A Different Ed Ex
FM Investigates the Extension School
Laurence N. Girard never planned to go to college. “I was going to play professional soccer,” he said. However, his body had other ideas. Girard was injured before being able to start his professional athletic career and he quickly began searching for other options. “My mom saw an advertisement in The New York Times [for the Harvard Extension School],” he said. “I did a lot of research before I decided to do this.”
Jordan Ross approached the Extension School for the extracurricular activities it offered. He was interested in the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team. “I figured that if I was on campus, that I might as well take some classes,” he said. Through these classes he soon developed a larger interest in academia, and he now plans to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology.
Max E. Keisler wanted an undergraduate degree, but didn’t want to give up his passion for music. Keisler, who lives an hour away from Harvard near West Roxbury, started taking Extension School classes right after high school when he was 17. He is launching his music career outside of class, and says that attending the Extension School has allowed him to balance both at once.
Living in California and attending a two-year college, Tiff Yin said that the soaring tuition costs and plummeting class selection at her school led her to look for educational opportunities elsewhere. “I was getting tired of following the procedures but not getting the results I wanted,” she said. She heard about the Extension School on the radio and remembered a past visit to Harvard, when a friend had “showed [her] how the life could be here.” She began Extension School classes in September.
The Extension School Classroom
Founded in 1910, the Harvard Extension School offers classes to nearly 13,000 students living in and around Boston. The school attracts a diverse class, bringing together recent high school graduates and 40-year-olds all in the same classrooms.
Girard said his classes also include students who have already obtained their bachelor’s and sometimes even their graduate degrees. “In a biotechnology class I was taking there were adults in the classroom that were Ph.D. scientists working at Genzyme,” he chuckled. “They were probably more knowledgeable than the professors.”
The perspective that adults bring to the classroom, having gone through more of life than most traditionally-aged college students, is invaluable, Extension School students said. “In the biotech classes some of the topics were in vitro and abortion and there were adults who had first-hand experience with that stuff,” Girard said.
“They’re more wise,” Yin added. “Being 21, I don’t have a lot of experience and they really put it there for you and make you think about what life actually is like instead of theorizing about it and trying to predict the future. The future is already there in the class, people have gone through things that I couldn’t even imagine.”
The Extension School has its own faculty, but all four students interviewed for this article said that they had been taught by at least one Harvard College professor during their time at the Extension School. “It’s a very strong program academically,” Keisler said, explaining that an Extension School class he took with Near Eastern Languages professor Shaye J. D. Cohen used the same handouts and exams as Cohen’s course for Harvard College undergraduates.
Ross, who attended Cornell as an undergrad, said that Harvard Extension School professors are on par with the professors he had in Ithaca, N.Y. “They are even more open and engaging with students,” Ross said. “It’s been a very positive experience and the professors have been a big part of that.”
Their Lives Beyond
Apart from the liberal arts education that the Extension School provides in the classroom, Ross said that he sees “an entrepreneurial slant” to the school. The Extension School places a large emphasis on business networking, offering opportunities for additional seminars and events where students can connect with College undergrads and graduate students. “There are a lot of different resources that one can take advantage of if one is open to it.”