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Brotherly Advice



The danger with being an older brother is, of course, that when your younger sister hits campus, she will expect you to know the ins and outs of this institution. Because you have been here longer, so the spurious argument goes, you will be able to give her the inside scoop on Harvard with the confidence of Suzanne Sommers pitching a Thigh Master.

Mind you, she won't ask you things you actually know from being at college, such as what happened in last week's episode of The Simpsons or how many gulps of tequila it is humanly possible to swallow while two people are dangling you from your legs and the rest of the crowd at the party is counting out your sips in drunken unison. She will grill you on topics you know nothing about such as which classes to take or where to open a bank account.

If that happens, as it did for me last month during our federally mandated Older-brother/Younger-sister Dinner in Annenberg Hall, the last thing you want to do is to give the same blank stare you give your TF in your interdisciplinary section in advanced topology and conversational Mandarin. You want to keep that veneer of collegiate wisdom you have accumulated by spending $30,000 last year. You'll just have to smile, look her straight in the eyes and make something up fast. I did, and here's a partial transcript of that dinner:

Is it really necessary for me to go to chemistry lecture?

Though you may think that going to chem lecture is a waste because if you sit in the back, the professor looks as small as the carbon dioxide molecule he is talking about, the jokes are as stale as a Store-24 ham sandwich and the verbatim transcript of the lecture is in your chemistry book (pp. 325-346), lecture is an invaluable way to add to your understanding of the material--by trading problem sets with classmates. You can repeat this formula with biology and mathematics.

How should I study for midterms?

The secret to taking midterms is one that most students here actually follow. It is quite a simple chronology. September to late October: Skip readings and lectures. October 21: Find out from roommate that you have a midterm the following day. 10 p.m. on October 21: Clean up your room so you will have the whole night to study. 10:37 p.m.: Go to Christie's to buy snacks so you can stay awake all night. 11:30 p.m.: Watch David Letterman. 12:30 a.m.: Watch Conan O'Brien because he's a Harvard grad. 1:35 a.m.: Go to Christie's again because you ate all your snacks during Conan O'Brien. 2:45 a.m.: Read and highlight the introduction. 4:45 a.m.: switch your concentration to English.

What are final clubs?

They are exclusive organizations that the University does not recognize. Mainly, they are located on the top and bottom floor of Cabot Library and are made up of anal pre-meds who band together to study for their organic chemistry finals. There are also final clubs for microbiology, physics and government, though the government ones tend to involve a lot more noise and people dangling you from your legs while you are trying to sip tequila from a glass on the floor.

What are the criteria when picking my major?

(This question is an excellent chance for you, the older sibling, to demonstrate your intimate knowledge with the detailed workings of the University. Delivered well, your answer to this question will infinitely impress your sister.)

There are no majors here. There are only concentrations.

A better way to say this line is: There are no majors here. There are only concentrations.

Or: There are no majors here. There are only concentrations. There are no majors here. There are only concentrations.

Should I be dating?

(Here again you can speak Harvardese and show that, you're in the loop.)

We don't date here. We see each other.

Or: We don't date here. We see each other.

How should I spend my time?

Undoubtedly, college is the best time in your life and you should spend those hours as efficiently as possible. With 168 hours a week, here's how a typical first-year spends them: 42 hours sleeping, 21 hours eating, 12 hours in class, six hours trying to sign up for the video for missed classes, one hour actually watching that video, 86 hours of talking to fellow first-years at 4 a.m. about obscure topics such as the time you met their older brothers at Center for Talented Youth and now they're at Harvard and have no clue about what is going on at the University.

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