Congratulations. You’re one of the one-in-nine applicants to make it in, and one of the four-in-five to take fair Harvard up on its offer of admission.
Maybe you’ve been reading The Crimson since April just so you can stay completely up-to-date with the weekly antics of the Undergraduate Council. Maybe you’ve been stocking up on argyle sweaters, or maybe you’ve already bought a 20-pound snow-camping jacket for the long, dark months ahead.
But no matter how much preparation you’ve done or how well you think you know the Harvard scene, you won’t really know whether you can party like a state school and study like the MIT students do with any of your 573 friends on Facebook.com, until you get here.
For now, we present some things that will happen to you, some things that may happen to you, and some things that definitely won’t happen to you—but will happen to that kid who wears shorts when it’s cold out.
September: Camp Harvard
The air is crisp, the excitement is palpable, and there are no classes yet. You’ll be flooded with a series of didactic meetings accompanied by hilariously dated videos, placement tests, and activities fairs that confound the senses.
Unless you’re terminally jaded—or terminally ill—your sense of wonder has yet to be crushed. With clubs and societies for almost any conceivable interest, big names making speeches, and interesting and esoteric lectures, odds are there’s something to do worth your time. This is time to stretch those proverbial wings, to mingle, to greet, to sign up for the ballroom dance team. Don’t be that kid who sits in his room and plays Warcraft.
You will also make your own unique contribution to the Harvard social scene, The Freshman Roving Horde. You will likely conglomerate in the Yard in groups of 20 to 30, all making cellphone calls to everyone you’ve met in your brief time on campus. On the tip of available alcohol, you will flock to one of the houses, where you may find four very frightened upperclassmen sitting around a case of beer. Awkwardness will ensue.
Predictions: When you find an actual room party, in all its sketchy, sweaty glory, someone in your group will get violently ill. You will discover Felipe’s. And UHS. You will come to one of The Harvard Crimson’s (the University Daily since 1873) open houses, to be held at our reservedly opulent building at 14 Plympton St., next to Adams House.
October: Still School
After the giddy thrills of orientation week and shopping period, it’s time to hit the books.
As a freshman, you will do so extensively. At Harvard, freshmen have a reputation for being grinds in section—you will do all the reading in all your classes, take detailed and color-coded notes, and come to section with questions that you will pertly ask. Seniors will sneer. And hit on you.
Have fun in Ec 10 (Social Analysis 10, technically), and the biology and math classes that many of you will take as premeds.
About half of you will have Expos in the fall. It isn’t the hell it’s often made out to be, but by the same token, the class is a lot of work and grading is fairly arbitrary.
To round out a slew of big introductory lecture classes, take a freshman seminar—they’re all pass-fail, and many are taught by some of the biggest names in the College’s faculty. This is one-on-one time with hot-shot professors that you won’t get otherwise.
Say hello to your parents during Freshman Parents Weekend. Your rich roommate’s parents will take you to Sandrine’s.
Also, say goodbye to the sun. You will not see him (or her) again until summer, particularly when you’re spending all your waking (and some sleeping) hours in Lamont.
Predictions: You will not do well on your first midterm. Your overtures of friendship to Domna, the frightening yet charming gatekeeper of Annenberg Dining Hall, will not be reciprocated. You will attend a Heaven and Hell party. You will finish your comp and immediately become Business Manager of The Indy.
November: Binge and Purge
The month offers excess—an excess of work and the debauchery that is The Game.
Harvard midterms stretch interminably long. For months, you will have important exams, all of which will be labeled “midterms.” Combine exam-induced, soul-crushing stress with the seasonal deterioration of the weather and the stage is set for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which may occupy your soul and grind you into the earth. For the dedicated Harvard student, ambitious November is a challenge well met.
Yet there is a light at the end of the tunnel: the high point of the year’s social scene, the revelry known as Harvard-Yale. Hobnob with tweedy alums whose names end in Roman numerals; maybe even try to make it from the tailgate to the stadium. After a week of blacking out, good luck staying awake after 4 p.m. on Saturday.
And remember: if you make it to Thanksgiving, you’re set. It’s a much-needed time to recover and stock up on food and energy for the final stretch. But beware: Thanksgiving and other holidays can be lonely without a few other friends on campus.
Predictions: Harvard will beat Yale. Again. You will hook up with a Bulldog and develop a strange rash. More UHS.
December: Finals? What Finals?
Thanks to Harvard’s quirkily anachronistic schedule, you won’t have to worry about taking finals until mid-January. It’s a mixed blessing, since your Christmas break will be short, and it will be hard to forgo all studying while you’re home.
In the meantime, however, power through the end of classes, pretend to work on final papers, and enjoy the winterscape into which the New England climate converts the Yard.
When you get home, don’t try to drop the H-Bomb.
Predictions: You will regret not going to Stanford. You will build a tumescent human organ out of snow. Playboy will write about it. You will learn that, as a Harvard student, your slightest action could be scrutinized by the national media.
January: Studying Your Pants Off
January 1: Happy New Year! January 3: You must be back in Weld. You will wish you could join in the post-finals glee enjoyed by your friends from home.
One January midnight, you may have a moment of sober clarity and self-awareness. You will ask yourself important questions, inquiries like, “Why am I running naked in a crowd of a thousand people?” “How do I tell my doctor that I’ve gotten frostbite—there?” and “Why are there so many elderly spectators with cameras?”
Not everyone is up for Primal Scream, but it’s one Harvard must-do, and it’s a way to let off steam during a month in which you will spend a lot of time hunched over a laptop and very little time outdoors.
You’ll probably spend your reading period sleeping in, writing papers, wrapping up whatever reading you neglected during the semester, and plodding to introductory language classes that meet for two extra weeks.
Toward the end of the month, you’ll be faced with your first Harvard finals. They’re frightening, and most are three-hours long. Pace your studying appropriately and hope you don’t have two exams on the same day.
Predictions: You will only have three finals. Naked pictures of you will surface online. You will sleep in Cabot Library and it will smell bad.
February: Back in the Groove
Refreshed or—if you’re lucky—even tanned from an intersession spent decompressing off-campus, you’ll return to Harvard for more of the same. By now, it’s a piece of cake.
You’ve already shopped for classes, registered, and made it through section. You have four classes (and 15 extra pounds) under your belt.
It isn’t too early to start thinking seriously about your concentration, as well. Harvard’s concentration requirements are steep, and you don’t want to end up having to take a full load of concentration classes or Cores your senior year. If you have no clue, don’t worry about it, but use this time to explore a potential major.
With getting your feet planted on firm academic ground no longer a pressing necessity, take this time to sink deeper into an extracurricular. Branch out and try something new—you made it through the first semester okay.
Prediction: You will not ask anyone out for Valentine’s Day. You will regret it. You will join the Facebook.com group “People for the Return of Actual Dates.” If you somehow managed not to comp The Crimson first semester, you will attend one of The Crimson’s spring open houses.
March: Tests, Trips, and Blocking
Depending on your hometown, March may be a time when winter breaks, flowers burst into bloom, and trees come alive with the songs of birds. This is not the case at Harvard.
Don’t expect spring to come any time soon. It’s still very much winter, and, to compound your despair, it’s also time for the midterms cycle to start again. Extracurriculars and classes both become more and more demanding.
Incidentally, for reasons that are unclear, March marks the beginning of a wave of breakups, as the twosomes that have been happily coupled since October experience dramatic meltdowns. March is also the high-point of bitching and whining, as singles on both sides of the gender fence most vociferously whine about their gender of romantic interest.
In March you’ll get to pick the seven people with whom you want to live for the next three years, alienating other friends by exclusion. The process can range from easy and fun to painful and dramatic, but it’ll culminate in the River Run—shots taken at all the river houses to ensure being sent to Eliot—and an anxious morning with your new blockmates.
Spring Break is a welcome relief. It is your only vacation of second semester. It should be two weeks long.
Predictions: Depression devolves into despair. Then you’ll go to Jamaica. Midterms will not get any easier, especially since you stopped going to class. You will finally realize that your Harvard GPA will be lower than your high school GPA.
April: Almost the Cruelest Month
It’s almost over. Well, not quite. You’ll still be in the midst of the midterm season, the rain is incessant, and you could get involved in bitter group politics. The year is coming quickly to a close, however—and, after March, how bad could it really be?
You’ll go to Currier Dining Hall and meet your new I.M. teammates and that sketchy upperclassman with whom you’ve been messaging on Facebook.com since July. Remember that wherever you’re randomly assigned, there’s something good to be said for every house—Currier has huge rooms, Cabot has a beautiful quad, Mather boasts “singles for life”—except for Dunster.
During prefrosh weekend, you will meet the high-school girl you wish you had met in high school. You will go with her to Mather Lather. She will get a rash (UHS, UHS) and subsequently will choose to attend Princeton.
Predictions: You will break up with your boyfriend and wish you hadn’t blocked with him. Your drinking team will develop a Parliamentary Debate Problem. You will find section strangely fulfilling. April Fools!
May: Studying in the Sun
The end is in sight. Reading period is more relaxed and with spring finally sprung, exams just don’t evoke the same freaking-out they once did. Find a spot of lawn around the Yard on which to tan while reading your sourcebook. Watch out for hydroseed—it makes the squirrels concupiscent.
If you haven’t already done so, start looking for something to do during the summer. Do not work for Harvard Student Agencies (HSA).
Pack between studying bouts so it doesn’t hit you all at once. You’ll probably have accrued a lot of crap over the year.
Take your exams, shake off the stress, and then you’ll have nothing else to do. Stick around for a few days to sleep and chill out while your friends are still here. Then au revoir, Harvard.
Predictions: You will not take Expos 52 next year. You will be unable to study for finals because you will be too busy ogling scantily-clad sunbathers by the Charles. You will get a B+ anyway. You arrive at home paler and smarter than the rest of your friends. You will pack away all of your Harvard insignias for September.
Obviously, no one will have precisely this experience. You are, however, almost guaranteed to be told that Harvard is what you make of it, and this is the truth.
While the advice is trite, it’s heartfelt: keep an open mind and be ready for what the year may deal you. It isn’t unlikely that it’ll be more interesting or complex than anything you’ve prepared for. A fantastic roller coaster ride awaits you in Cambridge.
—Staff writer Samuel C. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.