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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Surveying the Scene

By May Habib and Nicole B. Urken, Crimson Staff Writerss

Every year, the members of the graduating class are required to take a survey that asks for their assessment of Harvard.

The survey is extensive, asking students to rate their experiences in everything from academics to extracurriculars, social life, and the House system.

The results of the survey help the College determine whether the stereotypes of Harvard are true. Do students really have little interaction with faculty? Is Harvard the place where fun goes to die?

The College does not, however, make the results of this survey public. The data is dissected internally by University Hall and distributed to academic departments. Every four years, one part of the senior survey is shared by the 31 elite colleges in the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), which use the results for benchmarking purposes.

Occasionally, some of the data from the senior survey leaks out. In the fall, The Crimson obtained an internal memo that showed that seniors were generally dissatisfied with advising within their concentrations as well as their social life experience. Although the memo showed that satisfaction increased slightly from 2005 to 2006, it was impossible to measure improvement without a history of data.

The Crimson’s inaugural senior survey is an attempt to examine Harvard stereotypes through a transparent poll process.

Our intention is not to mirror the official senior survey. For one, our survey is much shorter—just 31 questions. We also asked questions that were not broached on the College’s survey: did students seek out mental health services while they were at Harvard? Where will they be living next year? How much will they be getting paid? Though many of Harvard’s peer institutions collect and publish data on the career paths of Harvard students—Princeton, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania, for example—Harvard does not.

Approximately 55 percent of the class­—901 seniors—responded to our poll.

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