This weekend, nearly 1,285 bright-eyed prospective Harvard students filled couches and classrooms across campus. Many of them likely journeyed to Princeton for its “Preview,” spent a few “Bulldog Days” at Yale, and visited myriad other schools across the country, working hard to decide where to spend the next four years.
In our opinion, Harvard is almost always the right choice. (Yale is always the wrong one.) But Visitas needs to work harder to show that. In designing a better Visitas, Harvard should place an emphasis on what the College has to offer as a community.
As it stands now, Visitas consists of a series of loosely planned events where prospective students wander awkwardly into rooms (many, unfortunately, at the distant SOCH) and, if they are lucky, strike up conversation on their own. That might work for some pre-freshman, but it fails many of them. Harvard owes it to admitted students to present a more welcoming atmosphere, one in which current students take it upon themselves to chat with their potential future classmates and encourage them to chat with each other. Visitas should be a weekend of learning and excitement, not one of mundane lectures where the most exciting event is an ice cream social.
Of course, Visitas should provide high school students with an accurate depiction of life at Harvard. It should not serve falsely to sell the school, simulating aspects of Harvard that disappear when a student finally matriculates. But Harvard does give freshmen a sense of support and solidarity—from entryway study-breaks to intramurals to Peer Advising Fellow outings, Harvard strives to foster cohesion among newcomers. The College should start the process in April rather than August.
To achieve this goal, Visitas should work through the House system, harnessing the spirit of individual House Committees to show pre-freshmen that fun and friends reside within every imposing brick edifice (and even the concrete one). Visitas should include events in each House so that pre-freshmen can simply walk downstairs from their hosts’ rooms and meet up. Dorms in the Yard could match up with individual Houses or with each other. The activities available, facilitated by enthusiastic HoCo members, could vary from excursions to Harvard Square eateries to games of capture the flag to seminars on extracurricular opportunities and social realities at the College.
Harvard should not rest on its laurels. Harvard should not assume that any given student will—and should—attend. Instead, Harvard should show students everything it has to offer, from the academic to the extracurricular to the social. Mostly, Harvard should show students it cares.
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