Club Harvard



Successful Harvard grads follow well-tread paths that lead from campus to New York, Hollywood, and across the globe. If they go where the existing university network shapes their trajectory, it is too easy to remain within the Harvard bubble—obscuring the possibilities that exist outside of it.



“One of the reasons you are here is because we recognized your capacity for leaving your comfort zones,” President Drew G. Faust told Harvard’s newest class in September 2012, welcoming the Class of 2016 to Harvard at their Freshman Convocation.

The ceremony sets the tone of these students’ undergraduate experience, the first time they are gathered together as a class. But Convocation also explicitly foreshadows Commencement: The only other time a class finds itself together at once is on their graduation day four years later. From the day they arrive on Harvard’s campus, Harvard students are told that they are guaranteed the resources for “a lifetime of infinite possibility,” in the words of former Harvard Alumni Association President Carl F. Muller ’73. The promise of their next four years is inherently linked to ideas of what they will achieve afterwards.

Faust acknowledged this tension as she cautioned her young audience. “You may have sensed that some of us are expecting you to save the world, preferably by the time you graduate,” she said. “Just remember this piece of sage advice: Sometimes the way you’ll find your way is by not taking others’ sage advice.”

Faust’s first message to the class encouraged students to think outside of the bubble, so to speak: to pursue risks, to stray from comfort. But Harvard students finding their way on campus face even more pressure to make their mark once they leave. Graduates become assets of Harvard’s community valued almost more than the students within its gates. Suddenly they belong to the school’s impressive base of high-powered alumni who have made names for themselves across the globe. They bear the pressures of the weighty Harvard name and network.

Somehow Harvard students are marked for life. Faust hinted at it. They sense it. But there is a fundamental paradox in Harvard’s vision of success: its inconceivable opportunities are often predictable, the supposed flexibility of its expansive network confining.  Successful Harvard grads follow well-tread paths that lead from campus to New York, Hollywood, and across the globe. If they go where the existing university network shapes their trajectory, it is too easy to remain within the Harvard bubble—obscuring the possibilities that exist outside of it.

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When I spoke with Catherine A. Gellert ’93 in November, she had just gotten back from a week in South America, traveling to meet with Harvard alumni in the region. She had been to Europe the month before and was planning a trip to Asia in January, too, she told me. Gellert, the current president of the Harvard Alumni Association, works internationally to strengthen Harvard clubs and the University’s network abroad. “What do our alumni want? It’s really that connection to lifelong learning,” she’s observed, a continuation of their experiences on campus.

Gellert says she is a good example of the type of engagement HAA seeks to promote: Not only connections between alumni, but also those of alumni and the University itself. Gellert first became involved with planning the five-year reunion of her class; fifteen years later, she is passionate about expanding the association’s opportunities for making new connections in addition to maintaining those of old.

In a video on Harvard’s website, Gellert reflects on her ideas of how Harvard marks the lives of its alumni. “How you use the fact that you attended the College—what that does for your life going forward—I think is the measure of whether or not you were the right person to admit in the first place,” she says. “I think a Harvard citizen is someone who believes that because of the experiences they’ve had, they can make a difference in the world going forward.” This can take a variety of forms: “Anything from having the most interesting dining room table conversations, ... to being involved in public service in your community, to taking a leadership role on the world stage.”

Gellert’s comments are optimistic, but they also place tremendous responsibility on Harvard graduates to succeed—and to do so in the right way. Joining the established circles of the elite Harvard graduate pool becomes both an entitlement and a pressure, a blessing and, for those who don’t use the fact that they attended Harvard in a way perceived as correct, a curse.

Harvard students are drawn into this alumni network even before they graduate. Based out of its Mt. Auburn Street office, HAA is involved in the planning of the Freshman Convocation ceremony, and student representatives sit on the Board of Directors Building Community Committee to evaluate how current students can engage with alumni far from Cambridge. Opportunities take the form of Wintersession programming and Spring Break trips with alumni of different industries; various Harvard Clubs reach out by providing grants for summer service projects advertised to current students, as well.

The formal HAA network features over 185 Harvard Clubs across the globe, and more than 40 Shared Interest Groups, which alumni can join to connect with others who share similar passions. To benefit recent alumni in particular, HAA organizes “Welcome to Your City” events introducing recent alumni who reside in the same city. Over 1500 recent grads attended nearly 30 of these events this fall, in cities ranging from New York to San Francisco, to Shanghai to Mumbai, according to Clint D. Ficula, a Graduate School of Education graduate and assistant director of the College Alumni Programs at HAA. HAA aims to keep this connection back to the University current—ever present and tangible in the daily lives of its students and alums.

While the organization hopes to bridge the Harvard community as a whole, other formalized networks serve more specific interests. Alums within the arts industry benefit from Harvardwood, for instance, a nonprofit offering professional development and resources for both Harvard students and graduates. Harvardwood seeks to serve as an umbrella group for Harvard’s creative community—expanding its network beyond the organization-specific networks like those of the Signet Society or the Hasty Pudding—and extend its reach broader than the hills of Hollywood, with chapters from London to Toronto.

These formalized networks necessarily lead to high concentrations of Harvard graduates in certain locales; recent grads follow familiar footsteps into industries or cities that seem like established choices. And within those choices, formal Harvard networking can feel less like outreach and more like life: Walking out of Harvard Yard after Commencement simply means entering the the next phase of the Harvard establishment.

JOINING THE CLUB

Club Harvard
A social club for Harvard alumni, the Harvard Club of Boston is the only Platinum alumni club in Massachusetts.

When she graduated, Julia M. Fifer ’11 moved from Lowell House to a building one block away from Boston’s Harvard Club, where she is a member and goes frequently to play squash. She serves as a “City Captain” for her class, part of the group that organizes alumni events such as happy hours within the city, and she works at the Harvard Management Company. “My main social group is 80 percent Harvard kids,” she tells me with a laugh. The Harvard connection in her day-to-day life is not something she thinks specifically about, however. “I don’t view it as a Harvard network,” she says of the connections she regularly maintains. “It’s my entire life.”

Of course, Boston’s immediate Harvard network provides a strong “Harvard social scene,” where social and professional worlds can easily collide, Fifer says, but for alums in different industries, the connection is not ever-present. Haley L. Bennett ’13 still lives in Cambridge with another graduate of her class—within walking distance from campus—but she has not yet attended any of the local Harvard alumni events. She says she finds herself reaching out to other Harvard grads more frequently when she’s outside of Boston, like in New York.

Harvard maintains its strongest presence along the East Coast—55 percent of the 2013 graduating class reported relocating there, according to The Crimson’s Senior Survey. And New York may well be the one city where Harvard maintains a presence comparable to that of Boston: 13.5 percent of the Class of 2012 left for the Big Apple after Commencement, according to that year’s Senior Survey.

“Everyone from Harvard is in New York,” jokes Blythe B. Roberson ’13, who lives in Brooklyn with three other friends from Harvard (two of whom she met during Freshman Outdoor Program). “It’s like mini-Harvard—or bigger Harvard.”

Roberson’s roommate, Caitlin N. Lewis ’13 laughs as she describes running into other Harvard grads on the subway at least once a week, and says she sometimes feels like the University has an even larger presence there than in Boston—it certainly feels so at specific bars.

Even as these unplanned encounters are inevitable within a big city, alumni outreach to recent grads has increased even since Ben D. Wei ’08 moved to New York after his own graduation, he says. Although Wei lived with his blockmate and saw his close Harvard friends regularly, many formal opportunities for engagement, like “Welcome to Your City” events, were not yet established. Wei now leads the Young Alumni Task Force out of the Harvard Club of New York and coordinated the event in 2013; he reported close to 400 attendees. He also notes the popularity of a champagne brunch hosted by the club for young alumni, its atmosphere an “Annenberg feel.”

Perhaps one with less freshman uncertainty: Harvard’s New York alumni are clearly well represented in important firms and consultancies. The physical New York clubhouse seems as if it would breed power, reminiscent of an elite Harvard past. The historic midtown building features a dining room, hotel rooms, a library, and two floors’ worth of athletic facilities. Membership is application-based, and dues are steep (“hella expensive,” according to Roberson, who is not a member). The Harvard Club of New York’s website emphatically lists incentives to joining “the place to network,” in human capital: “Need to brush up on your French? Looking for a game of poker? Finished the Iliad but not the Odyssey?” The club’s organizations include “Lawyers Group,” “French over Lunch,”  “Poker Group,” and “Homer & The Classics.”

The club remains a very central hub for its alums: Benny Belvin II, Director of Alumni, Student Group, and Employer Educational Programming at OCS, describes the club’s atmosphere on a weekday at 6 p.m. during a recent visit (part of a Harvard Fashion and Beauty Career Trek with current students) as “packed—like being on campus.”

Boston’s club, with similarly entrenched Harvard history, is also grandiose: “If our walls could talk…they’d also recount some of the most interesting conversations in Boston,” its website boasts. Harvard membership, and Harvard’s legacy, seems cemented within the age-old foundations of an established structure.

Harvard Club Shield
Special events for Harvard alumni are hosted at the Harvard Club of Boston at 374 Commonwealth Avenue.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

Within certain industries, too, established Harvard networks provide easy networking opportunities. Alumni cite Harvard’s heavy presence within certain industries as one reason for their popularity, perhaps best shown by the high number of Harvard graduates who work in finance after graduation. “In a corporate environment—at the Bain environment—no one thinks twice about the fact that you went to Harvard,” says Jason Q. Berkenfeld ’11, who works as a senior associate consultant for the company. The high concentration of graduates in cities like New York doesn’t come as a surprise when considering that over 15 percent of the Class of 2013 graduated with jobs in finance.

Jonathan L. Newmark ’12, a paralegal at Lankler Siffert & Wohl LLP, says that his career trajectory has not yet required much professional networking on his part. But Harvard played a large part in his job-search process and in its day-to-day interactions. His firm hires paralegals only from top universities, he says, and many of the current attorneys are Harvard graduates from years ago. “When I interviewed there it was a great starting point of making connections and eventually securing the job,” he says. “It’s really nice to be able to talk about, ‘Oh, what House are you in?’”

In many cases, the sheer number of Harvard grads in prominent positions accounts for quintessential “Harvard luck.” Mia Riverton ’99, co-founder of Harvardwood, found herself working for Will Griffin at News Corporation, the parent company of FOX, on the first day of her temp job. “As it turns out, he’s a Harvard law grad,” Riverton explains. “The first thing he asked me to do was a powerpoint presentation which I could do in my sleep, having been an economics major that worked at Goldman Sachs. So I turned it around in 10 minutes, and he looked at me kind of funny and he said, ‘You’re not a typical $12 per hour temp, are you?’”

The next question, of course, was: “Where’d you go to school?’” After establishing their shared connection, “he immediately gave me a job, on the spot.”

Riverton’s career in entertainment grew from there; today she is a successful actress, writer, and producer. Her collaboration with writer and director Georgia S. Lee ’98 in a 2005 movie, “Red Doors,” demonstrates the power of the Harvard network. “It was very Harvard-driven experience,” Riverton explains of the film, which won Best Narrative Feature at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival, among other awards. Apart from Lee and Riverton, Harvard graduates working on the film included two other main producers and many of the investors who helped financed it.

The nation’s capital is another popular destination attracting Harvard’s political types, one where its networks are easy to access. Jeff F. Solnet ’12, a former president of the Institute of Politics, started building his D.C network as an undergraduate coordinator for the organization’s “Summer in Washington” program,” connecting students working in D.C. for the summer with alumni in the city. The Harvard Club of D.C. itself also organizes frequent opportunities, but Solnet finds that, “if you ask around,” it’s easy to find young alumni planning events almost any given day.

SEMI-FORMAL

Some recent graduates find sanctioned networking settings unappealing. “I don’t want to work more to sit in a fancy room that looks like Adams D-hall,” Roberson says of the opportunity to join the Club of New York.

“The only Harvard events I’ve taken advantage of are the ones that have an open bar,” says Nick A. Nehamas ’11, currently at Columbia’s Journalism school, stressing that he is averse to the term “professional networking.” “It turns meeting new people, which is such a fun, social thing, into something instrumental.”

In cities only more recently inundated by Harvard grads, the Harvard network feels more organic. When Ling Lin ’12 moved out to Seattle with a relatively small number of grads from her class, she encountered a community drawn closer by its scarceness.

“The further you get from the physical location of the University, the further from Cambridge, the more connected you feel to people of a similar background,” she says. Lin served as City Captain for her class, and quickly became president of the Harvard Club of Seattle this July. Though without a physical presence in Seattle, the club circulates a newsletter to around 4500 alums in the greater Washington area and has seen a 22 percent increase in its paying membership from the last quarter, Lin says.

What Seattle’s club lacks, in fact, might serve as its strength. “For the younger alumni,” Lin says, “[higher dues attributed to a club building] takes out a huge group of people that would have participated but couldn’t afford the up-front membership dues.” And as a result, Lin says she finds the Seattle club “much more informal and relaxed” than that of Boston, where she grew up, or Chicago, where she spent one summer. The stereotypical East Coast networking feel is lost, too: “People go to these events because they’re fun—they’re there to make new friends, not just to collect business cards,” she says.

Especially abroad, Harvard-heavy locales may feel similarly informal. Dalumuzi H. Mhlanga ’13, currently a graduate student at Oxford, feels highly connected to an active Harvard community through events such as a Harvard-Yale meet-ups in London to watch The Game.

Harvard’s vast array of fellowships and resources for students pursuing graduate school in the UK has created a cluster of over 30 Class of 2013 graduates at Cambridge University alone. Yacoub H. Kureh ’13, a City Captain studying mathematics there, speaks of the immediate and comfortable community provided by other Harvard students on the Cambridge campus: “It’s almost like camp.”

ON-CAMPUS TRAINING

Though post-grad networking, even if there’s a reluctance to see it as such, plays a crucial role in industries and locales clearly marked by Harvard’s name, some of the most beneficial connections are formed while students are still on campus, through specific organizations and extracurriculars.

Newmark and Berkenfeld, both former presidents of the Harvard Democrats, recognize the importance of maintaining these organizational ties; they recently turned back to HAA’s resources to create a Harvard Democrats Alumni Shared Interest Group to improve the club’s alumni records and provide mentorship programs to current members.

Berkenfeld says that the undergraduate organization suffered from a lack of institutional memory that deserved improvement. When he graduated, “it became even more important to keep that community alive in some way—to bring together people who’d had that experience years and maybe decades ago.”

And Riverton’s luck aside, affiliation with a university alone usually means almost nothing in Hollywood, where success is aided not by where you went but by who you know. Networking itself is the industry’s business, and it’s here that Harvard organizations are well-known and tangibly felt. The Harvard Lampoon and its deeply extended alumni network is known for its strong presence on shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, for instance.

“I never ever wrote a cover letter,” says Ben W. K.  Smith ’12, who is a writer for ABC’s “Trophy Wife.” “It’s a face-to-face industry.” Two of the “Trophy Wife” creators are Harvard graduates, and of its 14 writers, five are Harvard graduates. Smith attributes the relationships he formed within the industry to his involvement with the Lampoon and improv groups, On Thin Ice and the Immediate Gratification Players.

During his time on the Lampoon staff, agents and managers visited to “do face-time” for representation in the industry, he explains. “I think those representatives were comfortable taking a risk moving forward primarily because of the Harvard Lampoon pedigree,” Smith says. “You obviously still have to be good, but there’s this sexiness to it that you’re more likely to be read, and more likely to be considered because of this expectation that you’ll be good.”

Riverton attributes these strong organizational relationships to the comfort of working with those familiar to you—relationships which lead to success. “Certainly in my industry you see people reaching these echelons of success at much greater percentages than alums at other schools. Part of that is a selection thing, because Harvard selects amazing people, but part of that is because of that network of personal relationships that exists,” Riverton says. And, “Why shouldn’t you work with people that you think are talented and that you like and that you’re familiar with? Hopefully not at the cost of other types of diversity, but, you know….”

While the Lampoon is especially known within Harvard for its alumni network, other organizations on campus may provide similar, if more casual, benefits. Those offered by final clubs are among the most well-known Harvard-specific examples. Members speak of a shared mentality by which its members look out for each other, which makes reaching out to alumni many years out of the College, and perhaps more established, more comfortable. “They’re usually very responsive,” says a 2012 graduate of the Fox Club, whom the Crimson graned anonymity because he did not wish to promote scrutiny of the club. “You have this very basic, standard bond—it’s very strong.”

Bonds such as these are also created within athletics, where industry and institutional connections are often ingrained in certain teams. “In the fall in particular, it was a well-beaten path from the boathouse to the Sheraton, or wherever there was some type of networking event,” says Alex M. Macintosh ’13. “Guys would just run off in suits.” A member of the rowing team, the Fox Club, and the Crimson Key Society, Macintosh concentrated in history and was never interested in the finance world pursued by many of his peers, although he was made well aware of its option and other career opportunities. Alumni of the rowing team often emailed the coach to pass job opportunities along to its current members; teammates who applied might get preferential treatment for interviews.

Harvard’s Varsity Club offers an online database to members of all Varsity teams, listing all the alumni of each team in various industries. Macintosh once used this tool to contact an alum at a law firm, who shared information with him about how to get into the field.

“The final club, or sports team, or any sort of student organization where you know someone who works at the company—that’s a huge advantage. And I don’t think that’s something that OCS can provide,” Macintosh says. He stresses, however, the connections that arise unexpectedly out of friendships. Macintosh works in San Francisco for a tech company, a job he learned of through a friend from the rowing team and the Fox, who posted information about it on Facebook. “It definitely helps to have people to talk to, a personal connection, that gets you a look from the company,” he says, echoing Newmark’s experience during his job search. “I felt pretty comfortable in the interview process—it’s the first step to put your foot in the door.”

Macintosh’s San Francisco office experience mirrors that of Smith’s Los Angeles writing room, and Newmark’s New York law firm: Of the 15 recent hires, a third are Harvard graduates.

OUTSIDE HARVARD TRADITION

For many students, postgraduate success depends deeply on the choices made during their undergraduate years—and by the accomplishments of the alumni in whose footsteps they follow. But further from the popular destinations of Harvard fame, Harvard connections are not only more infrequent; the Harvard name holds less weight.

In these locations, even well-established organizations only reach so far. Kayla A. Escobedo ’12-’13 says she has not found that her on-campus affiliations—the Lampoon, the Signet, and the Advocate—have not substantially furthered her art career in Texas, where she has participated in group and solo art shows. The worlds of Dallas and of practicing artists, “have their own weird insulated structure,” she says, “so I don’t mean to downplay what an asset a Harvard degree is in most professions.”

Escobedo knows of only one or two other alumni in the Dallas area. (That some areas are not popular destinations seems to be obvious to most: “My friends who live in Texas aren’t hanging out with Harvard kids because there aren’t a lot there,” Fifer, in Boston, says.) And in certain areas abroad, the Harvard presence is understandably more disparate. Helen Pitchik ’12 says she rarely encountered other Harvard graduates in New Delhi while working at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy. Emails from the Harvard Club of India listed events few and far between—and across the country in Mumbai or Kolkata.

“The reality is that we’re not part of a really, really strong Harvard network, especially when we go back home,” says Mhlanga, who worked on his own company in his home of Zimbabwe during his college summers.

Even in the highly-concentrated Harvard world of New York, Roberson feels distanced from certain opportunities because of her less traditional route into comedy. Though not a Lampoon member, Roberson was heavily involved with the campus comedy show, On Harvard Time, and started her own improv group, Three Letter Acronym. In 2012, she graduated a semester early and interned at The Onion in Chicago (“no one really moves from Harvard to Chicago,” she says). She is now still writing headlines for The Onion, while working at a SAT/ACT tutoring company and searching for another comedy job.

“There’s such a strong network in my chosen, quote-unquote, industry for Harvard,” she says, “but it’s a network that I’m not a part of.” During her job search—applying for assistant jobs on TV shows, for instance—Roberson finds herself having to explain over and over that she was not on the Lampoon.

Alumni sometimes feel far from the concentration of Harvard’s resources. Lewis ended up in the large New York contingent after “sort of flailing” in the senior job search. She had taken a job at a nonprofit that she dropped before she started and started working at an internship before finding her current job at Times Square Alliance.“It’s hard because Harvard’s not super conducive to helping you find any opportunities in the realm of public service,” she says. “I’ve used so many connections that are through Harvard, but largely non-traditional—mostly networking on an individual basis.”

And even back in Boston, Bennett says she believes that her career interests of theater and education were not among the University’s list of priority career resources. “Had I decided to apply to law school or medical school or interview for consulting firms, I feel certain that the guidance would have been in place,” she wrote in an email.

But this uneven perception is largely a result of unequal recruitment strategies across professions, says OCS Director Robin Mount. The most visible are those of the Fortune 500 companies who approach Harvard to recruit on campus in batches, willing to pay high price-tags that other industries cannot match. OCS makes many efforts to program opportunities for those interested in other professions: A January Public Interested conference it took part in, for instance, hosted over 100 alumni speakers in the field. (And this past Monday, as Mount describes these options, a career exploration program on combining arts and sciences in animation is just wrapping up at the office.)

“It’s kind of cute in way, that [students] think that we’re so powerful—that Harvard is so powerful—but we can’t change how sectors decide to source talent,” Mount says.

Lewis and Bennett’s perspectives echo the sentiments of a younger Riverton, who was hoping to find a path into the arts industry. At the time that she was a student, Riverton says, she felt that most students who weren’t becoming doctors and lawyers pursued investment banking and consulting—the “wining and dining, big salary numbers and signing bonuses” of recruitment on campus resulted in weight given to those professions, while entertainment “was not presented on campus anywhere as a career path at the time.” After her graduation, she went to the Office of Career Services for advice, but found the infrastructure provided for other fields not present.

So instead, Riverton reached out to a few alumni she knew who had broken into the entertainment field, and started an e-mail list to keep up with connections and opportunities in the art world. The list originally hosted a few alums in L.A. and some New Yorkers. Its early members posted for roommates, for day jobs, for publicizing comedy shows—and over time, its membership grew. Riverton linked up with Stacy Cohen ’89 and Adam J. Fratto ’90, alums who had been helping Harvard students and alumni with internships and jobs in the industry, structuring the humble e-mail list into today’s Harvardwood. “We realized there is a huge appetite for this,” Riverton says, “and a huge potential pool of people, a network that we could tap into.”

In 2002, when the organization launched Harvardwood 101, a program offering career exploration to current students, its funding necessitated a corporate structure within the network. Harvardwood started charging dues and became incorporated as a nonprofit; today it has over 5000 members worldwide.

A Harvard degree alone, Mount stresses, is no sure path to success: With no extra effort, such as Riverton’s outreach, “If Harvard’s on your resume, people will probably look at your resume twice before throwing it into the waste basket,” she jokes.

THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

For alumni like Riverton and even Lewis, Harvard’s worth lies in its random connections across industries and the globe. Yet its title can be both an asset and a liability.

After his graduation, Matt Kramer ’08 worked his way into professional baseball, joining the Atlanta Braves organization for the 2009 and some of the 2010 season, and later signing with the Boston Red Sox. But Kramer believes he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play for as long—maybe play at all—without his Harvard affiliation. “A lot of people don’t associate Harvard with baseball, or even with sports for that matter,” Kramer says, but many graduates have gone into business management and administrative positions. “Those people were willing to give me a chance.”

Kramer says his Ivy League education forced him to make an even stronger case for himself when getting into baseball, however. “A lot of the coaches, from a professional perspective, were maybe a little bit hesitant at first trying to gauge my interest and my commitment to baseball. I’d get comments like, ‘Why are you playing baseball, making below minimum wage in the minor league, when you could go get a million dollar job?’”

While stationed in Boston, Kramer still maintained his strong Harvard community through his close ties to the Owl Club and the baseball team. And he found essential support from Dunster House while he applied to medical school in 2011, as well as from professors who were willing to update recommendation letters now four or five years old. Kramer is now at medical school in Chicago at Rush Medical College, far removed from the world of baseball and Harvard Yard. Like Gellert years ago, he’s decided to stay involved by helping plan his class’s five-year reunion.

Kramer’s case serves as an example of the widespread network of support provided for alums almost everywhere they go. But this safety net might prepare students of a skewed real-world experience: So tangible in the lives of alumni, the Harvard network can foster the expectation of an insular and easy success.

“I definitely plug into the Harvard network everyday, but I try to distance myself a tiny bit to start living life outside of Harvard’s gates,” says Lewis, whose Times Square Alliance Office does not have a heavy Harvard presence. “There are a lot of things Harvard students don’t learn to do that most other college students do—like pay your bills, cook a meal, and clean your bathroom.”

Smith, too, points to an admittedly not very sharp double-edged sword, whereby grads expecting to do well in industries where their peers have established a legacy of success sense failure if they cannot match it. And it’s no secret that Harvard’s reputation is not always viewed favorably. In Hollywood, “There’s also a bitterness among writers of other backgrounds, who are like, ‘Oh, great, another fucking Harvard person—what do I expect?’” he says.

Mount stresses that, despite perceptions of ease from the outside, even the On Campus Interview program doesn’t come with built-in connections; the recruitment process still requires large networking efforts from participating students. Pursuing opportunities on a student’s own, what she calls the “entrepreneurial job search,” might be more beneficial in the long run: “If you get your job through on-campus recruiting, you really haven’t learned how to look for a job,” she says.

Those grads who find themselves looking on the brink of the delicate Harvard bubble find that it should not overshadow other essential resources off campus and beyond.

Mhlanga explains that real life demands more self-reliance. “The world really—excuse my French—does not give a whatever about what university I went to,” he says. “What are the real, substantive contributions you’re going to make? The fact that I went to Harvard might open a door, but then keeping that door open—you can’t just rely on Harvard.”