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To the potential members of the Class of 2004, welcome. Welcome to 800-person lectures delivered by Nobel laureates and to one-on-one discussions with Ph.D. candidates. Welcome to plush first-year housing and to not-so-plush upperclass housing. Welcome to Kuumba singing concerts and to renditions of the musical "The Secret Garden." Welcome to addresses by the Dean of Stanford Law School and to performances by Yo-Yo Ma '76. In addition to these activities and events--which could take place on any regular weekend at Harvard--the Office of Admissions has organized a number of panels and opportunities so that this year's pre-frosh may become familiar with the Harvard experience. Some of these events show off what is truly excellent about Harvard--and some are trying to paper over the inevitable weaknesses. We here provide a few choice questions to help you see the pitfalls as well as the pinnacles, and by the weekend's end, to make a more intelligent and informed decision when filling out the white cardboard card accepting, deferring or rejecting Harvard at the end of the month.
Given that this will be the first weekend experience at a college campus for many of you, and that high school seniors will be eager to meet potential classmates, there will be great temptation for you to squander the weekend by only learning about Harvard's social climate. A college's social atmosphere and its ability to provide weekend entertainment and activities for students should of course inform your college decision. Try out a restaurant in the square, grab a crpe and hot chocolate after Saturday night's show and be sure to check out one of the parties going on throughout the weekend.
Saturday at 7 p.m., the Office of Admissions will host a panel of students entitled "Student Life at Harvard." Start off by asking why the Freshman Dean's Office removed toasters, hot water boilers and rice cookers from the first-year dormitories last month--while similar devices can be found in practically every upperclass student's room. Ask why Harvard does not have a student center, what the role of exclusive final clubs play in the campus social scene and why the deliberations of the disciplinary body of the university, the Ad Board, are carried out in secret.
Of course, be aware that there are many other factors about Harvard besides the social scene that you should know about. Today, for example, there will be open houses at all of the concentration departments from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Don't fret if you do not know exactly what you plan to concentrate in or what academic subjects you wish to pursue at Harvard--everyone is in the same boat when college begins. Despite what you put on a form, many Harvard students don't decide until as late as their junior year. Be sure to attend at least one of these open houses and find out more about the concentrations that you at least think that you may want to pursue.
Ask what kind of individualized advising is available in your favorite department--especially if that department is large, like economics or government. If science is your interest, ask students what they think of their teaching fellows (TFs) and whether they feel they are being educated by TFs or the Nobel Prize winners on the Faculty. In any field, ask how much time tenured professors spend with undergraduates, and why departmental classes cannot generally count for Core credit. And if you did not get answers to all of your questions at the department meetings, be sure to voice your concerns at the "Advising at Harvard" resources panel Friday at 3:30 p.m. and at the "Learning and Teaching at Harvard" faculty panel Saturday at 11 a.m.
Academics are but one of the issues that all pre-frosh should make an attempt to learn about this weekend. Ethnic, religious and geographic diversity is another important concern. On Friday at 4:30 p.m., students will host a panel entitled "Multi-Cultural Perspectives" which will be followed by a Faculty-hosted panel, "Perspectives on Diversity," on Saturday at 2 p.m. Ask what percentage of tenured professors are women or minorities, and ask why Harvard has no degree-granting program in ethnic studies. Athletes should meet with the Department of Athletics to learn about accommodations for students. Ask how important (or not) athletics is to the average Harvard student.
Many student organizations on campus have planned introductory meetings for this weekend. Especially important is that all aspiring journalists should be sure to make an appearance at 14 Plympton Street Friday at 7 p.m.
The opportunities available to pre-frosh this weekend are infinite. Both the College and the students on campus have done their best to open up the school to potential Harvardians. And so, all of you pre-frosh out there, remember to get at least a taste of all that Harvard has to offer. Take a guided walking tour of the campus to get a run-down about the University. (For a last question, ask where the Quad is and why one third of students are randomly assigned to live there.) Attend the panels, ask the right questions, and follow up on your interests so that you leave here on Sunday knowing that this is, or is not, the school at which you want to spend your next four years. We enjoy it here; we hope, once you dig beneath the shiny surface, you'll still like it too.
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