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Decoding "Harvard-Speak"

Hey everyone,

I’m Emily, a rising sophomore here at Harvard from Chapel Hill, NC. I’m happy to be spending this summer working with the admissions office as a Harvard College Connection Recruiter, and part of that work will be to put up regular blog posts over the course of the summer about my experience as a Harvard student! Now that I’ve introduced myself a little bit (and you can read my full bio here for more info about what I do around campus), I’m gonna get onto the good stuff.

For my first blog post I thought I’d talk about something that can be really confusing for people visiting Harvard and even sometimes for students here–“Harvard Speak.” As with any college, Harvard has some unique terms that can be hard to understand before you’re immersed in the culture on campus–I’m going to decode some of them here!

Concentration: major (no different than any other college, just a different term)

Secondary: minor (again, just called something different here)

Comp: In order to join some extracurricular activities on campus, such as the student newspaper The Crimson, students have to “comp” them. This is basically a process where they submit the initial application or express interest, and then spend a semester or so going through rounds of cuts. If you make it to the end of the semester without getting cut, you’re a part of the activity! I know it sounds intimidating, but don’t worry, comping isn’t as hard as it sounds, and there are plenty of great activities on campus that you can join without comping.

Entryway: Within a freshman dorm, all the people who physically enter the building from the same door are members of the same entryway. This is usually 20-30 students, and they all become like one big family by the end of the year.  

My entryway being normal

My entryway being dysfunctional and adorable! I love these people

PAF: Peer Advising Fellow. These are sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are assigned to freshmen by entryway (usually about 3 PAFs per entryway and while each freshman is assigned one, they can go to any of the PAFs in their entryway with any concerns or questions) in order to help advise them on any questions they might have. PAFs are great resources because they’re fellow students so they’ve had to figure out all their tips and tricks themselves. Here’s a picture of the PAFs from my entryway being adorable and perfect at a puppy study break!  (They literally brought in puppies for us to play with–it doesn’t get any better than that.)

The cutest PAFs ever!

Proctor: Proctors are kind of like RAs at most schools, except that they’ve all graduated college and are affiliated with Harvard University in some way–a lot are students at the various grad schools. They live in entryways with freshman and are great people to go to with ANY sort of question. My proctor, Josh, was hugely helpful with everything from social to academic concerns. They also throw weekly study breaks for students to hang out with their entryways, de-stress, and eat free food.

Dorm vs. house: Houses and dorms are both dormitories where students live on campus. The only difference is that freshmen live in dorms and upperclassmen live in houses. The houses are probably bigger than you’re picturing, as they’re home to 350-500 students.

:My freshman dorm, Pennypacker

My upperclass house (the best house), Currier

Currier again

More Currier! So pretty, right?

Tutor: Despite what the name suggests, tutors don’t actually help students with their homework (although they can). Tutors are kind of like proctors, except they live in upperclass houses. All the tutors are resources for any student in their house, but they all also have one specific area of expertise, such as pre-law or pre-med.

HoCo: House Committee! Every house has a HoCo that plans fun social events and promotes house pride throughout the year. Here are a couple of pictures of Currier HoCo doing what they do best. So you’ll understand the pictures, I should probably tell you that Currier has the greatest and most hilarious house mascot ever, the tree, so our house color is green and our house motto is “timete arborem” or “fear the tree” in Latin.

Currier House mascot--timete arborem!

So much house spirit!

The Quad: The Radcliffe Quadrangle, more commonly known as The Quad, is home to three houses at Harvard: Pforzheimer (Pfoho), Cabot, and Currier (the best house). The Quad is in a different direction from many of the other upperclass houses, located smack-dab in the middle between Harvard Square and Porter Square. In addition to the quad houses, it’s home to the SOCH, or Student Organization Center at Hilles, which is basically a large, nice student center with pool tables, TVs, and the like. The quad also has a beautiful lawn where students go to hangout and study during nice weather. People like myself who live in quad houses are often called Quadlings.

The quad lawn

Brain Break: All the dining halls on campus (Annenberg Hall for the freshmen and one in each house) open around 9pm for late night dining, which is called brain break!

TF: Teaching Fellow–TFs are basically like TAs. If a class is bigger than 36 students, it’ll break down to smaller groups and meet once a week in addition to the professor’s lecture to discuss content and so students can ask questions–TFs lead these smaller discussions. They’re usually grad students in the department, and they’re great academic resources. I’m really close with a few of my TFs from this past year!

Section: The smaller groups lead by TFs are called sections. I know some of my friends at other schools were confused by this because sections are called recitations at a few other places.

Freshman Pre-orientation Programs: Before upperclass students arrive on campus, there are some great pre-orientation programs that only incoming freshman can take advantage of. I have friends who participated in and loved each of these programs, but I thought I’d talk about them because they can be easy to mix up.

FIP: Freshman International Program–this is a great way for international students to learn a little more about the culture here in the US, and especially at Harvard, as well as to connect with other students from abroad.

FAP: Freshman Arts Program–kind of self explanatory. The students in FAP spend all week doing whichever art they’re passionate about and put on a show at the end of the week–so fun!

FUP: Freshman Urban Program–these students do community service work near campus. FUP, along with FIP and FAP, house students on-campus, so it’s a great way to get to know your way around Harvard a little bit before Opening Days.

FOP: Freshman Outdoor Program–students travel to other parts of New England and go backpacking in groups of 6-10 students. This is a great way to get to know a few people very well before you get on campus.

Opening Days: Harvard’s orientation week for freshmen–they’re on campus for a week before classes start getting to know the campus, their entryway, and their roommates. There are a ton of fun freshman-only events, so it’s a great time and definitely eases the transition to college. Opening Days happen after pre-orientation programs and before classes begin.

My freshman roommates and me all dressed up for Convocation during Opening Days!

I hope that was helpful in understanding more about Harvard life!


Comments (4)

on June 18, 2018 am30 10:59

Thats nice Emily!!!

on June 18, 2018 am30 10:59

Nice post. I am impressed! Extremely useful information

on June 18, 2018 am30 10:59

I wasn’t sure whether minors & majors were the same as secondaries and concentrations so this was very helpful! Thank you!

on June 18, 2018 am30 10:59

muito bom!!!

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