How “x” does academics: x = Harvard

November 1, 2006 at 10:25 pm 2 comments

Posted by Alana

Harvard is hard, but while the classes are time-consuming and extremely challenging, there are plenty of opportunities for fun. That said, let’s get down to the dirty details of academic life at Harvard.

Classes range in size from 12 people (for the mandatory freshman Expository Writing course and many small seminars) to more than 600 (for the big intro classes to economics and the life sciences). Classes meet either two or three times per week. Don’t worry too much about the large lecture halls, because every big class also meets in section–with about ten to fifteen students per TF (Teaching Fellow). These teaching fellows are incredibly helpful and a great resource to supplement course lectures and homework. Most Harvard students take between 4 and 5 classes each semester. If you want to check out specific courses, the complete catalogue is online.

Each year, almost all of the undergraduates fill out something called a CUE evaluation, rating their professor and the class overall. Before selecting their classes at the start of the semester, many students consult the CUE guide (distributed free to the entire student body) to gauge course elements from the difficulty of the material to the enthusiasm of the professor. After narrowing down their choices, students are given a one-week period to “shop” classes, attending whichever lectures they want before submitting their final schedule. This shopping period is a great opportunity to try out classes before resigning yourself to an entire semester in a class of 200 with a boring professor and 40 hours of work a week.

Students at Harvard do not “major”… they “concentrate.” Concentrations range from African and African American Studies to Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Future doctors and lawyers beware… Harvard does not offer Pre-med or Pre-law degrees. You must pursue a different concentration while simultaneously fulfilling any graduate school requirements. In addition to concentration requirements and your pre-grad school courses, you must always keep the Core in mind.

The Harvard Core exists to give undergraduates a complete liberal arts education, broadly educating them in many different areas in addition to their particular concentration. Students are required to take semester-long classes in at least seven of the eleven Core categories: Foreign Cultures, Historical Study A, Historical Study B, Literature and the Arts A, Literature and the Arts B, Literature and the Arts C, Moral Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Science A, Science B, Social Analysis. The four you are exempt from depend on your concentration.

Most classes have midterms, finals, or gigantic papers. One of the downsides about going to Harvard is that finals are after Winter Break, but there is a two week reading period when you come back to campus to help you get prepared and back in a school mindset.

If anyone has any questions about academics, or life in general, at Harvard, feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll get back to you.


Entry filed under: Academics, African, African American, Biology, Classes, Colleges/Universities, Concentration, CUE evaluation, Economics, Education, English, Final, Flexibility, Gender, Graduate school, Harvard, Lecture, Literature, Major, Midterm, Paper, Pre-law, Pre-med, Professor, Reading, Science, Sexuality, Teacher, Vacation, Winter, Women, Writing.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yong Bin  |  December 27, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    How’s the social environment in Harvard? Are people at Harvard overly obsessed with elitism like what ppl say?

  • 2. Alexa  |  April 1, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    I know this is a bit outdated, but if you read this, how do the engineering concentrations at Harvard compare to the education at other, more engineering-concentrated schools (I’m thinking U of M)? Thanks!


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