During my first few weeks as a Harvard student, I came upon a realization – my preconceptions were true. Harvard is hard.
This phrase became my new saying – with challenging multivariable calculus concepts, research papers and midterms coming up, my parents were asking how I was doing. Well, Harvard is hard, I would say with a smile. The reason I could say this with a smile was largely because I knew I was not alone – not only were there many relatable first-year students in my classes, but Harvard has countless resources to support its students.
The academic transition from high school to college causes many incoming first-years to feel nervous, and I was no exception. As the summer came to a close and the beginning of college approached, I began thinking more and more about Harvard and how best to manage the workload associated with my new courses. Should I change the way I take notes? How do I navigate my academic schedule with an increased amount of free time in college? Where do I turn if I don’t understand a concept? Am I cut out for Harvard?
While Harvard is indeed challenging, when the time came to actually start classes, I was pleasantly surprised at the faculty's, teaching staff's and advisors' collaborative, supportive and down-to-earth nature. Looking back on my first semester, I owe a lot of my success to the vast amount of academic resources Harvard offers - even remotely. In fact, the sheer number of these can feel a little overwhelming if you try to take advantage of all of them. Because of this, I hope to share a few of the academic resources I have found most helpful during my first semester at Harvard:
Academic Resource Center (ARC)
Life coaching - but for academics! The Academic Resource Center supports students by giving tips on a range of topics from note-taking to time management and test anxiety. I was first introduced to the ARC through their First-Year Fridays series over the summer before I officially started Harvard. These presentations were led by academic coaches at Harvard designed to introduce the incoming first-years to academic life at Harvard. It was through these summer workshops that I decided to meet with an ARC coach before the start of classes. A conversation with a coach that was meant to discuss my note-taking style ended up including broader advice on course recommendations and essay writing. The ARC offers a wide range of academic support, and I have become a regular in their accountability group, one-on-one coaching, and other workshops.
Peer tutoring offers the opportunity for undergraduate students to be tutored by other undergraduate students who have taken the same course in the past, and, even though peer tutoring is through the ARC, I thought it should have its own section. In today’s world, I feel like tutoring, and asking for help in general, can sometimes get a bad rap. I have no shame in asking for help, and tutoring is not just for students who are struggling academically. While I definitely have signed up for tutoring to help cover a concept which confused me, I also use tutoring as a general opportunity to study, reviewing practice tests and talking over concepts with students who have taken the class before. Peer tutoring at Harvard has never been intimidating for me, and it is very easy to sign up for a tutoring session.
As I said earlier, I have no shame in asking for help, and I actually include office hours in my weekly academic schedule along with my classes. Office hours are designated times throughout the week that professors and teaching fellows (graduate students who aid in teaching a course) set aside for undergraduates to visit. If I am unable to attend the office hours of my professors or teaching fellow in Life Sciences 1B, an integrated course on genetics, genomics, and evolution that I am currently taking, there are over 40 hours worth of office hours offered by other teaching fellows that I can go to with questions. Office hours are not only a way to ask course and content questions, though; they are also a great chance to get to know a professor and their research interests, receive career advice, and discuss research opportunities.
I feel like a huge misconception about Harvard is that it is a super competitive place where everyone works by themselves and never asks for help or collaborates with peers. My first semester could not have been more different from that. In many scenarios, Harvard actually encourages students to collaborate. P-set (“problem set," Harvard’s lingo for homework in STEM classes) groups are a great example. At the start of each semester, it is not out of the ordinary to get a message from a friend or see a message in a group chat asking if any fellow students would like to form a p-set group for a particular course. Not only are p-set groups a source of accountability - they also help me to feel confident about my learning by bouncing ideas off of classmates.
I hope these reflections helped to shed light on some academic resources available at Harvard. As you walk away from reading this, please remember one thing – while Harvard is a challenging place, there is incredible support to help!