During the whole college process, I had heard more about Harvard University than about any other school. When I stayed on campus for two days (rooming with a freshman host) as a prospective freshman, I was anxious to separate fact from myth. Here is some of what I found:

Harvard is:

1. grossly lenient in admitting relatives of alumni and athletes. I had heard that the student body was “1/3 alumni kids and jocks.” I was dealing with stereotypes, but several freshmen said it was true and made sure I was aware of it.

2. affected by the graduate school and pressure to do research. A lot of attention is given to the graduate program; even more is focused on research. You may find professors whose primary concentration is not the undergraduates. I had also heard that there is little student-faculty interaction. But one sophomore said: “I don’t think that’s true. If you look for your professors, they will talk to you, no problem. Besides, how much time do you spend eating lunch with your teachers in high school?”

3. having difficulty addressing the issues of minorities. During my visit, I saw a student protest against the school’s handling of the Afro-American program. Harvard has been criticized for its lack of minority faculty, although this is a problem at many other schools beside Harvard.

4. lucky to have Harvard Square. Many schools are located in an area that exists solely because of the college. Harvard Square and nearby Boston offer more off-campus life than you’ll find at most schools.

Harvard is not:

1. made up of a stuffy, ultra-conservative student body. The students are human. They can be friendly; they know how to play pick-up basketball games; they will talk to you in a normal tone of voice. As at many colleges across the country, most of the students are liberal. And if you think that all Harvard students are uptight and can’t loosen up, get a copy of the Harvard Lampoon.

2. made up of a bunch of grinds. Actually, there is a strong anti-study atmosphere, as there is in many colleges.

3. a wild party school. Surprise. Fraternities are not allowed and many people will go off-campus for their entertainment. One freshman told me that the social scene is dead.

4. all reputation and no substance. About Harvard’s academic program, one upperclassman told me: “You can get the best education in the country if you work at it…It won’t necessarily be given to you; you might have to find it.”

I might be way-off in some of these judgments. They are based on a two-day visit. But if you visit Harvard, skip the library tour and ask the people you see about these topics.

Reviewed in 1990