Non-academic Life at Harvard

Housing on Campus

The first year in Harvard Yard: All first-year students live in or near Harvard Yard, the University’s historic central quad, where newly renovated classrooms and dormitories sit in a space reminiscent of a large British garden square. The First Year Dean’s Office carefully chooses rooming groups of two to five first-year students who live together in suites in historic Harvard Yard. For example, here is a typical first year rooming group: five students (from the UK, Boston, western Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Finland) who share a three bedroom (two doubles, one single) suite with a large common room and en-suite bathroom. The common room holds four desks and 2 sofas; the single bedroom is rotated among the students during the course of the year.

Upperclass years in the Houses: As with the Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, the House System provides a communal residential experience for undergraduates and faculty. The twelve Houses provide smaller academic and social communities of 350 to 500 students within the larger context of the College.

Harvard guarantees College housing to every student for four years, and 98% of all students choose to live on campus throughout their undergraduate careers. At the end of the first year, students form their own groups from among their friends to go into the lottery for a suite at one of the 12 upperclass Houses. Each House has its own dining hall, common rooms and facilities for academic, recreational and cultural activities. A broad mix of students and faculty makes each house a microcosm of the College. The photos above show accommodation in both Harvard Yard and the Houses.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular opportunities at Harvard are virtually limitless. Students become involved in activities early on, and often make good friends through these links.

With 42 top level athletic teams and over 450 official student organisations, the societies cater for anything from casual beginners to accomplished masters. Typically, students spend half to two-thirds of their time on academic matters and the rest on social and extracurricular activities.

Below is a small sample of some of the student organisations, ranging from pure fun to serious political and social work. The full, ever-evolving list is here.

What is a typical week at Harvard like?

Most students will take four courses with 3 hours of class per week, plus possibly a lab or discussion section. This means only about 16 hours per week in class. A typical class schedule might be Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 10-12 and Tuesday/Thursday from 1 – 4, leaving most of MWF afternoons and TTh mornings, plus the whole weekend, for other activities. Academic activities naturally include reading assignments, work on papers and problem sets, meeting with faculty members and advisers, study group meetings plus time for language lab or library research.

Non-academic activities might include daily workouts or practice with an athletic team, rehearsal for a musical or dramatic performance, attendance at a public lecture or seminar, serving meals at a local homeless shelter, paid work in a campus office, plus time for dining, catching a film, sharing news via e-mail, FaceTime, Zoom, and/or Whatsapp with family and friends and yes, time for sleep! Each student decides how much time to spend on studying, socializing, and other activities, and that balance is likely to change over the course of the four years as academic and extracurricular interests change.