Brits in America: a day in the life of a Harvard student

Raphaëlle describes a typical day in the life of a Harvard University student and examines the reasons why Harvard has such a high reputation 

October 5 2017
A typical day in the life of a Harvard student

I now know why Harvard has its reputation as one of the top universities in the world. It is not because Harvard is an elitist institution, or because it is one of the oldest colleges in the US. It is because every single student here works incredibly hard, spending long nights studying and taking multiple extracurricular activities. Time is the currency here, with students valuing it more than anything else.

There is not one hour of the day, be it midday or midnight, that the libraries remain unoccupied or the dorm buildings turn fully dark. To try to demonstrate how busy each day is, I’m going to describe one typical Wednesday for me.

My first class is at the Kennedy School of Government at 8.45am. I then study in the library for an hour, go to my economics class at noon and then rush out to grab lunch. For the following five hours, I work at the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs as a research assistant to a postdoctoral fellow focusing on the voting habits and the suffrage movement in Denmark.


Follow the start of Raphaëlle's journey here

Brits in America: heading to Harvard
Brits in America: ordering ‘chips’ is a very different thing here


After eating dinner, I take an economics review test. Once that is completed, I attend the weekly Institute of Politics meeting with the Harvard Political Union and listen and engage in debate for an hour. I then reboot with coffee, return to study at the library and attempt to wade through the multiple books, essays and assignments due for Friday. Somewhere between the busyness of the day and the night activities, I try to find the time to sleep.

My typical day is by no means unique, or more work intensive than any other student’s schedule. A flustered and half frantic-looking freshman racing across Harvard Yard to get to the next class on time is a common sight.

However, we are not robots, delighting in a constant cycle of reading, writing and calculating. Through the hard work and long hours, Harvard students manage to create free time to socialise, party, date and explore Boston.


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Harvard provides funding so that students can attend the Boston Symphony, visit the Blue Hills on the outskirts of Boston or have discounts on meals. Harvard intends to build a happy community, not overrun by hard work, but driven by it.

It intends to create a comfortable environment, not with the pressures of competition, but to try to foster a culture of personal development.

The more time I spend here, the more I realise just why Harvard is so highly acclaimed. It invests in its students in the right way. Students are happy here because they feel wanted and appreciated.

Even now, when midterm exams are around the corner, laughter and conversation can be heard on every corner of Harvard’s campus. 

Read more: Best universities in the United States

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