To get into one of Harvard's nine final clubs, there is no application. There is no interview and there is no comp.
Instead, there is a secretive process called "punching," and it begins every October and ends around Thanksgiving.
For all involved, the punch is a series of social events--outings and barbecues--where members get to know "punchees," or prospective club members.
"We sit around, eating food and telling jokes," says one club member. The student, like the others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's like having dinner with a professor, but the topic of conversation is not very intellectual."
The punching process is different from a fraternity or sorority rush in that final clubs must initiate the process; a student must be invited to punch.
And while punchees and members say they use the process to meet people they might not ordinarily come in contact with, they also say the punch is a relatively closed process. The hundreds of people punched every year usually have club members as friends.
"Members deliver invitations to the door," says a punchee. "It is not a random process. They punch people they know, and those who would be good for the club."
For those who do not know many people in the club, chances of being asked to join are slim, punchees say.
"I will probably be the first victim because I don't know too many members," says one. "It's frustrating that if you don't know anybody in the clubs you don't get punched, but I understand why it is that way. There is limited space in the club, and the police would be on them if it was an open punch."
Starting the first weekend of October, the punch begins quietly. Invitations to the first event are slipped under a punchee's door by members.
Clubs like the Fox and the Owl have outings to alumni houses at Cape Cod, while clubs like the Delphic, Porcellian and the Fly traditionally have held cocktail parties as their first event.
Members identifiable by the club tie mingle with close to 100 punchees during the first event, a party not unlike any other, says a punchee. Porcellian members wear ties with white wild boars on a green background. Fox members' ties have small foxes.
"The only difference in this party and other parties is that the music is quieter, the people are in coats and ties and there are no women," says the punchee.
Following the first gathering are outings for all the clubs, again allowing members and punchees to get to know each other. The last stage is the final dinner where elections for club membership is made. Throughout the four-to-five week punch period, members and punchees meet for lunch in small groups.
After each event, club members review each punchee and decide whether to invite the punchee to the next event. The more events a punchee is invited to, the more likely it is he will be elected to join, says a club officer.