Coming to Harvard, I was only vaguely aware of the housing system.
I knew that there were 12 upperclassmen houses in which sophomores, juniors, and seniors lived, but that was basically it. I didn’t know much about “blocking,” or about the kind of community the Houses foster. Since I think many prospective students (and even Harvard freshmen) have questions about our housing system, I’ve decided to answer some of the most salient ones.
Q: What are the Houses?
A: There are 12 upperclassmen Houses: nine are located between Harvard Square and the Charles River, and three are located about 15 minutes away from the Square, in an area called the Radcliffe Quadrangle (aka the Quad). The nine River Houses are named Eliot, Kirkland, Winthrop, Dunster, Mather, Leverett, Quincy, Adams, and Lowell; the three Quad Houses are named Pfohozeimer, Currier, and Cabot.
Each House literally houses about 350 undergraduates, and each features its own dining hall, common spaces, and library (most Houses also have a gym, and some have special rooms, like Eliot’s darkroom or Mather’s pottery room).
Q: What’s the blocking process like?
A: Blocking groups are self-selected groups of one to eight freshmen who are placed into the same House come Housing Day in the spring. “Blockmates” don’t necessarily have to room together once they’re sophomores (in which case they’ll “float” and find other roommates in the House), but many certainly do end up rooming together.
Blocking groups tend to start forming after winter break during freshman year, and can be a stressful process for some. However, everything works itself out in the end. I blocked with six other girls (I hadn’t lived with any of them prior to this year, but it’s worked out so great!).
Q: And what’s “linking”?
A: Blocking groups can “link” with one other blocking group, which means that the two blocking groups will be placed in the same “House neighborhood” (the 12 houses are broken into four neighborhoods depending on proximity - for example, all the Quad houses are one neighborhood, while Dunster, Mather, and Leverett are another).
Q: Is getting assigned a house like “sorting” in Harry Potter?
A: Somewhat. Throughout February, the “housing gods” will sort blocking groups randomly into one of the 12 houses. This process, at one time, wasn’t randomized, which meant that houses tended to harbor certain reputations. Today, all houses are diverse because of the randomized housing process. There’s nothing anyone can do to be put in Eliot or Dunster, for example; it’s simply the luck of the draw.
Q: What is Housing Day?
A: Only the best day of the year. This is when all freshman blocking groups find out which house they’ve been assigned. The day starts early, when representatives from each house begin chanting and dancing in the Yard. Around 9 a.m., groups of upperclassmen from each house receive the room numbers of certain blocking groups, and rush into the room, chanting their house name. The rest of the day is filled with house pride activities - you get house t-shirts, are invited to dinner at the house, and are able to tour the house, meet upperclassmen, and meet the other freshmen assigned to your house.
Q: What’s the best House?
A: As a Dunster resident, I obviously have to say Dunster. But in all seriousness, as much as I absolutely adore Dunster, every House has its unique pros and cons. If one House is in a great location, chances are its rooms aren’t quite as nice as some others, for example. Everyone I’ve met at Harvard has come to love their House, no matter its reputation as a “good” or “bad” house.
Q: What’s being in a House really like?
A: The best thing in the world. And I'm not kidding. Houses, I think, are one of the most integral aspects of Harvard. The fact that the community is so small allows you to get to know everyone in the house - sophomores, juniors, and seniors. It means that you get the tiny liberal arts college feel within a medium-sized university. We also have House Masters, a professor-couple, who act as stand-in parents while we’re here. There are House-specific bonding activities, like sophomore outings, Stein Clubs (gatherings with food and music, usually on Fridays), and Master Open Houses.
Being a sophomore in Dunster has been an amazing experience this year. Currently, our House is being renovated, so we’re all living in swing housing. This has actually proved to be a blessing - all of the Dunster sophomores are living in a renovated hotel (think Suite Life of Zack and Cody), and we’ve all bonded an insane amount over the past three months. We see each other at every meal, hang out and study together, and I couldn’t be happier to have Dunster House to call home.