How to Prepare for Your Freshmen Year

Harvard is an overwhelming experience. Every incoming first year will receive a packet of ALL the events occurring during the first two weeks of school. It will be packed with events — some mandatory, others highly recommended, and way too many of them will involve extracurriculars.

You’ll hopefully meet everyone in your entryway, and then everyone at every table you sit at in Annenberg. You will forget everyone’s name, maybe even your own. You’ll probably shop at The Coop and get ripped off, talk to advisers who tell you everything you already know, and receive more course syllabi than you’d actually like to sit and read through.

Here are a few tips that I found helped me out those first few months as a freshmen.

1) Get to know Harvard before getting to Harvard

No one wants to be flipping through the Handbook during their first week. So, do that in the summer, when you’re done watching that third episode of 30 Minute Meals. You want to get a sense of what is expected of you as a Harvard student, what can get you in trouble, and where to find resources if you need them.

2) Familiarize yourself with the extracurricular scene

They always tell you to go to the grocery store with a shopping list. Similarly, go to Harvard with a familiarization of some of the clubs/organizations on campus that you would like to know more about. This doesn’t commit you to anything, but it allows you to get a sense of what’s what and why we toss around acronyms like AAA, CSA, HCCG etc.

And when you do go to that HUGE extracurriculars fair. Don’t feel pressured to put your email address on AADT’s sign up sheet if you have no interest in dancing. Just say “No thank you, maybe later” and move on.

Also, do explore other options not on your grocery list. You never know what you might come across. A scientific publication may be in dire need of illustrators.

3) Come up with a few ice-breaker, conversation-continue-er questions.

You start meeting people, and these end up being in your standard repetoire of questions:

  • What is your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • Where do you live?
  • What are you interested in studying?
  • What do you think about Harvard?

And the above repetoire gets old FAST because everyone is going from the same repetoire. Instead think of appropriate questions like:

  • See any good movies recently?
  • Did you hear about XYZ news event/incident/whatnot?
  • Do you have any siblings?
  • How are you going to approach shopping period?
  • Did you hear about any good classes?
  • What is XYZ place like?
  • What did you get on your SAT scores? (J/K! Don’t ask this. No one cares anymore and generally won’t care to tell you.)

4) Don’t buy anything at The Coop

It’s over-priced. Period.

You’ll fall into that freshmen lull like I did. After shopping period, you just want to get your books on your desk and not have to worry about being behind in class while waiting for book shipments. It is also really really easy to organize “Let’s go to The Coop” trips with other freshmen, addictingly so.

BUT — if you can, please check out or (both of which I have used successfully) or a number of other websites that people will throw out at you.

Sometimes, if you get an international version or a paperback version AND you have one or two day shipping, it will be cheaper than the full retail price The Coop is asking you to pay. (Saving money = good.)

Obviously, a few caveats:

  • Ask if there is a “right” version? Some professors really want you to get a specific edition and version of a textbook, or a specific translation with a specific editor. In most cases, the international version of the same edition is MORE than sufficient. But do check to make sure.
  • Jot down ISBN numbers and prices secretly at The Coop. We had an incident a while back when a few students had the cops called on them because they were jotting down ISBN numbers! (Granted, they were trying to jot down nearly every single ISBN number in the store, and the police came and was like, Hey Coop, you’re wasting my time!) So, do this somewhat discretely. And if anyone hassles you, do NOT give ground. The Coop does not have to ask you to leave. It does not have proprietary information or whatnot over the ISBN numbers of the books it carries.
  • Waiting for your books is a drag. But, ALL classes should have books on reserve. Your course syllabus should tell you, and ask if it doesn’t. So, it’s sort of lame that you have to read Ten Principles of Economics for the first week in a library, but the first few chapters are generally easier than normal.
  • Sometimes The Coop is cheaper! So, be sure to price shop. (Sometimes The Coop is the ONLY place that offers it! Aka, language class books.)
  • Consider your syllabus. You might try a diversified approach of shopping. Say you’re in a lit. class. Chances are you’re going to need two or three books immediately. You might want to get these at The Coop. But! you can get the rest online because you can wait for the shipping.
  • If you know what you’re going to take, order before classes start. This is obvious. :)

5) More importantly, RELAX.

MOST people are new and don’t know a single person in Harvard or their incoming class. This is okay. Just meet and talk to people. Be friendly. Smile. Be considerate. You’ll get lost. This is okay too. Just ask anyone, carry around your map (as tell-tale as that is, upperclassmen are v. willing to help anyone who looks like a lost freshmen).

(Don’t talk about SAT scores or brag about the Nobel Prize you just won. You all got accepted. You’re all great. Now get to learn who people are.)

Also — remember that Harvard’s greatest asset are its people, especially the students. While you are tempted to take LS 1a, Chem 17, Math 25 and CS50 because you want to be a super star freshman!, freshmen fall is the time to get to know people.

Not that you won’t meet cool people freshmen spring, but most friendships entering sophomore year end up solidifying in freshmen fall. (And then you get that whole new round of friendships each time you join a new organization and when you enter house life.

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1 Response to “How to Prepare for Your Freshmen Year”

  1. 1 Hayden

    Thanks a lot! This will be useful when I finally matriculate this fall.

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