The January Experiment

With only one January Term down, J-Term’s future remains an open question


Just four years ago, many members of the Harvard community anticipated the newly-developed January Term as an opportunity for undergraduates to participate in a range of creative and exciting programming on campus.

Many envisioned that the month-long period—which was created as a result of the University’s new unified calendar reform that moved the fall semester’s finals from late January to mid-December—would provide students with opportunities such as briefly studying a foreign language or going on a trip led by a faculty member.

Instead, the inaugural J-Term this past winter was closed to most of the student body. Only those with a “demonstrated need” to stay in residence—such as varsity athletes, thesis writers, and international students—were granted housing, resulting in what many considered to be a generally subdued campus atmosphere.

The striking disparity between the original vision for J-Term and how it transpired this January was largely a result of the College’s effort to limit expenditures after the financial crisis in 2008 led to University-wide budget reductions.

But the differences between this year’s J-Term and next year’s J-Term will be more subtle.


While housing will still be limited for much of January, administrators announced in April that all students will be allowed to come back to campus for the last week of the break, during which time many student groups will also have the opportunity to host their own activities.

Though the decision is considered by many to be a modest change, student leaders and administrators are confident that the addition of a week in which all students can be on campus is an “experimental” first step in the gradual evolution toward a more structured J-Term.


Despite the fact that the first J-Term fell short of the original expectations, administrators say the results of a student survey administered at the end of January suggest that the lack of organized programming did not necessarily ruin the J-Term experience for students.

Administrators point to the results of the survey—which was released to The Crimson—as an indication of “students’ overwhelming satisfaction” with the structure of last year’s J-Term, according to a message released to the College community by Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds.

According to the survey, which was e-mailed to all students, only 8 percent of people who stayed on campus said they felt that the lack of programming was a problem, though no statistics regarding desire for programming were provided for students who did not stay on campus.

Although the results show that many students were content with their J-Term experiences this year, especially given the College’s financial situation, many say they would still like to see on-campus opportunities for students.

“I was pretty disappointed when they told us via e-mail that last year’s J-Term was pretty successful just because people had their own individual [plans],” says Maxwell E. Storto ’11. “It’s good that [the College] had something, but I wish they did move faster towards faculty-organized programming.”

In interviews with The Crimson, students who stayed on and off campus say that they would have benefitted from structured activities.

“Pretty much everyone I know was bored during the whole time period,” says Mark A. Terrelonge ’10, who stayed on campus this January to conduct thesis research.