Sleep. Eat three meals a day. Get outside the “Harvard bubble.” Try new things. And remember, professors are people too. Sounds easy enough, right?
As the Class of ’17 heads for campus on move-in day Monday, faculty, fellow students, and administrators have some advice for the new freshmen.
“Experiment, take intellectual risks, break the mold by doing things you haven’t done before,” said Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture. “Also, seek advice, but don’t feel obliged to take it.”
The freshmen, many of them with their parents’ help, will move into the dorms in and around the Yard on Monday, and then spend the next several days exploring the campus and the many opportunities that lie ahead of them before classes start the following week. They also will begin to get to know their roommates and classmates.
Here are some transitional tips from those who already know Harvard:
“When I first came to campus, my first concern was: Will I make friends, and who will I be friends with? I questioned if I was smart enough to be here. And I was very curious about what the year would bring,” said Jayshlyn Acevedo, a senior. “Just relax. The schedule over the first few days is created with thought and detail so that most of the questions you have as a freshman will be answered by the time the week is over.”
Dean of Freshman Thomas Dingman said Acevedo’s initial reaction is common since this can be an exciting yet anxious time for freshmen.
“Just remember that everyone is in the same boat. No one knows where anything is. You are not the only one,” Dingman said. “I also think it is great practice to plunk down next to someone at Annenberg (Hall) you don’t know very well and continue that practice throughout the year.”
Harvard provides a wealth of opportunities both in and out of the classroom, which interim Dean of Harvard College Donald Pfister said could seem overwhelming, but shouldn’t be.
“The richness of the community can have the potential to draw them into too many things — this sense that if they don’t do all of these extracurriculars they’re falling behind. I think the message is find what it is you want to do and do it well,” said Pfister, the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany. “I do think stepping back and relaxing and developing your own pace is a big part of it.”
Remember to sleep, eat, and exercise
Anya Bassett, a lecturer on social studies, advises freshmen. She stresses the basics of health and wellness when she meets with them.
“For busy Harvard freshmen, sleep and exercise are often the first things to go, and they are so important to students’ balance,” Bassett said. “When I meet with my freshmen advisees, I ask them to keep track of how much they are sleeping, and I strongly encourage them to exercise regularly.”
Krystal Ortiz, a junior, said the beginning of the semester is a time for freshmen to become acclimated to their new environment, but then the pace quickens.
“In about the third week, things really start to pick up. You need to remember to take care of yourself and pay attention to the signals your body is giving you,” she said. “One of the biggest questions in every freshman’s mind is, ‘How did I get in here?’ It is important to recognize that everyone is here for a reason, and yes, you do belong here.”
Break the Harvard bubble
Those who have been at Harvard for a while agree that the close proximity to Boston provides an unusually broad opportunity for exploration.
“The T is so easy to use, you can be in Boston in minutes, or you can bike five miles and be anywhere you need to be,” said Acevedo. “Boston is a beautiful city, and there is so much to do and explore. Or you can join a service organization and really get involved in the community that surrounds Harvard.”
Many incoming freshmen have told Dingman they chose Harvard over other Ivy League schools because of its location across the river from Boston.
“I think getting out of the Harvard bubble is great advice. There are tremendous opportunities to explore in Boston,” Dingman said.
“The extension outside of the classroom is really what Harvard is about. This holistic environment will create the possibilities for you and enable you to practice what you learn in the classroom,” said Acevedo. “Have an open mind about all aspects of the campus when you come here. Take everything in so you can decide what it is you want to do. You could take a class for fun that becomes your passion.”
Harvard is an academic experience, but Dingman stressed that freshmen — and all Harvard students — need to ensure they have a healthy social life as well.
“Fun matters,” said Dingman. “The more they can take meaningful breaks, the more successful they will be. We know the people who do best are doing things outside of the classroom.”
Professors are people too
Ortiz said freshmen shouldn’t be apprehensive about approaching professors to ask questions or seek help. “The faculty want to interact with students; they want you to ask questions,” she said.
Hamburger and Melissa Franklin, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, both said that professors are people too.
“But don’t call your professor ‘dude,’ ” Franklin suggested.
“Don’t be afraid to knock on your professor’s door. We want to talk to you,” said Hamburger. “And most importantly, don’t focus on success. Focus on finding a vocation.”
It will be over quickly
Pfister, a former House master and member of the Harvard faculty for nearly 40 years, has taught and interacted with thousands of students. He said to remember that freshmen won’t be freshmen for long.
“We always say, ‘Today you’re here as freshmen, and tomorrow you’ll be at Commencement.’ It may feel like an eternity, but it will be over quickly, so enjoy it and make the most of it.”
Read more advice and share your own for Harvard’s incoming freshmen on Twitter using #Harvard2017.