College Panel: Harvard University
Want to learn more about what it takes to apply to, and attend Harvard University? Join Harvard alums Theodore Longlois, Maria Acosta Robayo, and Anesha Grant as they discuss their admissions and undergraduate experiences. Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-07-25 – College Panel: Harvard University
Hello everyone. My name is Juliana and I’m the moderator tonight. Welcome to the Harvard University College Panel. Uh, so to orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’re gonna start off with a presentation. Um, then answer your questions in the live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can also start submitting questions in the Q&A tab, um, and feel free to get those in.
Uh, now let’s meet our panelists. Feel free to intro yourselves.
Yeah. Hi, I am Theodore Longlois. Um, I use he/him pronouns and I graduated Harvard University in 2016 and currently work as an HIV health navigator. Hi everyone. My name is Maria Acosta Robayo, and I graduated Harvard class of 2020, where I studied sociology and global health policy and was on a pre-med track and I currently do government consulting in DC. Hi everyone. My name is Anesha Grant. I graduated from the college in 2008 where I majored in social anthropology and government. And then I went back and got my grad, my, my master’s degree at the graduate school of education in education, policy and management and I currently work as a director for an education nonprofit out in New York City.
Great. So we’re gonna start off here with a poll for everyone. Uh, so just wondering what grade are you in? And while we wait for those results to come in, would love to know what’s your favorite thing about Harvard pose question to all of you guys.
For me, it was definitely the student body. I, uh, you know, it is one of the places I’ve met, the people that are the most passionate about whatever it is they’re doing. Um, whether that’s, you know, directing a homeless shelter or studying, you know, biochemical engineering and, you know, everybody created a really, um, you know, encouraging learning environment and a true sense of family.
Yeah. I would definitely echo that and add that it was also a place where there were so many opportunities that I had never thought, um, were available. Um, there’s so many different clubs that I had never been a part of in just opportunities to study abroad, to be in new places, meet different people, um, things ranging.
I I’m from, I grew up in Miami. I never thought I would go ice climbing. And yet there’s a mountaineering club where you could do that. And then there’s people, there’s opportunities to walk on teams or to go visit a country as part of, um, one of your classes. So there was just so many doors that were open there as well.
Uh, they took, they took good ones. Um, but I’ll just say, uh, for me it was the campus for sure. I like just being on campus, the wide openness that, uh, it flowed into the graduate schools, um, on some parts and that it was just a wide open space. I also loved that it was in a city that wasn’t too, too big. Um, and that was navigable being from New York City. Cities were important, but I didn’t wanna be in New York City.
So, um, Cambridge/Boston was a good balance. Perfect. Thank you guys so much for sharing. So it looks like we have 2% eighth graders, 6% ninth graders, 23%, 10th graders, 43% 11th graders, 23% 12th graders. So mostly juniors, but pretty good range of students here. And moving back to the presentation.
Yeah. So, Theodore, what was your college application process like?
great. And sorry about the delay. I can’t see the slides for some reason. Um, but, um, so I, uh, did not plan properly for my college application process. Um, I in applied to Harvard early action, and I also applied to UT Austin because they had an earlier application deadline. Then I would find out from Harvard, thankfully I was accepted into Harvard.
Um, but, uh, I really didn’t have much of a plan. Otherwise, most of my other applications were unfinished. Um, and I, that, you know, definitely had I not been accepted early action into Harvard. Um, it would’ve made a very miserable, uh, Christmas break. So I really advise people to, you know, plan much more, um, than I did.
I didn’t really have much support, um, uh, in the process. So it definitely plan in advance, create a schedule for yourself and shit to it.
Thank you much so much for sharing. Um, so next thing is, were you considering any other Ivy schools at the time? What made you decide on Harvard?
Yeah. So I was considering Yale, Princeton and Columbia, um, in the, in the Ivy’s as a, as well as another new, some near Ivy’s like Johns Hopkins. Um, I chose Harvard because when I visited, it seemed to have the best relationship with the community as a whole. The city of Austin seemed very, and Cambridge seemed very proud of Harvard, um, compared to some more contentious relationships I saw on other campuses.
I love the fact that students spent 50% of their time doing extracurriculars because I’m definitely someone that learned by doing, um, and the amount of freedom students are given, um, and just how multicultural the campus was. Um, and also just wanted to go since I was six. So, um, it had always been my dream.
Great. Thank you for sharing. Um, also wondering about your major, why did you decide to major in folklore mythology? Super cool majors by the way. Thank you. Yeah. So at the time, um, I was pre-med and about 50% of Harvard pre-meds, um, major in the humanities or social sciences. Um, so I didn’t feel much of the panic about job security on graduating, um, that a lot of other people do due to being pre-med.
Um, and you know, I read an article about how, um, stories about. Very changed lanes. They have been used to understand autism in the middle ages and realizing how we can use the stories around ourselves to make sense of our society really appeal to me. Um, I ended up going to medical school and leaving due to a concussion.
And, but my background in mythology has actually made me consider going to divinity school. And I’m in the process of applying for that. Um, it was a really small major, which I loved because I wanted one on one attention, which is something I didn’t get much of in high school. Um, I got to do research starting in my sophomore year of college.
You know, I was doing independent field work, um, which is really early on in my career and made it a lot easier to write a senior thesis that received honors. That’s really cool. Thank you. Um, next question here. So what were your extracurricular and summer activities? So, you know, Harvard, like I said, is really unique in that everything is entirely student run and students have so much freedom in their extracurriculars.
So, you know, I spent one summer doing bio archeology in Peru, which basically means I excavated skeletons. Um, and the college paid for that. All I had to do was pay for my airfare and a few meals. Um, I spent another summer doing a paid internship with free housing in New York City at a foster care agency.
Um, I also was a case manager at a homeless shelter, which is leadership experience most people don’t get until five or 10 years into their career. Um, I also, you know, during the term time I got to direct a pure counseling hotline. I was a leader of a committee for the national debate league, um, and vice president of the, a college debate league.
And I was an advocate for patients at a children’s hospital. I also, um, had an internship where I got to research for a national bill that later went on to be passed. Really cool. Thank you. Um, also there’s a poll here, but there’s a lot of attendees tonight and lots of questions. So I think I’m gonna skip over that.
Um, so passing it over to Maria to share her experiences sure thing. Um, so for me, the college application process was a mix of some idea of what I wanted to do, but really a lot of, yeah, lack um, knowledge about networks and like who to reach out to, to figure out that like the different requirements. I didn’t know what it was like to reach out to teachers for teacher recommendations or to even visit colleges.
Uh, what I did have was a really good support network of friends and family who encouraged me and helped point me, um, to other people. But I know that, um, for a lot of students here, maybe you’re feeling, especially if you’re juniors, like it’s really daunting. Um, so I’m glad we get to share a little bit of different types of processes.
Um, for me, it. I try to make a list of safety target and reach schools. So I knew there was, I didn’t have this language to put to it back then. Um, I’m using it now, cuz I know that’s probably the language you’re hearing from your advisors, but I knew that I had to apply to a variety of schools because I wasn’t sure which ones would accept me.
I wasn’t sure about the admissions rates, but I knew it would probably be harder to get into some of the Ivy’s than maybe, um, my local schools, my local community colleges. Um, and so I did some research on the teachers and the programs of study that were available. Um, a couple other like key indicators, like what cities they were in.
Um, I grew up in Miami and I knew I wanted to be in a city. Um, and so I, I had some idea of the types of schools I wanted to go to. Um, I also researched, uh, scholarship opportunities because I knew, uh, the financial part of attending college was probably gonna be the most difficult. And I came across quest, uh, QuestBridge, um, which is a really big resource for students, um, who come from low.
um, socioeconomic, uh, like their parents have, um, I think you have to have, uh, less than 65K um, as your parental combined household income. And so for me, that was really big because I knew my parents didn’t have like a college fund for me to go to school. And so I, um, applied to different colleges through QuestBridge.
Um, and I, one of them was Princeton. And so I found out pretty early on, um, that I had been a finalist and that I had been matched with Princeton in the fall. Um, and so having a bit of security about like, okay, I’m going to a school. It’s one that I really like, um, gave me a lot of peace to know. Um, Which other ones I wanted to apply to and apply to them with a little bit more, let less of a panic.
So I, uh, applied to Harvard and then also got in regular decision. There was other schools that I did not get accepted or stayed forever on the waiting list. Um, but I was really grateful to have the option between Princeton and Harvard. And then when I visited Harvard, it was, um, a really clear sign. Um, as Theodore mentioned, just the people, the community, uh, there was, uh, visiting like pre-pro weekend, um, where you actually get to live with freshmen, uh, who are there, like that’s their first year.
And just the people that I encountered were really kind down to earth. People who invited me to learn more about what life was like on campus. And so it was really encouraging to meet the community. Um, and then, uh, I was, as I mentioned, considering other Ivy schools, um, and what made me decide on Harvard was, um, going through a couple different factors.
Um, one was the programs of study. So I got a chance to look at, uh, the different majors that were offered, the different study abroad programs, uh, financial aid, as I said, was a big one. Um, I wanted to make sure with QuestBridge, um, they, it was the matching program, which meant that I could get financial aid for four years.
And so I needed to make sure that the other Ivy’s were able to meet or match that financial aid. Um, also the location, as I mentioned, living in the city was really important. Um, you know, ranking was something that I think everyone looks at at some point what you decide, what you end up deciding, uh, shouldn’t be just based on ranking.
But I think sometimes when we’re thinking about our dream schools and especially with the Ivy schools, we do think about ranking. Um, professors is something else. Um, I also wanted to do research. I was, um, coming in as a pre-med, um, and I knew I wanted to get some research under my belt. So thinking about a couple professors I wanted to do research with was important.
Um, and lastly, um, culture and extracurriculars, uh, I thought, like I said, it was really important to have a, a community on campus. Um, and I felt that right off the bat, just really warm culture, um, and extracurriculars to try new things. Um, so after going to pre, uh, that, uh, visits weekend or that, uh, weekend for PREFO to come and get a glimpse of what Harvard was like, I was definitely sold and I committed to Harvard.
Um, so, uh, why did I major in sociology and global health policy? Uh, much like the kind went over to you don’t have to be a bio or a chem major or a stem major at all. You just have to meet your premed requirements. Um, and there is, uh, a premed office, a career of, um, an office of career services that can help you through what classes you need to do to get into medical school.
But you could really major in anything that you want. And so I knew that if I was gonna be taking. A lot of stem classes, um, that were gonna be really hard or just, um, forcing me to think a lot more about like numbers and, uh, not really allow me to explore things related to the humanities and the social sciences than I wanted to major in something in that field.
Um, and so I actually changed my major three times each time inching closer to the social sciences. I started out biochemistry. Then I moved to neuroscience and then I moved to sociology. Um, each time, again, kind of getting closer to the, the social sciences. Um, and I had to be really honest about what my passions were, not just what the norm was.
Um, at the time it felt like all my friends were majoring in, uh, one of the many science majors offered at Harvard. Um, so it was really great to talk to someone, my advisors and, uh, to meet people who had majored in music or who had majored in history. Um, so I got a lot of mentorship and then eventually, um, I ended up on sociology because I realized that a lot of the classes that I had just chosen because they sounded really interesting and that had, I had really enjoyed were actually in that major.
Um, and so it was a really good opportunity to learn more about other cultures, different systems of governance, uh, society, white issues that also affected health. Um, and then I just decided to choose a minor that tied in some of my premed and sociology interests. And so I chose global health policy.
Um, yep. That’s all for me. Thanks. Y’all um, y’all covered a lot, so I can kind of go through some of mine a little bit more quickly. Um, so my application process was I put here fast pace because I, unlike other folks, I was not dreaming of Harvard. I was not dreaming of the Ivy league at all. Um, I was just trying to go to college and someone recommended that I applied to Harvard.
Um, and honestly I applied within two weeks, um, because someone said I should apply. And then they said I should apply early. Um, as that would give me a better chance at the time. And so I really rushed through my essay. Thankfully, I had really great teachers who were willing to put together their letters of recommendation quickly.
Um, already had my resume and things like that together. Um, my application process was very quick, very last minute. Um, I don’t, I could not say as thoughtful or as well thought through as other folks, um, have talked about, it was definitely just kind of applying on a, on a LARC. Um, given some, given a teacher who said you should apply to Harvard.
Um, so yeah, my, I also put that my, uh, process was a bit emotional. I’m a first gen student, so I’m the first in my family to go to college. Um, so I really didn’t have a ton of support at home. No one was like telling me to consider, um, Ivy league schools or things like that. They would’ve just been happy if I went anywhere, honestly.
Um, so it was emotional trying to navigate that, having a little, having a little bit of self-doubt because I, again had not really thought about Harvard or any other schools in the Ivy league. So, you know, it was just sort of like, should I be applying to this? Am I actually going to be competitive? Am I going to get in?
Um, so a lot of those kind of thoughts and it was community focused. Like I said, I, I had. Um, I didn’t have a ton of support coming from home cuz my parents had not navigated that world, but I had a teacher who recommended that I applied to Harvard who really helped me pull together my application in the last couple of weeks.
Um, and I had friends who helped me visit campus when, um, when those opportunities were available. My advisor drove me to Boston. Um, so I had a lot of support from outside of my home life and more so in my school and larger community. Um, because I didn’t have those resources available at home or consistently in my, um, school.
And then I think when I was considering, um, so like I said, Harvard was my only Ivy I did apply. My first choice at the time was U Chicago, which some would say is also, um, Ivy adjacent or a competitor there. Um, but my first choice was university of Chicago. I also applied to Tufts, Spellman uh, Boston, Boston University and Carnegie Mellon, um, and my first year to U Chicago and I really liked Harvard as well because of the resources available at both of those institutions.
I was really passionate about museums, um, which were a ton of peoples are really boring, but I really liked them when I was 17. And I really wanted to go into studying kind of the culture behind statues and why. Put up the type of, of art that we put up in public spaces. And Harvard had a center of resources there, um, U Chicago, which was micro choice at the time.
Also had a lot of resources and relationships that would allow me to do study that in the us and also, um, abroad. Um, similar other folks have mentioned the, the freshman visit weekend or the pre admitted PREFO weekend, which is the admitted students weekend. Um, I had such a fun time. There, there was just a ton of community as Theodore kind of mentioned at the top of just the people who were available, the things that they were interested in, the things that they were curious about.
Um, I stayed up until four o’clock in the morning, just sitting in a basement, talking to people at pre refresh weekend and just having a really good time and just feeling that sense of community and belonging there. And I already kind of talked about the campus and location I from New York city originally, but I went to high school in a very rural part of Connecticut.
And so I knew I went to stay on the east coast, but I could not stay in the, in the woods where I was at and I didn’t wanna go back to the city. So, um, Cambridge seemed just like a great kind of intermediary there for me. Um, major in social anthropology. As I said, I was really passionate about museums. Um, and Harvard had that connection had that opportunity.
Uh, there were a ton of travel abroad opportunities available through specifically anthropology and generally, um, at Harvard in anyway, also there were a ton of languages offered at, at Harvard. So I had passed on Spanish and decided to take Italian, um, which was very difficult, but a struggle, but just loved having access to those different types of resources and different ways that you could explore language.
Um, I explored sociology and philosophy in middle school and high school, and I knew those weren’t quite exactly what I wanted to do. And that helped helping narrow down into anthropology and just I’m, I’m the only person who’s not pre-med. And I will say I have a lot of friends who were pre-med, who also majored in anthropology because it actually allowed them to take their pre-med courses.
And then because they were studying it from an international perspective, they got to travel, um, and do medical research abroad. Um, so that was something that was interested, built into like bio anthro, um, from our friends who chose that route and say the anthropology, but were premed. Um, I went back to Harvard to get my master’s degree years later.
One again, because of that community, I just really felt at home at it in that place. Um, I also liked that that particular master’s program was one year, so it was a bit intensive. Um, but it didn’t keep me, I, I would get like the credential, but it wouldn’t be out of the job market for too long. Um, and also Harvard had a lot of connections to various nonprofit organizations.
It was an opportunity for me to level up again, get that credential, get a double Harvard degree, which is always nice to say. And, um, also had the opportunity to research beyond my local context. So at the time I was working in New York, um, and Harvard kind of has a great international education, uh, perspective and also a lot of connections to the federal, um, department of education, as well as the department of education in Massachusetts.
So it was a lot of different, um, leeway. And I think everyone’s gotta talk about access and availability through Harvard. Um, so yeah, that’s. Wow. Great. Thank you so much for sharing guys. That was super insightful. Um, now we’re going to move on the Q&A here. Um, so first question I did wanna ask you guys is like in regards to financial aid, so people are wondering, you know, are there any grants or scholarships available?
Um, you know, how, how do you avoid debt going to school? Like Harvard
I can take so I can start. Okay. Go for it. Go. No, no. It’s okay. You go ahead. Okay. Um, so Harvard is, um, uh, one of the few schools that meets a hundred percent of demonstrated need. Um, as a first generation student, like I said, my parents, I fit that kind of low income range. And so I did receive, um, some loans.
So I think I got about $5,500 in loans, which were the federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans, um, through Harvard, that was all the debt that I took out. And even then I think I only took it out my senior year. So, um, I essentially got like a pretty complicated, full ride from Harvard. Um, with scholarships, with grants, I didn’t have to apply to anything extra.
I just had to submit the FAFSA cuz again, Harvard commits to filling, um, a hundred percent of their students need through internal, like scholarship and opportunities at the institution. Um, so I submitted the FAFSA, I got a bunch of scholarships grants. I also. Was offered a work study. I did end up having to take out a couple of loans when I decided to travel abroad.
Um, and that was specifically to cover my housing and food. Um, but like I said, I was eligible just given that I was a little bit more low income, um, than other students, other financial aid perks that I think come with Harvard as well are, um, like I said, work study, but then also there are funds to help students who are low income, who to buy tickets to events, or just get discounted versions of that.
You also, um, get support if you are coming from a warm weather climate and moving to, um, the east coast or where it snows for the first time they help you. They have a winter coat fund. Um, they have a lot of different, um, resources also support with, I think it’s pretty robust. Um, Room and board or board.
So, you know, food is included for all four years while you’re there. Housing is guaranteed for all four years while you’re there. And then those are usually a lot of things that come out, um, that are big expenses that come out of college that aren’t always integrated into the tuition. Also talking with that with my financial aid experience.
Great. Thank you for sharing. No, thank you so much for sharing that. Um, I wanted to add on to that. Um, my family was solidly middle class, um, and it ended up being cheaper for me to go to Harvard than it was for me to go to UT Austin. Um, I. You know, my parents didn’t have to take out any loans. Um, they took into the VA that my sister and I are the same age and she was also into college.
So they, they look at factors like that. And the fact that, you know, like, and my parents had some debt that was unresolved. So they looked at a holistic picture beyond just your income. I have, um, students who I’ve taught that, you know, Harvard even paid for their moving expenses. Um, if you’re on full aid and for summer study abroad, if you were on partial aid, they completely cover everything.
But airfare, if you’re on full aid, they cover everything. And even if you’re on no aid, they still cover your airfare. So, uh, it allowed me to do things that I never would’ve gotten to do. And like I said, you know, Harvard has like a public service organization that will give out grants. If you have unpaid summer internship ship at a nonprofit.
And there’s a lot of, um, Ways that you can have student jobs that are very, very meaningful. Like I got paid to direct the peer counseling organization. Yeah. And one thing I would quickly add is just like at a macro level, when you’re thinking about, uh, different types of aid, um, I would say, think about it, especially when you’re just talking about institutional aid.
Um, there is merit based financial aid and then there is need based financial aid. Um, and so we’ve been talking about Harvard, uh, meaningful, like need based financial aid. Um, there’s a lot of schools that might also offer merit, um, which means that the, those are based on accomplishments that you have, whether academic extracurricular, Harvard doesn’t offer that Harvard only offers need based financial aid.
And so just wanted to provide a little bit of that framing as we’re talking about, uh, the type of aid that you would get from Harvard. Great. Thank you guys so much for sharing. I also saw a question here kind of in relation, um, and I just wanted to quickly address it. So Harvard does also need blind, meaning that applying for financial aid and applying with financial need, you know, does not at all, have a bearing on your application.
Chances. So just wanted to answer that. Um, next question here is what unique things did you do in high school to make yourself stand out? So just wondering about extracurriculars, if you had a passion project, anything like that?
Sure. I can, I can start off with this one. Um, so I, uh, play tennis. Most of my life, Florida is a really big tennis state. And so I played U S T a for a lot of my life and competed in. Uh, sports were really important for me, uh, in high school. And so I really loved trying different sports. My band based sport was, uh, tennis and I did cross country, but I think something that maybe made my application stand out where I like had been part of the water polo team of its soccer team, lots of different sports.
Um, and also I think my background, I think a lot of times students focus on, um, the extracurriculars that they did. But I think when you, when I was writing the, the actual essay, something that I noticed is the extracurriculars that I did ended up informing a lot of the things that I learned, and my essays became less about the specific activities that I did and more what I learned through those activities.
Um, and so. I would just say sports was a really big part of it. Um, I also did, um, I was also a first gen student. I’m also an immigrant from Columbia. And so I moved here when I was five and I was a DACA recipient. And so there were certain limitations that I had on being able to travel. Um, and so I had always wanted to go on service trips, especially to Columbia and because I wasn’t able to travel, I ended up starting a nonprofit with other DACA recipients who had the same limitations, where we were able to do a lot of fundraising, where we were able, able to do a lot of donation drives, um, and work with actually community, community partners in different countries to actually understand what need was available and not, um, just send things that maybe weren’t needed.
We actually try to work with community partners on the ground to see what was needed and then connect with hospitals, universities, or schools, um, in Florida to try to figure out how we can meet that need. Um, so I would say those are. Those would fall under like athletics and then like a passion project.
Uh, I would, I did not have a passion project, but, and I think if I were to describe my resume, it would definitely be well rounded. I did a little bit of everything, but I was at a very small high school where there were only 200 girls in high school. So if you wanted a club, you kind had someone had to be doing a little bit of everything.
Or there were like five people in one club. Um, but I think the majority of what I could say, or the deepest aspect of my application was in music. So I did a lot of, um, performing arts in theater. I was in the bell choir. I was in orchestra. I was in. A couple of singing choirs. And so I think if there was one thing outside of the well, roundedness of being in a little bit of a lot of things, I showed a lot of depth in my interested music.
Um, I played, I think, three instruments at the time. Um, and so if, if I would say that was something that was unique for me, that was that I stood out with my musical talents. I also had to play sports. Like I said, I came reverse small school, but, um, that, I wouldn’t say that those were like the specialty specialty or, or helped me to stand out on my application.
I really do think it was my, my musical background and performing arts and theater background. I too, was one of those kind of Jack of all trades in my application. Um, I think, um, a huge part of my application was competitive debate. Um, and for the region I was in, I did really well in that. Um, they also take into a fact your surrounding.
So, you know, I went to a big underfunded, Texas public school and they took that into consideration. So they weren’t comparing me to someone that went to like divest in Manhattan, for example. Um, I also, um, submitted a poetry supplemental application. I really recommend. That if you are, if you do an art or original research, you submit it as a supplement because they do take that into consideration.
Um, and then, um, you know, I’ve talked to Harvard admissions officers as a counselor for low income students. And the number one thing they told me, um, was that they look at the essay more than anything else. The, the essay is the only thing that’s a hundred percent within your control and they take that into consideration.
So my essay was hyper specific to my circumstances as growing up, uh, with an adopted sister who had a learning disability and a mother who had a profound hearing and impairment. And, you know, they actually look at your SAT score the leashed. So in the order of importance, they’ve told me it’s essay, uh, academics, extracurriculars, letter of recommendations, and then all the way on the bottom is your SAT score.
If that helps y’all at all.
Great. Thank you guys. All for sharing that. Um, I do have a couple of questions here. I know theater, you went into it a bit, um, but some students are wondering, you know, what did you write your essay about if you don’t feel comfortable sharing that, then, you know, any general advice you have for the common app in the Harvard supplemental?
I can, I can, um, start if, if that’s okay. Um, I wrote about similar to Theodore. I think I wrote about my own specific experience. So as I mentioned, I from New York city, but I ended up at a very small, uh, school in Connecticut. And I wrote about this sense of having to have two identities of being one version of myself when I went home to New York and having to be a separate version of.
When I was in this space, um, at Harvard, obviously I’m an African American woman. I was in a predominantly white space coming from what was actually predominantly black and Latino neighborhood. And so being, it was one of those things where I realized that I was minority when I turned 14 and I went to college, I went to high school.
Um, so it really was talking about just that the change that happened for me in, in changing a different community. Um, when I started, when I started in high school and what I thought Harvard as a, another predominantly white space, how I felt like that experience would contribute to the changes that I had already experienced as a person.
So I think I would, the advice that I would give for someone is especially cuz that’s a kind of unique and specific experience, but the advice I would say is to be authentic. I see a lot of students who write what they think should be an intellectual essay, um, or overwrite in some sense because they think that’s what a institution like Harvard wants to hear.
Um, I think right about yourself, be authentic as possible. And don’t write in a way that you feel like. Writing what someone wants to hear, because they can very much tell, um, your voice comes across and authentically when you write for someone else rather than writing about yourself. Yeah. Um, and you know, I’ve already kinda shared what mine is about, but to piggy back off, um, writing authentically what an admissions officer guided me to tell my students is imagine that your parents read or guardians or friends, or whoever raises you, um, read 20 different essays about the same topic that were anonymized, you know, um, where, you know, like if it’s maybe 20 essays about doing debate and it, um, and that, and they should be able to pick out yours from those 20 that’s how, uh, genuine it should be.
Yeah. I definitely echo all of what, um, all of what has been said so far, I think the biggest. the best advice I give students when, or I think the best piece of advice I was given that I try to relate to students is how important the essays are as a window into who you are and who you’ll be, um, what you’re gonna be bringing to the campus outside of just your grades.
Um, schools will get your transcript. They will get your resume. They will know what activities you did. They will know, uh, what grades you got, but they, they won’t see as your personality. They won’t see maybe your passions. They won’t see some of your background and some of, um, the identity based things that will guide you as a student.
Um, what you’ll maybe be able to share and teach other students on their campus, especially for the Ivy leagues. I know, especially for Harvard, they were looking for not just, um, you know, intellectually curious people or hard workers. Um, they were looking for people who are gonna make the campus more diverse people who are gonna.
If you’re taking the same class, give different different perspectives on how they understand the topics and challenge one another to think outside of what maybe you grew up thinking. And so the essays are a really important part of that. What I specifically wrote about was, um, my, uh, I guess like my journey, uh, coming to the us and, uh, all of a sudden having a bit of a culture shock of what it was like, the things that were prioritized here versus in Columbia.
Um, I wrote a, uh, I wrote about it in light of, um, my parents had very big career changes when they moved to the us. Um, in Columbia, they were both professionals. Um, here, they both worked in maintenance and housekeeping. And, um, I wrote about a summer where I went to go clean houses with my mom and, um, what I learned from some of her, her employers and the dynamic of what I need to be my mom, the business woman, and, um, My mom in a different setting.
Um, I talked about, um, different passions in light of the people who introduced them to me, um, including some of those employers. And so, um, that was the personal statement that I submitted for Harvard. Great. Thank you guys for sharing. Um, so I have some students here wondering, you know, if you applied with an intended major, um, how important is it that your extracurriculars aligned with that major?
Um, any advice on that?
Uh, I change my mind dramatically. Um, when, when you apply, they’ll ask you, what major are you considering? Um, and how sure are you about this major? And I thought I was set on psychology and chemistry. Um, and, um, I didn’t talk about it, my essays, but I did, you know, talk about it a lot on my interview. And, um, but on the first day I, you know, went to the majors of the career fair, where they show all of the 50, um, majors.
And I realized that psychology was really big and I felt like it was impersonal. And I went to a big public high school without a lot of individual attention. So I wanted something different. Um, and, uh, but you know, there are people that stuck with exactly their. But, um, you, they don’t really, um, hold you to that in any way.
Even if you’re applying for engineering, there’s no majors that you have to specifically apply for from day one. In fact, you don’t even decide on your major to the middle of your sophomore year.
Yeah, I think, um, two, two points here is one. Um, some students think that you have to apply knowing your major. Um, you don’t, you can say, I think the more important part is like, do you know, like different passions or things that you’re interested in? Um, it just helps to write, I think more about not, uh, a major that you think, you know, like a lot of students won’t go for this major, so maybe I have a higher chance of getting in because they’ll be more diverse.
Like some students think that that’s a strategy, but I think that you will write the best essay when you’re writing about something you’re truly passionate about. So I would say think critically about. A major that could represent what you’re interested in, but you don’t really have to ever write an essay about like what major you wanna study.
Um, you’re writing about maybe your passions or things that you’re interested in or curious about. Um, I think there is the option to talk about, uh, to like check on, like to click a box for your intended major and there’s even one for undecided. So what I think most students end up doing is just trying to choose the one that most closely aligns with their interest.
And I think that that is the best strategy you never know in a given cohort who is, um, you know, how many people are choosing that major or how many people are applying as a pre-med profile or as an engineering profile. And so the best you can do is just apply with a very genuine, um, description of who like who you are, what you wanna study.
And then, you know, it’s not up to you like who, who the cohort you’re applying with, ends up being. Yeah, I would just add. Um, so I went in knowing that I went to major specifically in a special, uh, major that Harvard has called social studies. Um, and within social studies you actually have to apply again, once you, once you get into to, you have to apply to it into your sophomore year in order to get into that specific major.
Um, I ended up not majoring in that because I just got lazy and did not want to submit the application. Um, but I, um, I, yeah, I mean, I chose social anthropology, nothing about my high school career could have prepared me for a social anthropology major. As I mentioned, I was really interested in museums outside of a couple of museum internships, like summer things in high school and just going to museums often there wasn’t, um, a particularly strong profile that I could build, um, given my interest in that.
So I, I don’t think you have to set yourself up for that major in high school. Um, as they’ve shared, you don’t have to submit your major until the middle of sophomore year. So you don’t really even have to know. Um, you can put something. No, one’s gonna hold you to that on the application. Um, you were allowed to change someone I saw asked how easy is it to change?
I, I think at Harvard. Fairly easy. Um, I don’t think it’s, it’s, it is paperwork and it is, you know, you have to talk to your advisor, but I don’t think it’s, uh, as challenging as I’ve heard it be at other institutions, I will also say to the point that Maria was just making by about pursuing your passions.
I ended up getting a government minor and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t going for it. I was just taking classes that I really liked. They all ended up being in political science and my advisor literally told me, oh, you’ve taken enough classes to qualify for a minor in government. Do you wanna like formally declare?
And I was like, okay, sure, sure. So, um, I think just taking the classes that you are interested in taking the classes that kind of align with your intellectual curiosity is that grows and changes over time, um, would suit you well in institution like Harvard, because I, I don’t think there are specific classes you need to take, but it’s not as I.
Rigor rigid as, um, people think going into it again, coming from a social anthropology, not like pre-med not engineering. I think it’s a little bit different if you’re going for the hard sciences, but for the humanities, I think it’s a pretty flexible, um, space. Thank you guys. Um, so we have some students here wondering about, you know, social life on campus and finding community, just wondering, you know, what’s it like being in the dorms, which is, what’s it like, you know, the dining halls on campus, just overall your experience as a student finding community, um, living on campus.
Yeah. So Harvard. Structure is pretty unique. Um, so freshman year, everyone appli, fills out a housing application. Now housing is guaranteed, but this, this helps them build you a roommate. That’s going to encourage you and be supportive, but also push you to grow. So your parents can actually to submit a letter as part of that.
Um, they really take everything into account. Um, and then. In your middle of your freshman year, you decide the eight people that you wanna live in upperclassmen dorm, which we call a house with, and you don’t have be roommates with them, but those are the people that you wanna be in community with. And then you are randomly sorted into each one of the 12 upperclassmen houses and 97% of students live on campus all four years.
Um, and about 98% of people think their house is the best house and it, it, isn’t just a place where you lie. Your head, your dining hall is in your house. You have intramural sports, you have dances, you have shooting government in your house. Um, you, if you’re. A pre-professional like pre-law or pre-med or pre-engineering you actually get advising through graduate students in those fields that live in your house.
So these aren’t just RAs that shut down a party like you might have seen in a movie, these are graduate students that live alongside you to help you get into a profession or graduate school. And that was the best part of my house. I known, uh, uh, of my experience was the house system. You know, I could sit next to students of any year and they would tell, talk to me about their.
Their hobbies, their interest. You know, I had conversations where we helped one of the RA kids learn how to tell time or help the dining hall workers form a union, or talk about Jewish theology and stem cell research. And, and you could also just, you know, had had your normal college life, uh, parties, and they’ll actually fund you to have food and non-alcoholic drinks at a party to create a safe space on campus.
Um, you know, really robust extracurriculars like we were telling you about. Um, and I forgot to mention in freshman year you live in Annenburg, which you eat in Burg, which is a freshman dining hall. So that way you get to know the entire freshman class.
Yeah. Um, I would definitely echo that house life was a really important part of social life. Just. You know, sometimes you’d be coming back from class. You didn’t know where your friends were, but you came back to the D hall or the dining hall. There was always people there that you could meet that you can talk to.
Honestly, at Annenburg there was times where I would start at breakfast and somehow end up still there at dinner. And I was just like, where, where did the time go? And it’s just, people were rotating in and out. Um, and so it’s really fun to get to meet people there. Um, I think social life also. Often time revolves around the activities that you do.
And so I got to meet a lot of people on different sports teams on different. Um, I, I like to hop around lots of different extracurriculars. So I got to meet people at the IOP, which was, um, for, uh, a lot of people involved in like politics related extracurriculars. Um, because I was pre-med, I got a chance to meet people who were, uh, part of shadowing programs.
Um, and so I, uh, was ever musically talented nor am I right now, musically talented, but I love to go to concerts and to a, yeah, a lot acapella concerts instead, I got to meet people who were performing. Um, so apart from house life, um, I do encourage, um, most people to live on campus. It’s just a really sweet time to get to know people that you wouldn’t have otherwise and kind of have that built in social system.
But I would also say Harvard has, um, other opportunities for social life as well. Um, Greek life isn’t as big, uh, in Harvard as, um, I mean, I I’m from Florida. Lots of my friends went to schools in the south where Greek life was really important. Um, for some people it does become a core group. If you join a sorority or fraternity.
Um, Harvard also had another system of, um, social clubs called final clubs, um, that had different types of, um, requirements and, and characteristics. And so there is those, um, more, I guess, um, specific social clubs, but I would say most of my social experiences came from just hanging out with people through my extracurricular clubs, through my classes, um, through just being in my residence, uh, in my residence.
Yeah. Um, uh, yeah, the house system clearly is like central and critical. Um, everyone does have a lot of feelings about their house. I was out in the quad and I feel like there was a sub-community there of the quad or set of houses that are a little bit more removed from main campus. And so I think.
People talked about quad life. I don’t know if that’s still a thing, but, um, it was the thing when I was there. And so I think it created a whole separate, um, social structure and community there as well. I can also speak to affinity groups as women of color. I was in the association of black Harvard women, which was a really lovely group with assimilating finding places to do your hair, finding the community feel like you needed.
Um, again, being. Space, uh, also member of the black student, um, union, uh, work study also ended up being an interesting social experiment for me, or opportunity to build a relationship. Um, so there’s a thing called dorm crew, which is like, you kind of stay on campus later, or you go to campus earlier and you clean, um, you clean the dorms as like the alums come in or the seniors are graduating.
Um, but it was just an interesting way to meet people who are significantly older than me. Um, so they, I babysat for alums who were back in for their 25th year, um, and, uh, reunion. And so it’s just, yeah, I think that, um, dorm crew work study those different types of opportunities to make extra money on campus.
Um, and interacting with folks also led to a lot of community. I would also. Big up the tutors. Um, as we mentioned, so Harvard is unique in the sense that we don’t have RAs who are upperclassmen. It is those graduate students are folks who are kind of more fully adults. Um, who are the folks living in your, um, you know, who are your resident advisors?
And so I think the plus to that for me, was that my tutors ended up getting me a ton of internships and job opportunities. Like it’s nice to be with folks who are already established in their careers, um, and can be an additional support system there professionally. Um, in addition to just being cool people, um, at the house um, so yeah.
great. Thank you guys all for sharing. Um, so that brings us to the halfway point of the Q&A. Um, and I did wanna take this time to do a little introduction to college advisor. Um, so for those of you in the room who aren’t already working with us, um, you know, how overwhelming the admissions process can be.
Um, and here at CollegeAdvisor.com, we have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts like our folks tonight. And, you know, we’re all ready to help you and your family navigate the intricacies of college applications. Um, so you can take the next step in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session, um, with an admission specialist on our team.
So all you have to do is take a picture of the QR code on the screen. Um, you know, during that meeting, we could really talk. One on one personalized advice specific to your situation. Um, yeah. Looking forward to connecting with, with you all. Um, and now moving back to the Q&A, um, so I know we just spoke about social life on campus and some students are also wondering, you know, how your classes went.
Um, you know, was it really competitive? Was it really difficult? Um, just anything you have to share on that perspective of.
Yeah. So I was pre-med, um, which is one of the more competitive, uh, programs at Harvard. Um, even though we don’t have a specific pre-med program, like a major, um, there is pre-med advising in the community. Um, but even being pre-med, you know, I had fringe that would hold, um, regular, uh, Sunday night homework sessions and other people that would, you know, help me get into medical school and edited my applications.
And the advising is amazing. I really recommend you take advantage of it from day one, because a lot of people wait till it’s too late. Um, and in my humanities classes, they were incredibly collaborative. We would make group study guides that, you know, the whole class had access to. We would edit each other’s papers.
We would just sit and study together in the library. Um, so I found that my classes were really collaborative. One of the, my favorite things about Harvard is if there’s a class over that has more than 20 students enrolled, it had to meet in a small group of 15 or more. So even in your big lecture classes, like organic chemistry, which has like 250 people, you still worked with a graduate student, one on one, um, in a, you know, small 15 person group and all the professors had open office hours and were really glad to help you.
They want to talk to you. I think that’s my other advice of whatever college you go to go to the professor’s office hours early and often, because that’s how you get a great letter of recommendation and is also let, like, for example, a professor, I was sick and you know, when I went to her office hours later, yeah.
Two weeks later, she was like, wait a minute. You know, you’re still kind of not where I want you to be on this essay, but you were sick for a week. Um, I’m just gonna give you an extension and I didn’t even ask for it. That’s how involved the faculty are in your life.
I can, I can go. Um, as a theater was talking, it was re like both the comment that was coming to mind is if you get into Harvard, don’t get cocky because you got into Harvard, like the classes are hard and Harvard’s Harvard for a reason. Um, so I think, definitely go in prepared to study. Um, I, I will say again, not being in pre-med or any of the other pre-professional classes were not competitive for me at all.
Um, I could usually get into most classes that I wanted to get into and, uh, I didn’t like I wasn’t fighting for a spot. I don’t think typically you have to fight for too many spots. Um, at Harvard though, I know at other institutions there might. You might be capped out. You have to take a class another semester, if you wanna take it one semester and it’s not available.
That rarely happened for me. Um, agree with the collaborative, absolutely. Leveraging your classmates, your friends as a community. Um, one thing that I would say was challenging was having to read through the syllabus, Harvard professors or sales people. They’re very good at, at hooking you in because the first week or so was like really fascinating and then interesting.
And then it’s senior year and you’re in a physics class and you’re like, how did I get here? So that was at least my experience of, there was a class that was talking about climate change. It was really fascinating. And then two weeks after the ad drop period, it was hard physics. The rest of the, and I was like, this is not what I signed up for.
So, um, definitely reading through the syllabi to understand what the work will encompass. And I think that’s true, regardless of any school that you go to. Um, sometimes the class seems very nice and Chinese. And there are more, um, challenging work down down the road. And I feel like that happened a lot at Harvard where it was just like, it’s compelling.
It’s interesting. But understanding what the root actual subject is, um, that you’re gonna study and that it’s not gonna be this like fun conversation the whole time, even though it usually starts off that way. So yeah. Yeah. I would say, um, there were some classes that I found to be really like fun and interesting and weren’t hard.
And then there were some classes that I was like, what am I doing here? It gave me imposter syndrome. I was like, I don’t belong here. I didn’t take this AP class. Everyone else in my class took this AP, like they’ve seen this material before. Um, so I would say one of the things that I, one of the many things that I found comforting was, uh, with we’re saying the involvement of teachers profess, uh, or professors in, um, your life.
Some professors are, don’t have the time or the bandwidth to be that way. Uh, but sometimes that’s why students decide to major in smaller. Um, concentrations or yeah, majors or departments, um, so that they do have access to a little bit more of that attention from professors. Um, I specifically found that it was also, um, better for me to start, especially my freshman year with more of the foundational classes.
Um, Harvard had, especially for premeds, like different versions of the same class. Um, one example, um, I’ll just go to the jargon of it is like Ellis one, a versus L PSA, which is two biochemistry classes that just start off at different levels of, um, foundations. And so I thought, well, you know, I’m at Harvard, I need to challenge myself.
Like I’m gonna do LS one a, which was the hardest one. And then I realized like, oh, you know, a lot of my friends here took AP bio, took AP chem. I didn’t take take either one. And I was really struggling. And some students who were in the same position as me decided like. I’m gonna challenge myself. This is what I wanna do.
And they stuck with it. I decided I’m ING myself with other classes. I am starting a new school. I wanna meet friends. I’m gonna actually take the, the more foundational class L PSA the following semester. And that was the right decision for me. And so I would just say that there is ways to, um, kind of manage the difficulty of your classes by choosing one, one of the many variations of the types of classes.
Um, also I would say going to office hours is really good, really important at Theo door mentioned. Um, yeah, I, I think that’s, um, the, the main thing I, I would say about difficulty classes, I’ll just chime in again with office hours, like yes, office hours are the thing go to office hours, um, for. Great. Thank you guys.
Um, and I see that there’s only like four minutes left. So I did wanna ask the last question of the night right now. Um, so just wondering what last piece of advice do you have for attendees here tonight? Um, I see some students are wondering about, you know, overcoming stress culture or imposter syndrome, so it could be related to that, or just any general advice you have.
I think the main thing is, is gonna, it’s a holistic application. So I see so many students that stress out about one part of their application. That’s not perfect. And I think, and, you know, definitely tell your story and tell the whole piece of it, you know, and they’re going to take that into consideration.
Especially a lot of people had problems with COVID and you’re not.
Yeah, I would say, think about, um, when you’re applying to colleges, it can get really easy to get sucked in and like, this is the end all be all. If I don’t get into Harvard, my career is over and it hasn’t even started. Um, and I think something really important to keep in mind is that you’re so much more than just a student applying to college.
Um, you’re a friend, like you’re a loved one to somebody you’re somebody who has so much potential for whatever field you’re interested in. And you can explain. And really, yeah, you can really explain that potential anywhere that you go. Harvard provides different opportunities than other schools. Other schools provide different opportunities in Harvard, but this is not the end.
All in all, like try your best, try your best in school. Try your best in extracurriculars. Try your best in your applications. Plan ahead. Um, you know, do things with like a heart towards wanting to, again, to your best in, in any application and really making sure that you don’t have regrets. Over what you could have done, um, but know that at the end of the day, all you can do is the best in your, in your field or in your extracurriculars.
And a lot of that is thing. And a lot of the, of getting in is out of your control. We’ve seen record low acceptance rates. And so, um, don’t take a rejection as you’re not worthy, but rather there are so many amazing people that are in your cohort. So many future leaders, so many people that you’ll, um, that it’s a great thing at a societal level to think about and that, um, yeah, that you will be able to still fulfill your dreams and goals at lots of different schools.
And that, that will look different, whether you’re at Harvard or at another Ivy league or at a non Ivy league. So kind of having that perspective will hopefully help you to not be as panicked as stressed, and actually probably allow you to have a better application. Yeah, I would echo that. I mean, I know we I’ll say this from the comfort of having been at Harvard, but if only successful people went to Harvard, there’d be far fewer successful people.
Um, so I think just relieving yourself of that stress or expectation, um, that if you get in it is great. It’s an amazing opportunity. But if you don’t, there are multiple pathways for you to continue to, um, have a life that you still envision for yourself. Um, without Harvard, I would just say to imposter syndrome, um, You are going to experience it.
And I think the comforting thing about it at a place like Harvard or any of the highly competitive schools, is that everyone is experiencing it at some point in time. Um, I think there are very few people who walk around a campus like Harvard and say like, this is my school. I deserve every moment of this all the time.
I think, um, everyone faces a moment of doubt and, um, I don’t know, at least for me the comforting aspect of it was that everyone is doubting themselves at some point in time. Um, while they’re at that place. And it, it made it a little bit easier to overcome and also find allies and find support through those moments of imposter syndrome.
Um, yeah, 100%. Thank you guys so much for sharing. Um, big thank you to our panelists here at Theodore and Maria Anesha. Um, and thank you all so much for coming out tonight. I really appreciate it. Um, and this is our July series. Uh, tomorrow we have AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application, um, and on the 27th, we have Applying to College as an International Student.
Um, so thank you so much, everyone. That’s the end of our webinar and I hope everyone has a good night. Bye everyone. Thank you everybody. Good luck. Good luck everyone.