What advice would have been useful for me to take before I entered college?
My college roommate’s little brother is entering Harvard next year. As a responsible big sister, she’s asked our friends what advice we could offer him. My answer boiled down to a few points that I realized are true about life as well.
1. People matter. Talk to EVERYONE. Classmates, professors, janitors, presidents, lecturers, museum curators, the people in the kitchen (very important for quality of life), campus police, people sitting next to you. Introduce yourself and ask them how their day is. Remember their names or something they find interesting about themselves. Share your dreams (your actual dreams, not what sounds nice to people) and listen to theirs. It’ll go a long way in making you feel comfortable and at home on campus. There’s something interesting about everyone, and having a strong sense of community will lend you confidence on bad days when you’re trudging around the Yard.
2. “Requirements” don’t matter as much as you think. Go for what you want. Don’t listen to anyone telling you what the “rules” or “usual” path someone follows through a concentration or requirement fulfillment are. You can petition your profs, tutors, proctors, etc. for almost anything, so long as you show you are prepared, you’ve done your research, and they won’t have to babysit you. Go for what you want, not what you think you ought to do or might find “useful” in the future, because Harvard’s going to give you great peers and a great analytical skillset, so whatever you’re passionate about, you’re going to be awesome at it regardless of what “useful” classes you didn’t take.
3. Regardless of authority or tenure, people who know you more intimately can be more helpful. Professors make the class, but sometimes, for larger classes like government, TFs make the class. Many of the TFs in gov’t and law have awesome careers elsewhere; get to know them if you can, and they can hook you up with great gigs if they see you’re passionate. College gives you a wild menagerie of options–sometimes you’ll need direction more than you’ll need “contacts.”
4. Seek help. Find a mentor, any mentor. Doesn’t have to be in your concentration, year, hall, House, class, whatever. Just find someone you can talk to, who can help you grow or sift through your whirlwind of experiences.
5. Take the time to indulge in curiosity. Shop classes you’re interested in but probably aren’t or won’t take because you don’t have enough interest or time. Grab the syllabi and check out the assigned list of readings, and if you’re intrigued, go and read the books to give yourself a taste.
Good luck to all the prefroshies, and to the rest of us.