Vibrant’ is the first word that comes to Disha Verma’s mind when she thinks of Harvard University. As she takes a break from her lecture to talk about campus life, one can gauge her excitement at being a part of the 20,000-strong student community at one of the world’s top universities.
According to Verma, one of the deans here once said that they accept students not because of what they’ve done, rather what they will do. “I think what’s important is the vision and direction they see in you for the future, not just what you’ve done to pursue it so far. The first few days here were like a dream. We were ridiculously busy, with an overwhelming number of activities. I barely got any sleep! We were introduced to all that Harvard has to offer and were also shown around the city, the campus and introduced to people from every part of the world,” says Verma, who is studying economics and governance.
In her first year at the world’s second best university (as per the recently released QS World University rankings), Verma has been bowled over by the camaraderie and the location of the campus. “It’s right in the centre of Cambridge, about 10 minutes from Boston, and Harvard Square is a bustling place full of restaurants, shops, students and people from every corner of the world,” says Verma.
As freshers, students live in one of the dormitories in Harvard Yard, a prime location, and eat in the historic and picturesque Annenberg dining hall. At the end of their first year at the varsity, students are placed in one of the 12 houses on campus.
The oldest institution of higher education in the US has more than 450 student groups, which is a huge factor in student life. “There’s an impossible range of activities to choose from; as a fresher, one of my toughest challenges is trying to cut down the list of activities I want to be in less than 10! Everyone here is extremely passionate about everything from academics, activities or sports, which can motivate you to do your best” she adds.
Verma is taking four classes this semester and so far it’s been wonderful. “We’re taught through a mix of lectures, discussion groups, reading, writing, video and presentations and it’s a lot more conducive to learning. I have two lecture classes and two classes with less than 15 people, so I get to learn in different settings.
In both however, we’re encouraged to form our own ideas, analyse given information and explore fields of interest. It’s a truly unique experience to be taught by world famous lawyers, economists and Nobel Prize winners, and to be able to talk to them one on one or in a small class setting. My professors are brilliant and I love studying with other people who truly want to learn and who inspire me every day,” says Verma.
The co-curricular activities conducted for students at the university are also the best. Whatever you’re interested in, you’ll find a group for it. “There's everything from politics and business groups to jazz and ballroom dance, religion and sports to research and theatre, singing and comedy groups to arts and yoga, and even a bell-ringing society. Harvard students are very passionate about their extra-curriculars and they form a huge part of student life,” she says. With crimson being the official Harvard colour, a number of clubs have crimson in their titles. One example is the The Harvard Crimson, which is the only breakfast-table daily newspaper in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
What about the students at the university? If Verma had to to pick, she’d say that the best thing she likes about Harvard is its students. “People here are passionate, intelligent, motivated and eager to make a difference. The students here come from every corner of the world; some of my closest friends are from Sweden, Macedonia, Germany, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and different ends of the US,” says Verma.
Ultimately, what sets Harvard apart are the people and the opportunities. From the professors to the students, the sheer mental intellect one can find here, coupled with passion and determination, are what make Harvard the university it is. Students get great support from the faculty, which is “arguably the best in the world” and comprises renowned economists, scientists, authors and lawyers. The evaluation process for students is similar to the rest of the US. “They look at a student not just
in terms of his report card, but as a whole, factoring in personality, extra-curricular achievement etc. in addition to academics. It’s extremely comprehensive and designed to encourage all-round growth. Harvard students have among the highest starting salaries in the world. The best firms in every field come to campus to recruit,” she concludes.