Being clever and one step ahead, the typical Harvard student probably answered many a question in class, asked many a question, and was generally what most would term a “smarty pants.”
However, drop said newly admitted student into a class of 1500+ other really smart newly admitted kids and smarter, older, maybe wiser upperclassmen, and the game changes. Life Sciences 1a fills Sanders Theater, and no one likes that kid who asks the irrelevant make-me-look-smart questions at the end of lecture.
If you’re among smart people and you’re smart yourself, keep your attitude in check to gain respect from your peers.
1) You’re smart, we get it.
Mistake number 1 of freshmen (even more so, insecure pre-frosh) is incessantly trying to prove to the world (and themselves) that they are smart enough to be at Harvard.
Don’t do the following:
- Ask a slew of tangential questions of the professor in the middle of a large lecture
- Answer EVERY question that a professor asks in a smaller classroom setting
- Brag about how you’re worldly and experienced because you or your mom went to Tanzania (this happens, I promise you)
- Say you already took the class in high school but just want an easy course load (you’re just wasting your time and flaunting the resources of your high school system rather than any merit of your own)
- Brag about your SAT/ACT/GPA (No one cares. Except for recruiters, but that’s because they don’t know better.)
- Facebook Mankiw (J/k, you should Facebook him. It’s the fourth Harvard tradition.)
2) We assume you’re smart until proven otherwise
Harvard’s admissions officers are generally pretty good at accepting smart kids. Therefore, we assume that any Harvard student we meet will be smart. There honestly is no need to try to prove how smart you are.
Just make sure you don’t prove how dumb you are. With so many smart kids in a rather small place, if you’re BS-ing, others will know it and call you out on it. So, if the extent of your knowledge about Zanzibar is a five second skim of Wikipedia, feel free to offer your “knowledge” plus “citations” (disclaimer), but do step aside from the expert role if someone actually lived in Zanzibar for 3 years.
You should still try to offer your thoughts and opinions on subjects that you aren’t completely familiar with. However, just watch your presentation style. If you aren’t an expert, don’t try to SOUND like an expert.
We may not know everything, but we can spot people who mistakenly think they do fairly easily.
3) Do not rely on your high school background as a crutch
One of the most remarkable trends you will notice is that most Harvard kids are capable beyond capable. Give them a good textbook, stick a good professor in front of them, and by golly — they will learn.
So, keep this in mind. Some may enter Harvard having years of private-schooling in the sciences — kudos to them — but this does NOT mean they are necessarily smarter or better than those who enter Harvard from a shoddy public school system.
Yes, Marta may need a crash course on the basics of photosynthesis, but be nice to her if she’s trying her best to catch up to kids who have been winning science fairs since they can walk.
There’s going to be a steep learning curve for those from less academically privileged backgrounds. For those who are academically ahead of the game, keep any arrogance to yourself. If they had the chance, they would be where you are.
Besides, for the middle 75% of the cases, that difference in ability and knowledge between the privileged and less so disappears entering junior year at the latest. Remember, if Harvard accepts you, Harvard trusts you can succeed academically.
4) Harvard is also an institution of peers
So why should you care so much about what Bob, Mary and Stu think? Who cares if they think you’re a smarty pants when a famous professor wants to lick your boots?
Your peers are important because they will be the leaders of the future. Yes, the current leaders will probably stay the leaders, but a bunch of new groovers and shakers will be coming out of your Harvard peer group.
While you shouldn’t turn the Harvard peer networking experience into a strategic game, you don’t necessarily want the next CEO of Walmart to remember you as That Annoying Person in O-Chem if you’re the vendor representative for Sony.
5) Don’t over-talk
Yes, let people know about yourself, but if you’re dominating 75% of the conversation, you’re probably incurring some ill-will. Ask questions. People like to talk and be “interviewed.” And if people STILL aren’t all that interesting, chances are, you’re not asking the right questions.
6) Don’t be THAT HARVARD boy or girl
Once people know you go to Harvard, you become automatically branded as Harvard. People will bring in their own pre-conceived notions about how you’re old money, preppy, dorky, nerdy, awkward and arrogant.
While you, as a Harvard kid, are under no obligation to act a certain way, if you end up acting like a self-absorbed moron, it reflects badly on the entire school.
However much you may curse Harvard when you’re at Harvard, you eventually realize that a large bit of power that Harvard wields comes from its brand management — so everything from maintaining brick red freshmen dorms to being the trend setter in higher education.
Similarly, each Harvard kid understands that he or she is a little bit of a brand representative. There’s this collective consciousness that the more we promote Harvard and the more others promote Harvard, the better ALL Harvard kids/alumni look to outsiders.
Not that Harvard ain’t like, totally chill already, but there’s this feeling that we’re all in the same Harvard boat together. Because the name is OUT there, any somewhat major goof-up just reflects much more badly than it would for another school.
I mean, who would care if Jessica Simpson thinks that tuna is chicken were it not for her show?