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Congratulations, prospective Harvard Class of 2017. That word, “congratulations,” has probably been directed at you a lot lately, by parents, peers, and your Harvard acceptance letter; still, it is fully in order. You have endured a tortuous—and sometimes torturous—string of application requirements, a robust slate of classes and extracurriculars, an alphabet soup of standardized exams, and the months of suspense between clicking “submit” and receiving the College’s “congratulations.” And you now have the opportunity to spend four years as Harvard undergraduates.
Some of you may have already sent in your decision to matriculate here, while some of you may arrive at Harvard’s Visitas preview program juggling several tempting options and struggling to muster a life-altering decision by May 1. If this year is anything like previous ones, the majority of you will opt for Harvard. But perhaps your optimal school will instead be one tailored to a career path, or perhaps a college closer to home, or perhaps even one in Southern Connecticut with a recent spate of football losses to Harvard. We encourage you to seek out the school that suits you and your interests. But we also hope, in informing that decision, that you appreciate the true potential Harvard College has to offer.
Harvard’s 1650 charter pledged itself to “the advancement of all good literature, arts, and science.” Three and a half centuries later, that liberal arts commitment remains a core component of Harvard’s bifold breadth and depth. On the one hand, Harvard students bring their own devotions and foci. They are mathematical minds, social activists, writers, researchers, musicians, polyglots, inventors, and more—and likely not just one of the above. At the same time, the interplay of those diverse interests occurs in a liberal arts environment, promoting what Albert Einstein called “the value of a college education.” It is, he said, “the training of the mind to think.”
But Harvard is more than the sum of its academic pieces. It is also a community. Events like Housing Day or The Game—or, more recently and more poignantly, the collective response to tragedy—can attest to that. Sometimes, the community’s members, including this paper, serve up criticism, too, but that impulse derives from a shared, prevailing love for the College and an aim to see its constant betterment.
This weekend, many of you will arrive in Cambridge for the Visitas program, a chance to spend time on the campus before the May 1 deadline. The name “Visitas” is an obvious portmanteau of “visit” and Harvard’s Latin motto of truth; in fact, at its core, the weekend is geared toward discerning truth about the school and its experience. A few dozen hours may seem too scant to appraise a college, but Visitas offers a unique opportunity. We entreat you to push past guidebooks’ or rumors’ second-hand generalities or statistics, and instead talk to students. Talk to a lot of students. And talk to your fellow prospective freshman, too, beyond the bland staples of “Where do you live?” or “Where else did you get in?” Instead, aim to understand what it means to be a student at Harvard.
Naturally, no approach is foolproof, and there is no surefire formula for a college decision. But perhaps the uncertainty, the scope of potential futures, can help fuel the excitement as you discern your best path. In that light, enjoy the weekend and enjoy this moment.
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