THE FRESHMAN who has not been filled with advice from "experienced" elders and with stories of college "hangups" from friends is a rare exception. Ironically, the people who probably have the best grasp of freshman problems are seldom consulted, even though readily available. This group, which comprises the Freshman Dean's Office, sees two general areas where each new student has problems: Fear of his classmates and self regulation.
The Dean's Office believes that the most bothersome worry to new freshmen is a fear of their classmates: a fear of not getting along with roommates, of academic competition, and of social competition. "Each usually believes that he is the only one who feels insecure," said one official in the Dean's Office, "while his classmates appear secure and well adjusted to him." There is little justification for these fears.
In the case of rooming, over 98 per cent of the freshman class remain with their original roommates for the entire year, and a large majority continue living together during the sophomore year. Of course some rooming situations will not work out; under the tension of adjusting to college life many minor problems and personality differences can become major anxieties. If the problem seems serious enough, the student usually goes to his proctor or advisor, discusses the problem, and switches his room after registering the change with the Dean's Office.
It is inevitable that most freshmen will worry about academic competition, but they soon learn the truth. "It's almost impossible to flunk out of Harvard." many freshman proctors declare each year. One half of one per cent succeeds in doing the impossible and leaves, though most return and graduate. "The fierce competition of high school doesn't exist here," said a freshman advisor in a private conversation recently. One freshman put it another way. "I could figure out what activities would make me both admired and popular in high school, and I had the ability to succeed in those activities, but it's completely different at Harvard. There are too many activities with too many really talented people to give a status label to anything. You learn to do what you really want to do, and you forget pretty much about everybody else."
WITH ONLY three or four hours of classes a day, the freshman is loaded with free time after his hectic first few weeks. While some students do study virtually all the time, others jump into fulltime jobs at the Locb Drama Center, radicalize American society with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), or row innumerable strokes up and down the Charles for the freshman crew team. The Dean's Office views over involvement with a single activity as a great freshman problem. One sophomore, after completing a very non-academic freshman year, said last year. I got so involved with the radio station that after a few months there was no perspective left in my daily life; I wanted to give it up and start living again. "A freshman who had spent much of the year "working" (i.e., studying) declared, "I finally realized two cardinal rules about working: first, all the assigned work in courses can't be finished: second, grades don't increase proportionately to the hours spent." Once these rules are accepted, most freshmen try some other activity to try to stay sane.
Liquor, drugs, and sex are by far the most exciting problems the freshman faces, although usually not the most serious. The Dean's Office itself points out that University interference in the individual's private life is considered a serious violation of the unofficial "Bill of Student Rights."
Liquor and sex are left up to the individual as long as the student adheres to a few very general rules. Parties must be kept at a reasonable level so that Cambridge police don't need to be called, and practical regulations (rules governing the hours girls are allowed into Harvard rooms) must be upheld. The Administration, possessed with a Harvardian sense of history, demands that you register your marriage and the resulting change in room at the Dean's Office so that "we will know where to hang the plaque in case there is any future need for it."
If there is one thing that freshmen can get easily it is advice; the Dean's Office believes that there is no excuse for those who complain that Harvard is large and impersonal. Freshmen have proctors who live closeby, advisers who are equally available, the Freshman Dean's Office which is inhabited by a group of understanding secretaries and counselors, and the Bureau of Study Counsel near the Yard. There is also the University Health Services Psychiatric Section, which is frequented at some point by one-fourth of the students; it has become a counseling service for all personal problems and is thought to be a "panacea" for all student "hangups."
Too often the new student thinks of these guidance services merely as the place for his academic problems: this is a misconception. The Freshman Dean's Office helps students out financially many times in helping to get home or meeting small personal emergencies. Freshmen use it for every excuse from flirting with the secretaries to getting advice on the stock market. A comment by one of the secretaries in the Office who had just helped a student is a good example of much of the Administration attitude: "Officially I'm not supposed to do it, but it means nothing to me: I have nothing more important to do." They have little else to do. That's the point of a Freshman Dean's Office.