Why We Gave

To members of the Class of 2014:

You may be wondering how you got here—you’ve spent the past 18 years padding your resume, doing all of your homework, enrolling in foreign-language immersion programs, rehearsing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” until your calluses bled, and now you’re finished.  For many of you, gaining acceptance into Harvard was a tireless goal; for others, it was a hopeful prayer before tossing your application in the mail.  Regardless of how you came to call yourself an incoming Harvard student, you made it, and for that, we congratulate you.

As we’re congratulating you, however, we’d like to remind you of the new realities you’ll face as a Harvard student.  The first of these is, of course, tuition.   You may have been accepted into Harvard, but, as with any college, the balance on your term bill will determine whether or not you actually get to live within the gates of Harvard Yard.  After all, a world-class education does cost money. Tuition increased 3.5 percent this past year—that’s $33,696, $48,868 if you include room, board, and a student services fee.

But that’s not all. You should probably buy textbooks, which can cost hundreds of dollars each semester. You may also want some food to snack on when you’re churning out a paper at 2 a.m., and fortunately overpriced burritos from Harvard Square are always available to substitute the money you’re losing with a few extra pounds.  On that note, you may also want to look into a gym membership—it may be expensive, but you have to avoid that freshman fifteen, right?

And what about your social life?  We’re sure you have every intention of working hard and spending your free time in the library (although, why would you want to go to a library? There’s no food allowed, you can’t talk with anyone, and you’re forced to sit at uncomfortable tables).  However, on Friday nights, you will probably want to get out of your dorm. You could see a concert, but ticket prices add up.  You could go out to dinner, but do you really want to spend $20 on fried food?

What if we told you that you could go to a school where seven out of 10 students were on financial aid, and that need-based aid increased more than twice as fast as tuition over the past five years?  What if this school offered free food in the dining halls every night, for the sole purpose of feeding you while you studied?

Intrigued? This same school recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation of the campus athletic center, allowing its students to work out on brand new cardio machines with TVs for free. The school also just added a cafe to its main college library so its students could study in groups, snack on a sandwich, or relax in one of dozens of armchairs.

And don’t worry about free time. The school remodeled the common space below the freshman dining hall to create a pub where you can sing karaoke, eat 25-cent buffalo wings, or sip on a $2 latte.  There’s also a fund to provide eligible students free tickets to events sponsored by student groups, like concerts, plays, and house formals.

Are you ready to transfer?

Fortunately, that school is Harvard.  While we’re sure you’ve heard of Harvard’s $26 billion endowment, the majority of it is restricted, so funding for much of what we’ve described depends on unrestricted alumni donations.

This year, nearly 40 percent of the financial aid budget is projected to come from unrestricted funds. Despite the economic downturn, Harvard has continued to expand financial aid, allowing it to take the most talented and diverse student body possible regardless of socioeconomic status. Simply put, Harvard’s ambitious financial aid program could not be sustained without the support of seniors and alumni.

You may be wondering why we’re talking about alumni giving—after all, you’re not even a student here, let alone an alumnus.  But while you’re getting ready to start your four years at Harvard, we’re getting ready to leave.  And we depart with the knowledge that Harvard has provided opportunities we couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.  Yet we—like the majority of seniors in our class—will graduate debt-free.  We know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support of alumni donations, which is why we’re choosing to give back so that your four years at Harvard can be as amazing as ours were.

So enjoy your time at Harvard and take advantage of all it has to offer.  And in four years, reflect on your time here. Think about all of the house study breaks and trips to the Malkin Athletic Center.  Think about Lamont Cafe and the Queen’s Head Pub.  Think about wireless internet and intramural sports.  Think about your friends, and all the people on financial aid who enriched your life at Harvard, and consider giving to Senior Gift.

Jay M. Cohen ’10, a former Crimson sports associate editor, is a government concentrator in Dunster House. Alee Lockman ’10, a former Crimson design chair, is a government concentrator in Adams House. Dixon McPhillips ’10, a former Crimson sports co-chair, is a visual and environmental studies concentrator in Kirkland House . They are all members of the Senior Gift committee.

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