Harvard. The name, for many people, conjures an image of academic snobbery, power-hungry students and old wealth. That alone is sufficient to repel someone – and the recent allegations of structural racism and race-biased admissions certainly don’t help.
Even if the purported elitism is a nonfactor for you, perhaps you find the caricaturized mix of geekiness, wealth, preppiness and erratic genius repulsing.
Or maybe the political ideology. Or the history of discrimination. Or Harvard’s association with the establishment.
There’s much to hate in a university so prominent and prototypical. For a long time, I subscribed to these same prejudices and had no desire to visit Harvard. But I was recently in Cambridge, Mass., where Harvard is located, and had an opportunity to see the campus.
“Why not?” I thought. Of course, I went there assuming I would have a negative reaction. I envisaged cocky, frazzled, overworked students, a dead social scene, overt politicization and abounding bourgeoisie affluence.
Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth.
For starters, I found Cambridge a vibrant town full of cafes, restaurants and stores. Harvard Yard itself was a quiet, tree-dense park dotted with quaint redbrick buildings dating from the 1630s and constructed in the Georgian style.
The remainder of the sprawling campus was a deliberate, tasteful blend of Georgian, Purist, Bauhaus and revivalist architecture. It was enchanting.
More importantly, my tour guide Larry was a perky, excited freshman majoring in statistics and sociology. He genuinely and passionately loved to discuss the college, his degree, studying abroad and student life with me as we walked the campus. He expounded on the diversity, the vivacity of campus life and the enormous financial aid and research opportunities.
I left Harvard considering its stereotyped reputation completely undeserved. The campus was not silent, but bustling. I was enchanted.
The administration not backward, but progressive. The student body not oligarchic, but diverse – socioeconomically, racially and sexually. I’d never seen a university like it.
Harvard is not for everyone, though. Perhaps Massachusetts is too cold for you. Maybe you seek a less rigorous education. Perhaps the liberal-arts-based curriculum seems anachronistic. Or maybe you would like college where Greek life has a more prominent position (It’s almost nonexistent at Harvard).
Fortunately, no matter what you would like from a school, there are over 4,000 universities and colleges in the United States alone. Each one offers a slightly different flavor with vastly different opportunities.
The good news is this: Most schools will accept your credit – because who wants to trash their hard-earned credit? Locally speaking, every public university in Texas will accept your credit (though it may or may not count toward your degree). Furthermore, most public universities nationwide will do the same.
At this point, it’s important to note that “even” if you transfer to “just” a public, or little-known private university, you won’t receive instruction of any less value or excellence than Harvard.
I spoke on this matter recently with Dr. Brian Franklin, the associate director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.
He pointed out that Harvard and similar schools do have their reputation for a reason; but that doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on good instruction.
He said that for the most part, professors go to a relatively small number of universities for their degrees, which means they receive a relatively similar quality of instruction.
These professors then spread across the country to local schools, state universities, private schools, religious schools, etc.
This implies that no matter where you go, you will find good professors.
Stop wasting energy worrying about the quality of professors and instruction at a university and instead, transfer to the university of your choice and start building your dreams.