Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest academic institution of higher learning in the United States, the #1 university in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and the #1 university in the Veritas Prep Elite College Rankings. It is easy to see why this prestigious research university is in such high demand among graduating high school seniors every year. Forty-seven Nobel Laureates, 48 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 32 heads of state – including eight U.S. Presidents have come out of Harvard University. Nearly 325,000 students have graduated from Harvard since it began conferring degrees. Its 5,076-acre campus in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts is home to over 27,000 students – 7,181 of which are undergraduates, and boasts the largest academic library in the world. Add to that 24 University Professors doing groundbreaking research across many disciplines, and you have a highly sought after private university.
At Harvard, the Arts and Sciences are emphasized in undergraduate study. Classes are offered on a semester basis, with students take 32 semester-long courses toward their degree completion. These include courses in one of 48 majors, eight general education classes, an expository writing class, a foreign language requirement, and a number of electives that focus on research, study abroad, language certification, or other endeavors. Incoming students also attend one of over 110 Freshmen Seminars, which gives them a place to deeply explore an interest with a small group of like-minded people without the pressure of grades.
Harvard’s three most popular majors, determined by enrollment, are economics, political science and government, and neurobiology and neurosciences. Undergraduates have the opportunity to work with renowned faculty researchers, either assisting them or creating their own research projects. Harvard undergraduates may also participate in unique summer research programs through BLISS, Behavioral Laboratory in the Social Sciences; PRIMO, Program for Research in Markets and Organizations; PRISE, Program for Research in Science and Engineering; and SHARP Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program.
Incoming freshman will live in or next to Harvard Yard and eat at Annenberg Hall. Students are divided into entryways of 20 to 40 students who share a particular area in a dormitory in suite-style living. These small communities help freshman get comfortable with the social aspect of life at a major research university through shared organized activities and social events. In the spring of freshman year, students will join a lottery to be placed in one of 12 Upperclass Houses—each with 350 to 500 students.
At the center of campus life are the Harvard Houses, which are communities of faculty, grad students, and undergrad students all living, working and learning together. The multigenerational communities provide an enriching environment for undergraduates coming from every state in the U.S. and more than 80 countries. The diversity of culture and life experience in this comfortable and open environment encourages students to challenge each other’s preconceived notions in a respectful way and delve into life’s big questions creatively and deeply. There is no Greek life at Harvard.
Houses feature a library, lounge, recreational space and several other amenities. Each house also has a senior faculty master, resident tutors, department tutorials, seminars, spaces for personal creativity, and more. Houses sponsor their own intramural athletic teams, and have community-building committees who design House activities and community-service opportunities. Add to that hundreds of campus organizations, and students will discover that it isn’t difficult to find their niche in one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Harvard University is home to 40 men’s and women’s NCAA Division I varsity sports teams competing in the Ivy League Conference. Its fiercest rivalry is with Yale where the two football teams meet annually in “The Game.” Although Harvard and Yale are not the football powerhouses today, they were a century ago and they both contributed to shaping American college football in their own ways. Harvard was the first to have an actual concrete stadium, and Yale’s Father of Football, Walter Camp, helped to create new rules that included legalizing the forward pass – a true game changer.
Harvard and Yale’s longest-standing athletic competition is in crew. The two teams compete in the Harvard-Yale Regatta on the Thames River in Connecticut each year. In fact, the two universities compete with fervor in almost every varsity sport. Ironically, Harvard and Yale partner in track and field every other year against Oxford University and Cambridge University in the longest standing international college competition in the world.
Harvard has as long a tradition of excellence in sports as in academics. They’ve won 140 national team championships – 111 men’s/coed and 29 women’s. They are four time NCAA champions in men’s hockey and women’s lacrosse, rowing, and fencing. In fact, the women’s lightweight rowing captured the most recent NCAA championship for Harvard in 2014. Harvard students can participate in sports at the varsity, club, intramural, or personal fitness level at one or more of the 21 campus athletic facilities.
Although there are probably more time-honored traditions at Harvard University, it seems that students gravitate toward what they refer to on college review sites as the “trifecta of embarrassing things.” The big three traditions are peeing on the statue of John Harvard, having sex in the stacks of Widener library, and streaking (yes, naked) around Harvard Yard in the semi-annual Primal Scream – the night before semester finals. The likelihood that a majority of Harvard graduates manage even one of these embarrassing challenges before graduation is slim, but it’s the thought that counts.
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By Colleen Hill