Earlier this year, Quincy House tutor Adam M. Mastroianni heard something strange. A former tutor pointed out that the House had produced Rhodes and Marshall scholars almost every year for the past decade — a number that dwarfed other houses’ totals.
Mastroianni and his four colleagues asked the College office that oversees fellowships — the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships — for the data. URAF complied, sending them the lengthy list of winners.
“We looked at them and we were like, wow, yes, that is indeed impressive,” Quincy tutor Anil Mundra said. “It seems very high, like, per capita. It seems not to be accounted for by the fact that Quincy is a large house.”
Over the past 10 years, 60 Harvard College graduates have received United States Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. Nineteen of those students lived in Quincy House, a number more than double the next highest number of winners from a single house.
From 2010 to 2019, the distribution of Rhodes and Marshall winners has heavily favored two of Harvard’s 12 upperclassman Houses — Quincy, home to 19 winners, and Lowell, home to nine. By contrast, Adams, Cabot, Mather, and Currier graduated just two winners each over the same period.
The Rhodes and Marshall are two prestigious and highly selective fellowships that provide students with the opportunity to pursue postgraduate degrees at British universities. More than 2,500 students across the country sought an endorsement from their college for the Rhodes in 2018, and more than 1,000 applied for the Marshall.
Harvard students compete against students throughout the country each year for these and numerous other fellowships. Each house has between three and six residential tutors specifically tasked with guiding candidates through the two-part application process. Though the College provides fellowship tutors with resources, it does not mandate a single approach and advising strategy varies from house to house.
First, applicants must seek the College’s endorsement. If successful, thet then enter the regional Rhodes and Marshall selection pools and compete against students from other colleges. Each year, the Rhodes names 32 scholarship recipients, and the Marshall names up to 40.
At least one Quincy student won a Rhodes or Marshall scholarship in nine out of the past 10 years.
Quincy students and tutors say their House’s success with the Rhodes, Marshall, and other selective fellowships comes from an advising culture tailored to the academic and personal interests of applicants.
Though each House is home to several tutors, Quincy staff say their team has developed a particularly effective and institutionalized approach to fellowship advising.
Mastroianni and Mundra said Quincy’s fellowship advising system has several stages, outlined in an internal guide Mundra is currently compiling. Each spring, the team contacts every student above a certain grade-point average to encourage them to attend an informational session about fellowships.
If they decide to apply for a fellowship, Quincy students receive individual advising from a tutor with relevant experience and undergo several mock interviews, often run by past Rhodes winners. Mastroianni and Mundra said that, if they believe none of the tutors is the best fit for a student, they put out a call to the House’s entire staff to find the right match.
Mundra said Quincy tutors’ focus on building personal relationships with fellowship applicants and matching them with experienced tutors who have previously won fellowships are part of what makes for successful advising.
“We have fellowships winners on the advising team, people who know what they're doing,” Mundra said. “But yeah, we're but we're just making it up. We don't really get trained.”
He also pointed to the size of the House’s fellowship team — five tutors — and the tutors’ focus on reading personal statements and conducting mock interviews as possible factors in Quincy graduates’ disproportionate success.
“I think it definitely helps to have another pair of eyes on on your application,” Mundra said. “And it definitely helps to do mock interviews. We hear that from students over and over again, that people going in are just like, they have no idea what they're getting themselves into.”
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview earlier this month that tutor advising and student initiative both play major roles in whether students are successful in their bids for postgraduate fellowships.
“The effectiveness of fellowships then, in part, depends on students actively engaging, but also on advising and it can come in a variety of different forms — a combination of faculty advising, to tutor advising, faculty dean advising, staff acting as advisors to sort of inform students about this,” Khurana said.
Some Quincy affiliates also said the House’s history of success stems from the work of past tutors. Mastroianni and Elizabeth C. Keto ’18, a Marshall Scholar and former Crimson editor, both said the work of former Quincy tutor Lindsey V. Aakre helped establish a culture of active advising and extensive support within the House.
“I felt that Quincy’s fellowship advising was exceptional,” Keto wrote in an email. “I am still so grateful for all the thought and care that our fellowships tutor, Lindsey Aakre, put into supporting my application.”
Mastroianni, a Rhodes winner, said his team has not come up with a clear explanation for why Quincy has done so well.
“We know what we do. We don't really know what other Houses do.” he said. “It's hard for me to say, ‘this is why it's different here.’”
Though tutors from other Houses do many of the same things as Quincy’s — emailing star students, conducting mock interviews, and reading statements — the number of fellowships tutors is at faculty deans’ discretion and varies between houses. Cabot has three resident tutors on its fellowships team and Mather and Kirkland each have six. Some houses do not email all students above a certain grade-point average, and others conduct only one mock interview.
Outside the houses, the College provides centralized resources for fellowship applicants. URAF supplies information and advising related to both internal fellowships and certain external programs. The office also runs five to six training sessions each year to keep tutors up-to-date on fellowships scheduling, according to Dunster House fellowship tutor Andrew A. Chael.
“There is a start-of-year session that most fellowships tutors attend; this runs for several hours and lays out the responsibilities of the role and the schedule for the most prominent national and Harvard-run fellowships,” Chael wrote in an email.
Chael also wrote he believes URAF could provide more assistance to tutors in informing students of deadlines and workshopping personal statements.
“It would be extremely helpful if URAF could send us regular emails to forward to the house list to remind students of upcoming opportunities and how to reach out to us and to URAF for advising,” he wrote, “It would also be helpful if URAF provided training on how to mentor students one-on-one in writing fellowships essays.”
URAF director Gregory A. Llacer wrote in an email that while his office does occasionally address issues with fellowship applications, the advising process is mostly an in-house matter.
“House tutor practices, broadly defined, are the province of Faculty Deans, and fellowships is one of many responsibilities that the Deans delegate among their tutors,” Llacer wrote. “Of course, if there is a specific matter brought to our attention that needs to be addressed, we respond. However, such instances are infrequent anomalies.”
Lowell fellowships co-chair Charlie S. Tyson wrote in an email that — much like Quincy’s — his House’s system is largely based on internal training rather than College resources.
“Inside the house, best practices for advising, mentoring, and preparing students for interviews are informally passed down across the generations of fellowships tutors,” he wrote.
Despite the low number of successful applicants in some houses, fellowship winners and tutors say they believe the system should stay within the residential realm. Marshall winner Julius G. Bright Ross ’17 — one of just two Rhodes or Marshall winners from Adams in the past decade — said he is aware of discrepancies between houses.
“I'm aware that it is different, depending on the house,” he said. “I can't speak to any other people in particular, but I think that insurance on a kind of equity in the process would probably be a good idea.”
Still, Ross said he believes any changes to the fellowship system should keep advising within the houses.
“The people that I was working with were people that knew me from outside the application process, and I think that's something that would be very difficult to centralize,” he said. “My fellowships advisor was someone that I had dinner with regularly before the fellowship process. And so when it came time to actually sit down and put together my applications, she already had the right questions.”