Must-Haves for Life in College

When you enter the Yard’s gates, you’ll be greeted by deep history, vast e-mail flows, great diversity, and of course the unexpected. Prepare for the year ahead by making sure you own these carefully selected items, whether you bring them from home or buy them at shops in the Square.

“Making the Most of College,” by Richard J. Light: A Harvard education professor asked Harvard students about their undergraduate years. The product is a short book that is perfect for freshmen, covering advising, choosing classes, and managing your time.

Protection against the elements: Boston. Weather. Sucks. You need scarves, gloves, hats, and boots to enjoy snowball fights in the Yard. On many days, the wind rasps and howls, stopping you in your tracks on your way to a mug of hot chocolate in Annenberg. After the storm, Mass. Ave. becomes a moat of slush, the likes of which can only ever be seen on the ancient, misshapen streets of Cambridge. As the weather warms, the entire Yard sinks into a giant puddle of mud. Girls—unless you want to destroy every pair of shoes you own, bring a pair of galoshes.

Smartphone: For the two dozen e-mail list subscriptions you’ll sign up for at the Freshman Activities Fair. Essential for the comp processes of many organizations.

Camera: Cool things happen at Harvard. You might see the Dalai Lama rolling in a stretch limo behind Lamont, you may run into Emma Watson during breakfast at the ’Berg, and the guys and gals running by your dorm during Primal Scream may be future Congressmen. Needless to say, you’ll want to keep track of your Harvard memories.

Moleskine or Google calendar: You’ll want something to help juggle your activities’ incessant meetings.

Civilized décor: Perhaps a world map for keeping track of your new friends and your new study abroad fantasies, fine art posters to complement the brick walls and fireplaces in your dorm, and a plant to help circulate oxygen in your cramped quarters.

Music and Speakers: For studying, working out, and having impromptu dance parties in your dorm room. Also, FAS IT is watching you, so don’t count on being able to illegally pirate music during your time here.

Bright lamp: The lighting in your room will be spotty, so save your eyes when you toil until sunrise.

Desk chair or seat cushion: Harvard outfits its dorms with unsightly, back-breaking chairs. Avoid them and study in your room pain-free.

Business Suit: For interviews and Model UN/Mock Trial/HFAC/etc.

Tuxedo or gown: You’ll want to attend Harvard’s swank formals, which are like prom—or the Yule ball from “Harry Potter.” Come prepared and avoid Cambridge’s steep prices. Buy one now so you’ll get a return on your investment.

Mattress pad: You won’t sleep much at Harvard, so you’ll want to make sure what you get counts. Try memory foam.

Earplugs: For when your roommate snores through multiple alarm clocks as tour guides holler and the Memorial Church bells thunder.

Tupperware, mug, and bowl: A mug for perpetual cups of coffee in the ‘Berg, Tupperware for Annen-burgling, and a bowl for lifting the goodies at expanded brain breaks.

Reusable water bottle: You will save money and study better with water on hand. If you keep an eye out, you’ll be able to snag free water bottles at events on campus.

Power strip: Because you need it for your thicket of accessories and because Harvard tends to place its outlets in awkward places.


Bruins, Celtics, Pats, and Red Sox gear: Bostonians are obsessed with sports, and with so many successful teams, they are arrogant. Buy in or get ready to talk trash.

Subscription to the New Yorker (you can also find it online for free): Many Harvard professors write for America’s premier magazine. Staff writers include history professor Jill Lepore and English professors Louis Menand and James Wood.

Costumes and fabulous thematic partying materials: Harvard students are too creative to party like normal people. At celebrations with names like Heaven and Hell, Sweet n’ Nasty, Leather and Lace, and with themes ranging from Eurotrash to Gatsby, you’ll want to reinvent yourself as often as Madonna. Stop by Oona’s on Mass. Ave. for an exotic hodgepodge.

Tennis and squash rackets: With gorgeous tennis courts across the river and squash courts in the gyms and river houses, you’ll regret not bringing your racket for IM sports.

Polo mallet: If you want to fully immerse yourself in the timeless masculinity of Harvard’s dead socialites, you will be happy to learn that the Harvard polo team has recently been resurrected.

Guide to Harvard’s history: The blue plaques will get you started, but you’ll want to know exactly where George Washington and W. E. B. DuBois lived. And what short-lived style of architecture was Annenberg built in, after all? Who’s my dorm named after? What did Charles Eliot do with electives? These stories hit close to home.

Picnic basket and blanket: While the leaves still burn on the trees, grab some dining hall grub and flock to the verdant banks of the Charles.

Mao’s Little Red Book: The Square today is all commercial banks, but it wasn’t always this way. In the fifties and sixties, Harvard was known as the Kremlin on the Charles, and rebellious students occupied administration buildings (witness the monstrosity that is riot-proof Canaday). Communists will still accost you in front of the Coop, and the venerable Revolution Bookstore is still in business on Mass. Ave. With Mao’s book, you will be able to separate true radical from poseur—and get a head start on your course in Chinese history.

—Staff writer Alex M. McCleese can be reached at

For more information on the ins and outs of Harvard life, visit the My First Year homepage.