For those only just stumbling upon my story, I have blogged extensively for the THE Student over the last four years under the title “Brits in America.”
I documented my journey through Harvard University as an international student from the UK, offering small snapshots of this selective world.
Readers have travelled with me through the Rust Belt and followed my gradual immersion into American academic and political society. Occasionally, someone who had read my blog would end up at Harvard University and would introduce themselves to me.
But like all good stories, my story at Harvard has come to an end. On graduating in May 2021, I officially became a Harvard alumna, equipped with all the prestige and pressures that come with it. Only now have I been able to find the time and headspace to adequately reflect on my final year.
Brits in America: Heading to Harvard
Brits in America: a day in the life of a Harvard student
Brits in America: the highs and lows of my first year at Harvard University
Brits in America: tips on applying to US universities as an international student
There are three main types of Harvard students: the academics; the socialites; and the play-it-safes. The academics, either aspiring or already active in the publishing world, dive deep into their material, seeking to expand their knowledge and secure a PhD position at a top tier institution.
Then there are the socialites, always active in student organisations or found late Friday night at the Spee Club.
And finally, the play-it-safes, with their perfect 4.0s and easier courses, eyeing up law school applications and Big Three consulting roles.
Although I drifted between all three, my final couple of semesters were firmly focused on achieving the best grades I possibly could. I stripped my schedule to focus fully on my senior thesis and disappeared from view – with the exception of a few friends visiting – to fully immerse myself in a novel political theory I was slowly beginning to construct.
After all, Harvard isn’t world-renowned for its social scene or for its grade inflation, but for its academics. I wanted to make sure that before I graduated, I lived the true Harvard.
The strategy paid off and I was awarded the prestigious Thomas Hoopes prize for “outstanding scholarly work or research” along with a USD$5,000 award.
It’s hard to explain exactly how much of a feat that was, and I don’t mean so much in terms of the competition (which was indeed tough), but the fact that I – once a state school student from a small town in Wales – was chosen by some of the world’s best academics to receive this award.
For students planning to study at Harvard, either at undergraduate or graduate level, it’s important to remember that having the university’s name on your resume should not be your primary goal. Harvard doesn’t want people who will sit back and glide through the experience.
If you want to run and grow a start-up, the university has all the infrastructure and angel investor networks you could ask for. If you want to study the impact of Covid-19 on crypto assets, there are half a dozen professors and grants available to you. And if you want to find an internship working for a US law firm, the Institute of Politics can make that happen.
I took my admission to Harvard as an honour and a challenge. Throughout my time there, I was a research assistant to two professors, a teaching fellow for an econometrics course of over a hundred students, a recipient of multiple international grants such as the Rockefeller International Experience and the Juster Fellowship, an executive member of the Harvard Political Union and an arduous student.
As with any university experience, there are mistakes made, words that shouldn’t have been said, and relationships that came and went. Yet, I don’t have a single regret because with every misstep, I discovered more about my character who I want to be. It’s fair to say that America will always be a part of me, even as I think about moving back to the UK to begin my master's.
Regular THE Student blogger Raphaëlle Soffe shares some final reflections on her time at Harvard University as she prepares to move on to her master's degree