Harvard Through the Years: Reflections from my First Year to Senior Year

Category Student Voices


Kathleen, HFGP Coordinator
Kathleen Class of '24
Authored on November 08, 2023


I recently had a conversation with my department advisor, who I meet with every semester to choose my classes. He mentioned that this would be our last meeting, and at first, I thought he meant he was leaving the department—until I realized that I was the one who was leaving—I'd be graduating next semester!

Senior year honestly feels like one long Sunday—and the “senior scaries” are very real. Kudos to those who already have job offers lined up for post-graduate life, but I’m sure many of my fellow seniors are like me and are still scratching their heads at the idea of what they want to do after college. On top of that, having to think about “where will I live” or “what will I eat every day” can be scary.  

So, to avoid thinking of these intimidating questions, I thought I’d take a little “blast to the past” and share some of my favorite life lessons I’ve learned throughout my years at Harvard.  

First Year: College is not like movies :(

Everyone enters college with certain ideas of what it will be like. Maybe your perception of college was formed by watching “day in my life” videos on YouTube, scrolling through Bama Rush TikTok, or from watching Pitch Perfect in middle school. You think you're ready for it all.

I thought the same! Until March 2020.

Oh no, you’re probably thinking to yourself, another whiny Class of 2020 high school senior is about to complain to me about why they suffered the most from the pandemic compared to everyone else.

While I will choose to spare your ears (eyes?) for now, I want you to realize that regardless of what might happen, your first year of college will definitely be one thing: unpredictable. That's the beauty of it. Take me for example—never did I think I would be taking my spring semester college classes in the basement of a random AirBnB, making friends on 3 AM Zoom calls over math homework, or gossiping about who saw who walking along the river late at night; but there we were, doing it anyway.

Embrace the randomness.

A collage of two images, side by side. The left image is of a girl smiling at herself on Zoom holding a phone in front of her face. The right image is of a girl's leg and laptop on a bed in her dorm room.

Sophomore Year: You actually have to study in college?

I’ve talked about this in my past blogs, but sophomore year hit me like a truck (academically). I genuinely don’t think I had truly studied in my life until I took CHEM 17 (Organic Chemistry) that fall semester. Many all-nighters were had. Many Red Bulls were consumed.

Talking to friends who were in different concentrations (majors), it seemed that I wasn't alone. Sophomore year can get academically tough for a lot of people—you’ve passed the introductory courses in your first year, and now classes can start to ramp up.  

My advice: forget about the grades or GPA. Focus on yourself and your well-being. I think sophomore year tricks you into thinking that now that you’re no longer a first-year, you know everything, but in reality, you don’t just yet. And this is perfectly okay—this just means you still have stuff to learn and ways to grow (which are both good things!). I learned so much more about myself after my sophomore year, and came away with invaluable accountability and time management skills that I will now cherish in my adult life. You will too!

A collage of two images, side by side. The left image is a picture of lecture notes on an iPad with the caption "he spoke facts" with the red heartbreak emoji. This is in reference to the slide on the iPad that is a meme about studying the Krebs cycle. The right image is a picture of an iPad and laptop at a desk.

Junior Year: You have a life outside of school, and sometimes that life can affect your focus in school.

In my junior year, I had a few personal things happen to me (I was eating Ben & Jerry’s from the tub and binging rom coms, if that sounds familiar) and suddenly, I could no longer find the energy to go to class or finish my assignments. Sometimes, we can’t control what happens to us in our personal lives, but what we can do is heal. And rely on our support systems for help to do that!

I used my school’s counseling services during my junior year—it was the first time I had sought help from someone other than a friend or family member, and I'm so thankful I did. Taking that first step is scary, but there is no better feeling than realizing there are others out there who want to support you. You're never alone, I learned.

I also deepened my friendships in a way that I didn’t think was possible before my junior year. I will eternally be grateful to the people who were in my life during this time, and who encouraged me to pursue my own happiness. With their support, I took up running, and began my well-needed ~healing journey~.

If you find yourself struggling through a personal situation—I'm rooting for you. 

A collage of four images. The left image shows four hot chocolate drinks. The top right image is a group of girls posing together in exercise clothes. The middle right image is of two girls holding peace signs and smiling in front of balloons that say "Happy Birthday." The bottom right image is of a girl taking a mirror selfie in her dorm room holding a race bib number and smiling.

Senior Year: Wow, I guess I really did change a lot during college.

I can’t emphasize enough just how much you’ll grow over these four short years. It won’t really hit you until you stop in the middle of your walk to classes and think about how this could be one of the last times in your life you'll make this walk as a college student.

You’ll realize that the person who first stepped foot on this campus in your first year is someone who doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s you, a seasoned senior with the wisdom of three and a half years behind you, running away from the turkeys because they somehow get more aggressive every year.

College is an interesting time. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

A girl taking a 0.5 picture from a San Francisco cable car, wearing sunglasses and smiling.


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Kathleen Class of '24

Hello! My name is Kathleen, and I’m a senior concentrating in Molecular and Cellular Biology on the pre-med track. I’m currently living in Mather House (the best house!), but growing up I lived in both the beautiful states of Montana and Texas

Kathleen, HFGP Coordinator