I can only speak for Harvard College. Harvard is a very extreme place. You go there and everyone is extremely smart, extremely driven, extremely focused on attaining their goals. It is so extreme that it can become scary sometimes. When you have a bunch of people with high intelligence, but who are not necessarily mature or moral, you can get some pretty nasty results (that’s how you get so many insecure, bright students going into Wallstreet to make a lot of money even though it’s screwing everyone else over).Even the clubs are extreme. You don’t just write for the newspaper. You have to go through a semester long competitive process to be selected into the Crimson. And after that, if you want to do well in the Crimson, you have to work your ass off and neglect your studies to be considered a true trooper. Kids here consider their extracurriculars a job. All social interactions have some sort of shady networking pre-professional slime to them.A lot of students are really full of themselves. They spend all their time climbing the ladders of success and trying to win everything. Everyone is super busy all the time. You have to arrange lunches with your friends about two weeks in advance.
Harvard is not the type of place where you backstab your friend, but if your friend fell in a race, you would keep on running and not bend down to help. Students, for the most part, are only interested in their own benefit and will do things that look good, rather than things that are good.
But then again, there is the other extreme too. There are people who come to Harvard, not because of legacy or money, but because they are genuinely interested in the truth. I’ve met people who are so gifted at their focus, whether it’s poetry, writing comic books, musical composition, or biomedical research, and they work on these things night and day. They thrive in the guidance of their professors, and I have faith that they will make a meaningful contribution someday. I try to stick to those people.
If you ask any student what they think about Harvard, most will say that they hate it, but that they found a great group of friends who keep them sane. Those who really really really love the place have some serious mental problems–either in that they are super disingenuous or are psychopaths, or are there really only to network and join the super elite circles of final clubs and whatnot.
Harvard is still a very elite place. You will feel out of place if you are anything but a white male. You will feel a bit uncomfortable if you come from a normal middle class family, because bit by bit you see just how much money your fellow peers have.
You will realize that Harvard doesn’t care about you. Professors have office hours, yes, and they say to come, but their heart is not into it. Everyone at Harvard is there for their own benefit, for their research and for advancing their careers. Occasionally you will find professors who genuinely care, but they are the exception.
I knew going into Harvard that it wouldn’t be easy, that Mother Harvard does not coddle. And I was right. It has been hard as hell. And it’s sad to learn the truth about Harvard. But truth does make you stronger, and I would not be as strong as I am today if I didn’t gain these hard lessons from my undergrad years.