Advice Column

Dear Sara, 

I’m in over my head this semester, and I don’t know where to turn to get help with schoolwork.  I feel like my writing is terrible and I’ll never understand these Ec10 problem sets without someone holding my hand.  What’s the best way to discreetly get help or tutoring?  I don’t want to seem like the admissions mistake… 


Stupid in Stoughton 

They say getting into Harvard’s the hardest part, but I’ve had my doubts in my years here.  There’s no reason to panic if Orgo or British Authors I is kicking your around, however; Harvard has plenty of resources to help you maintain that B+ average. 

As counter-intuitive (and just plain terrifying) as it may seem, going to a TF or professor’s office hours is often a great place to start getting help.  Rather than seeing your request for help as an admission of incompetence, from time to time these instructors will actually see it as their job to make sure you, well, learn something.  This is especially true in any humanities course, since there are no real “right answers,” fortunately or unfortunately, and feedback from the person controlling your grade will be more helpful to you than a generic writing rubric.  This is also why the college should dismantle the Expos program, but never mind that now. 

If you’re intimidated by talking to Professor Leery McHarassment alone, there’s a plethora of other, broader options.  For writing, there’s the Writing Center—although beware, it’s staffed only by students who received As in Expos, and there’s a limit to how much a sophomore who aced “Images and Words” can help you with your term paper on the epidemiology of avian flu.  For freshmen, however, it’s a pretty good option (and perhaps a ticket to future employment, if things go well).  For all your papers’ research needs, head straight to Widener’s reference desk, home to Harvard’s friendliest employees.  These librarians live to help students track down journal articles and have an encyclopedic (no pun intended) knowledge of the inner workings of the library system, as well as students’ hearts. 

The Bureau of Study Counsel offers generic tutoring services to the university population at large; for undergraduates they’re relatively cheap and easy to use.  Request a tutor in person at 5 Linden Street for specific courses, or check out the Bureau’s various workshops and courses for general studying strategies.  They offer one-session workshops in topics ranging from exam-taking strategies to time-management help; schedules are accessible on their website. 

Lastly, don’t underestimate the willingness of people around you to help you out in a crunch.  Harvard may feel like a competitive place, but unless you’re pre-med, odds are most of your peers are willing to throw you a line, especially in classes where everyone is struggling.  Keep an eye out for study groups (and more importantly, their prodigiously helpful offspring, study guides), and keep in contact with people in your classes and sections, including TFs.  Friendly TFs can prove more helpful than you think, especially if you’re an upperclassman.  Ask them about resources for longer research projects or grant proposals; they may have insight, or know other grad students who do.   

Above all, don’t get discouraged, and remember, there are 600 other people in Ec10—odds are, you aren’t the stupidest one. 

Good luck,


Dear Sara, 

What’s the best way to cook a turkey??  Help, there’s 12 pounds of turkey thawing in a puddle on my counter!! 

My blockmates thank you,