A week ago, letters were loaded onto a postal truck, emails were sent, and a record-setting 6.2 percent of applicants found out they had been admitted to the Harvard Class of 2015. We can all remember the moment that email appeared in our inbox, the moment we tore open the letter—we were excited, crying, laughing. We had a big decision to make by May 1, and we all had questions, doubts, and hopes.
How did we choose? Maybe some of us had friends or siblings who had made the decision before us and could give us valuable advice. But for most of us, Harvard was a name that became a real place when we talked to the people who make Harvard “Harvard.” This past weekend during the Phone-a-Thon, dozens of undergraduate volunteers called virtually every admitted student and spent hours answering their questions, from “How accessible are professors?” to “Where can I buy office supplies in the Square?”
These phone calls, the Harvard College Student Blog, and the Message Boards give admitted students snapshots of Harvard life; and in ten days, when over one thousand of them come to visit Harvard, these snapshots will come to life and significantly influence the big decision every admitted student makes.
Planning for Visitas begins months before any admissions decisions have been made, and contrary to the criticisms in The Crimson Staff’s recent editorial “Revising Visitas,” the Admissions Office and the Undergraduate Admissions Council work closely with faculty, staff, and students across campus to showcase Harvard and all its amazing opportunities and unique characteristics, not to “sell it.”
We want admitted students to see all of Harvard—and, yes, this includes a social aspect, such as the Prefrosh Palooza, the Extracurricular Fair, and Sunday Sundaes. But each of these events also shows admitted students a unique aspect of undergraduate life. The Prefrosh Palooza, a crucial part of Visitas, is a performance similar to Cultural Rhythms, allowing admitted students to experience the talents and the diversity of the Harvard community. Similarly, the Extracurricular Fair lets admitted students connect with student groups that share their interests, explore new groups, and get to know future friends and mentors. While neither Palooza nor the EC fair showcases necessarily academic endeavors of Harvardians, they do enable prospective students to witness the enriching activities to which so many of our fellow classmates devote countless hours. Sunday Sundaes gives admitted students a time and a space to mingle and bond with their potential classmates over cherries and chocolate syrup. These are the classmates who will challenge them to think more critically, the friends who will provide late-night snacks and a shoulder to lean on, and the cheerleaders who will encourage them to follow their passions.
Yet Visitas does not end there. The Crimson’s “Visitas Revisited” chose to focus on the social aspect of the weekend but neglected the other events that allow admitted students learn about academics and the “day-to-day aspects of campus life.” These include a new series of events, “Big Questions in the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences,” in which faculty panels respond to a student-submitted question, similar to the popular “Harvard Thinks Big” events. Also, there are academic open houses, an undergraduate research symposium, class visits, and panels on Harvard’s curriculum, advising, financial aid, study aid, and the uncensored freshman experience. In addition to tours of the campus and the libraries, staff and students also offer tours throughout the weekend of our art collections, natural history museum, and science and engineering complex, giving admitted students a glimpse of the amazing resources available at the College.
For admitted students who want more student interaction, Visitas offers plenty of time to talk to current students, whether those students are your hosts, people you approach in the Yard or at a regional reception, or a members of the UAC or another student organization. “Visitas Revisited” did get it right in that we as an undergraduate community need to make an effort. We need to remember the excitement we felt when we chose Harvard, and share that excitement with admitted students.
It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life here—whether editing an Expos essay, planning an event, or binding a thesis—but instead of just providing floor space, we should look forward to spending time with the admitted students we host, and showing them what Harvard means to us. We know that Harvard is not always rainbows and sunshine, and that an education here is hard work, but admitted students know that, too. Give them a chance to fall in love with Harvard just like we did, for both the good and the bad. Put aside your paper, pset, and Google calendar for a weekend, and remember what it felt like to have the whole world open to you.
Alissa M. D’Gama ’11, a former news exec, is a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator in Mather House. Ayse Baybars ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Lowell House. They are the Co-Chairs of the Undergraduate Admissions Council.