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Transcript Project Encourages Students to Look Past Transcripts

New Dean of Arts and Humanities at Barker Center
Dean Robin E. Kelsey talks to a student in the Barker Center. Kelsey, the new Dean of Arts and Humanities, held informal office hours for students to chat over free cookies and coffee.
“We don’t care about your GPA,” reads the website of The Transcript Project. On Jan. 31, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the Transcript Project to students of the college, a competition inviting Harvard undergraduates to reflect on their transcripts through creative written, visual, or recorded projects. Because many recognize the stress that transcripts bring, Resident Deans hope that the Transcript Project will challenge the one-dimensional way many students view their transcripts.

Khurana wrote to students to “discard the conventional markers of academic success and instead celebrate the uniqueness of your intellectual journey at Harvard” in his announcement of the initiative last month.

Dean of the Arts and Humanities Robin Kelsey said in an interview last month that he created the competition “to offset the many accolades that we have at Harvard for people with immaculate transcripts and to recognize the spirit of adventure which the transcript represents.”

“Vocation was the last thing on my mind when I was a college student,” Kelsey said in the interview. He recognizes that this might be unrealistic for college students today, but he still thinks that many transcripts are “a little bit short on adventure.”

“I definitely see people trying to match their courses with vocational ambitions,” Elm Yard Freshman Resident Dean Jasmine M. Waddell said.

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However, some students do make those adventurous choices. Last semester, Sathvik R. Sudireddy ’19 decided to enroll in Professor Kirokosian’s class, Religion 59: “The Real Game of Thrones: Culture, Society, and Religion in the Middle Ages.” “That didn’t fulfill any requirement, but “Game of Thrones” is a story that I love, and the Middle Ages is a time period that I’m fascinated with, so it seemed like I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t take a class that I was super interested in,” Sudireddy said.

More students may be taking advantage of unique course offerings. However, this shift has not changed the sometimes overwhelming anxiety experienced by students about their grades.

“Unfortunately, I work with a number of students who get stressed out about their transcripts,” Waddell said.

Adil Bhatia ’20 said that freshmen are especially concerned with grades. “Everyone sort of has that mindset before they come to Harvard,” Bhatia said.

Fortunately, some students said the way they perceive transcripts changes over time. “It’s moved from being obsessed with grades to more just about learning,” Bhatia said.

Because older students tend to have a different perspective on their transcripts, Quincy House Resident Dean Judith Flynn suggested that the Transcript Project should feature the stories of seniors and alumni.

“It would be especially powerful to have seniors who talk about how they stressed out about something and then got what they wanted,” Flynn said.

Other organizations at the College have tried similar initiatives to address this issue. The Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC) created “The Success-Failure Project” which includes multimedia storytelling initiatives such as “Beyond the Success Paradigm” and “Reflections on Rejections.”

The Transcript Project enables that competitiveness to be channeled into something more creative, a format chosen very deliberately to facilitate creativity.

“Much creativity is a combination of freedom and restraint. Often, a certain form of constraint can bring out the best in our ingenuity,” Kelsey said. In this competition, project submissions can fit into three different categories: Read, Hear, and See.

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