Ever since its founding days over 350 years ago, Harvard has stood as a leader in all aspects of higher education. Here's a look at what makes it "the best of the best."
At the foundation of Harvard's lofty reputation is a liberal arts curriculum taught by some of the world's great scholars. Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize-winner authors teach introductory and Core courses, and all faculty are readily available for students.
Now equally well-known for its professional schools, Harvard originally received recognition as the first and best undergraduate institution in the country. It has long been committed to reforming college curricula and, in fact, the whole elective system began here over a century ago. Today, Harvard maintains its strong commitment to the undergraduate with one of the broadest programs in existence. Students may concentrate in any of 44 fields, including African-American studies, computer science, government, classics, and folklore and mythology. The majority of courses offered at Harvard have fewer than 20 students, and most departments feature a "tutorial" system of teaching and learning. Tutorials are directed study courses in a student's field of concentration, taught either in small groups or individually.
Harvard has a graduation rate of over 97 percent, and over 70 percent of students graduate with honors. Nine out of 10 undergraduates who apply succeed in gaining admission to a medical school, with similar rates for other graduate schools.
Contributing to these figures are first-class facilities like a 12,000,000 volume library that is the largest university library in the world, numerous art and cultural museums, and 25 science/laboratory centers.
While Harvard has long been a leader among universities, it is equally committed to developing leaders among people. Thus, its enrollment is not comprised of 6,700 "geniuses." Instead, the University prides itself on attracting the best all-around young individuals--those with the energy, innovation, and creativity to enliven a classroom.
Some students show unusual academic promise through experiences or achievements in study or research. Others are more "well rounded" and have contributed in many different ways to the lives of their schools or communities. Still others could be called "well lopsided," with demonstrated excellence in one particular endeavor. Some students bring perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances or experiences.
The result is an undergraduate population that comes from every state and many foreign countries, from a diversity of ethnic and economic backgrounds.
Both academically and residentially, Harvard College is fully coeducational. The centers of campus life are the residential houses. The house system, established in 1930, provides a small college atmosphere within the university.
Each house has several faculty members and a staff of residential tutors associated with it, as well as dormitories, dining halls, libraries, intramural athletic teams, and social events. There are 12 residential houses, while a 13th unit, Dudley House, provides a parallel life for the students who live off-campus.
All freshman students live in or next to Harvard Yard. "The Yard" is the center of the university, the hub of Harvard's activity. Resident adult advisers help students explore the academic and non-academic opportunities of their first year. A wide range of programs are designed especially for first-year students--in the arts, intramural athletics, and Freshman Seminars.
Students run nearly 200 organizations and programs on campus. Last year, 80 plays and musicals were produced and directed by students. There are men's, women's, and mixed voiced choruses, plus over half a dozen a cappella groups. Two major orchestras, smaller ensembles, chamber groups, and rock bands also thrive. There are two student newspapers, and numerous political, feminist, ethnic, cultural, and religious journals. A majority of students participate in community service by the time of their graduation, both through the Phillips Brooks House Association and the House and Neighborhood Development (HAND) program.
The position given athletics within the University framework is both idealistic and realistic. Harvard is a member of the Ivy League--with Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. Under the League's founding document, the Presidens' Agreement of 1954, there are no athletic scholarships. Financial aid to students is based solely on need.
This structure has allowed for Harvard teams to compete successfully within the League and on a national level as well. The men's ice hockey team won the NCAA Division One Championship in 1988-89, and the women's lacrosse team captured the NCAA title in 1990. In recent years, the men's lacrosse team, men's and women's tennis teams, field hockey team, men's and women's fencing teams, and men's and women's soccer teams have all qualified for the NCAA playoffs. Harvard's women's swimming and diving team is also a presence at the NCAA Championships and placed 17th at the 1988 competition, when it fashioned eight All-Americans.
The motto "Athletics for All" is also a reality at Harvard. With the introduction of women's golf in 1992, the University sponsors 41 varsity teams, the most of any NCAA school. Knowing this, one shouldn't be surprised that Harvard introduced intercollegiate athletics to the country nearly 150 years ago. The Harvard-Yale crew race, held on August 3, 1852 on Lake Winnepesaukee, was the first college sporting event in America.
Situated along the banks of the Charles River, Harvard's sprawling campus blends the best aspects of suburban and city life. Cambridge and Harvard have grown together, and the University is the largest employer in the city. For many, Cambridge is the ultimate college town, with over two dozen book stores, an endless assortment of restaurants, street entertainers of every kind, 10 music stores, and eight ice cream/frozen yogurt shops.
The Harvard campus also offers numerous outdoor areas for recreation and relaxation for students, and there is complete and easy access to the historic city of Boston. The downtown Boston area--which is less than 15 minutes from Harvard Square by way of public transportation--allows students to find a world of history, fine dining, entertainment, museums, and sports that few cities can match.