downtown Boston is only a few subway stops away. Boston is actually home to 54 other colleges, the most famous of which are MIT, Tufts and Boston University.

Harvard houses 6,700 undergraduates and 3,700 graduates many of which attend the world-renown business, law, and medical schools, and the Kennedy School of Public Administration.

Freshman at Harvard will be randomly assigned to one of 17 freshman dorms, the majority of which are found on Harvard Yard. Harvard does an extensive job of pairing roommates so to provide optimal living situations based on a questionnaire you fill in about yourself. Malia Obama will be attending Harvard starting fall 2017 so she could be your roommate! Freshmen eat in the historic Annenberg dining Hall.

Second year students are randomly assigned to a “House.” The housing system and the notorious “Housing Day” is a method for placing all students in one of twelve  houses that they will remain in for sophomore, junior and senior year.  They will live there, dine there, and they are forever affiliated with their house.

Most houses are located within blocks of Harvard Yard, some are even situated across from the Charles River. But some are located at the “Quad,” a 10-minute bus ride away. Students generally hope and pray that they will not be “Quaded.”

Harvard has a very small Greek system. However, it is also known for its 11 “Finals Clubs” which are social and dining clubs that students become a part of in they sophomore year. In a cloak and dagger sort of throwback, students will receive a note under their door asking them to attend events in the fall of their sophomore year, this is known as being “punched.”  If you make it through six weeks of events and are still on the invite list, you are in.

A very small percentage (14%) of Harvard students ultimately become part of a Finals Club.  This system has been very prevalent in the news of late due to  its “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and “statistics allegedly linking male clubs to sexual assault on campus.”

Getting accepted to Harvard is tough- really tough. Last year 5.2 percent of applicants were accepted last year and each will pay $64,000 a year to attend (although there is plentiful financial aid available).

The makeup of Harvard undergraduates is 47 percent female, 53 percent male. 13.7 precent African-American, 22 percent Asian, 12.6 percent Hispanic and 2.6 percent Native American.

Visiting Harvard is truly a magical experience.  The conversations you overhear are diverse and deeply intellectual.  To see young men riding skateboards in blue blazers with ties, to walk along the Charles River and thinking, this is the most beautiful and intellectually charged campus I have ever visited.  Wow, this is Harvard.