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5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Before Attending Harvard University

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When it comes to elite universities known the world over, Harvard University certainly ranks near the top. The private Ivy League school, which was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636, is highly selective with just a 5.3% undergraduate acceptance rate. Look back into the school’s history, and you’ll discover great influence and wealth. A seemingly endless list of notable alumni includes everyone from John F. Kennedy to Bill Gates. Politicians, royals, businessmen, civil rights leaders they’ve all graduated with the crimson prestige. And their endowment? It’s just as staggering as you would think; $37.6 billion was reported in 2015.

These academic and financial merits attracted Tan Yi Jun, a 2013 economics graduate who was kind enough to share his experiences with us. He said he felt a certain philosophical bond to other Harvard University students he knew the kind of people with boundless curiosity and an innovative spirit. That was a key factor in his decision to attend, but the financial aid was a close second. The annual cost for tuition, room and board is approximately $60,000. That would’ve been quite a burden for his family, but thankfully Tan was accepted and received generous support from the institution. Here are five things he wishes he had known about Harvard University before choosing to attend.

1.) Weather

Tan, who hails from a tropical climate, described East Coast weather conditions as “blisteringly cold” during the winter. In fact, he admits that he didn’t really think about how much the conditions might affect him. On paper they looked like something he could handle, but trudging through the daily routine during the winter proved to be a different story. Swelteringly hot classrooms only confused his body more. While the first snowfall was an enchanting sight to see, he found himself longing for sunny days.

2.) Dining

Harvard might have quite a lot of wealth, but it’s clear that they’re not devoting it to the dining program. Tan said that the food was palatable, but “it won’t win any awards”. Food aside, he also discussed the atmosphere of the dining hall. While it did remind him of high school at times when trying to find friends to sit with, he said that almost everyone you encounter has a welcoming demeanor. Interesting conversations spark up everywhere. Personally, he gained a lot from getting to know the facilities staff. “They’ve seen lots of people like you come and go, and you’d be surprised what they can tell you.” Cliques do exist, but joining one is as easy as saying hello.

3.) Academic Resources

It’s no surprise that the academics at an illustrious school like Harvard University are challenging. Interestingly enough, Tan described the pressure as “both light and heavy”. He said that most courses do throw a lot of complicated material at you, and your comprehension of it is demanded. However, the professors are more than willing to help you catch up if you’re willing to put forth the effort. His one regret? Not taking better advantage of the academic resources available to him, like seeing his professors regularly during office hours. Even at a school filled with the globe’s brightest minds, there’s no shame in asking for help. Collaboration, you’ll find, is actually quite encouraged.

4.) Mental Strain

Even intelligent types are prone to getting burnt out. Tan says that it’s very easy to miss out on things at Harvard from academics and extracurricular activities to social life with a large quantity of work being done on days that quickly dwindle. He urges you to “allocate your energy appropriately, or you’ll end up trying to do too much all at once.” The archetype of those who attend Harvard University is an over achieving person who doesn’t know how not to be busy. Tan confirms that this mindset is actually very prevalent on campus. “Don’t be afraid to do nothing,” he urged us. It’s okay to add nap time into your schedule.

5.) Explore Boston

It’s easy to get trapped in the academic bubble that is Harvard University. Tan said a majority of students don’t feel compelled to venture beyond Harvard Square, because it has everything that you need to get by. Yes, it’s convenient, but it won’t exactly broaden your horizons. Break free of the familiar, put the books away and go on an adventure in the city. There’s so much to do in Boston, and you might as well take advantage of it while you’re there. Interested in other Boston schools? Check out this story on Emerson College, written by an alum.

Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH. Tan Yi Jun, who graduated from Harvard University’s Class of 2013, generously offered to share some of the details of his experience to educate potential future students of Harvard University.

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