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Best Spots to See at Harvard

November 29, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Harvard, To-Do

Every tourist goes on a campus tour, wanders through Harvard Yard, and rubs John Harvard’s foot.

They don’t know what they’re missing.

There are a lot of great spots on Harvard’s campus that tourists don’t really know about, and are much more relaxed, beautiful, and chill than the usual tour stops.

My favorite underrated, publicly accessible places at Harvard are (in no particular order):

A view of Eliot House (an undergraduate dorm) from across the Charles River (Image Source)

1. The Charles River

Taking a stroll down the Charles River front can be a beautiful experience during the spring, summer, and fall. Walking along the River near campus, you’ll be able to see most of the River Houses (e.g. Eliot, Dunster, Winthrop). Crossing the River will get you to the Business School, which has even more beautiful architecture and grassy lawns than the red brick undergraduate dorms across the River.

Food trucks and tables full of students studying between classes crowd the Science Center Plaza at noon. (Image Source)

2. The Science Center Plaza

There’s seemingly always something happening on the Plaza, whether its the bevy of delicious food trucks selling lunch every day or the random events that Harvard hosts as part of its Common Spaces initiative. There’s also a local farmer’s market every week, and many student organizations host events/activities in the Plaza. If you come at the right time you might stumble on something fun happening!

A collection of Enlightenment-era scientific instruments which helped revolutionize humanity’s understanding of the world, on display in the Science Center (Image Source)

3. The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Hidden in the Science Center, this small museum has a really cool assortment of scientific instruments that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. It’s usually pretty empty and not many students even know about it, so definitely recommend checking out this hidden gem while on campus.

Radcliffe Yard (Image Source)

4. Radcliffe Yard.

This is where Admissions tours are handled, so you may stumble across this picturesque part of Harvard’s campus anyway. If not, I definitely recommend walking through Radcliffe Yard. I have never seen such perfectly manicured lawns in my life. It used to be Radcliffe College before the two institutions merged to become just “Harvard.” Now, it is the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. (Note: Some students incorrectly refer to this as the “Radcliffe Quad.” It is not, however, the same as the “Quad” that most Harvard students reference — the other “Quad” is a 15 minute walk away, and houses upperclass dorms).

Langdell Hall, the Law School’s main library, is the largest academic law library in the world and the largest building on the Law School campus. (Image Source)

5. Law School / Business School campus

Though on opposite ends of campus (the Law School is north of Harvard Yard, while the Business School is across the Charles River to the south of campus), it would be a mistake not to visit these two graduate school campuses while visiting Harvard College. You won’t be able to enter the buildings, but the lawns and campus spaces are beautiful to walk through nonetheless.

Artifact on display in Harvard’s Peabody Museum. (Image Source)

6. The Peabody Museum

This is more widely known, but most tour groups don’t stop by there for some reason. One of the world’s oldest museums focusing on anthropology, you should make sure you check out the Peabody’s world famous archaeological exhibits while you’re on campus.

Glass flowers on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Image Source)

7. Harvard Museum of Natural History

This museum houses arguably the most famous exhibit on Harvard’s campus, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s “Glass Flowers.” The exhibit is a collection of over 4,300 meticulously crafted glass replications of over 780 plant species. Again, most students won’t take advantage of this during their time at Harvard, but having gone I can say with 100% confidence that you’ll be missing out if you don’t pay this exhibit a visit.

Portrait of President George Washington, housed in the Harvard Art Museum. (Image Source)

8. Harvard Art Museum

Harvard technically has three separate art museums (the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler). However, their collections were combined into one building, and thus functionally they are the same museum. The Harvard Art Museum is a beautiful building, and is usually pretty quiet — students usually only come there to study, attend lectures in the basement, or look at art for a seminar. There aren’t a ton of publicly displayed pieces, but the collection spans several floors and can make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Tips for Writing your College Essays

November 29, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, How To

Your essay is what rounds you at as an applicant.

It is the only chance you have to speak directly to the admissions officer tasked with deciding whether to admit you to your dream college or not.

Make sure to follow these tips to ensure that your essay showcases the depth of your talents, accomplishments, and personality.

Spring semester

1. Start early but not too early: Junior Spring is ideal

Though people have different personal preferences, and you should write when you feel your able to produce your best work, Junior Spring tends to be the best time for most students to start their college essay writing process.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. You have the luxury of being able to try out many different ideas and essay formats, completely scrap a draft and start fresh, and get many people to review and comment on your essays.
  2. If you procrastinate, at least you have a few months to get back on track. If you procrastinate in December, well, you'll have the next 4 years to regret.
  3. Unless something incredible happens your Junior Summer, you’ve likely already experienced the story that you’ll write about for your college essays.
  4. And, unless you magically become possessed by the spirit of John Steinbeck during your Senior Fall English class, you probably are already in peak writing form.

Try everything

2. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks

No idea is too dumb or too risky to try out. 650 words is not a lot — it takes about an hour to get that much onto a page, so what do you have to lose?

Experimenting with style and what story you want to tell will help you refine your thoughts and perfect your narrative.

Imagine you are a writer on the staff of a popular comedy TV show, and imagine what some of those brainstorming sessions must be like. You’ve probably seen some really funny, really wacky stuff on TV, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg — what about all the even wackier ideas that got filtered out during those brainstorming sessions? If people didn’t feel comfortable throwing out bad ideas for feedback and refinement, then you’d never get the quality of TV that gets delivered to you, the end consumer.

Extending this analogy, the end consumer for your college application is an admissions officer, and they’re going to spend a maximum of 5 minutes watching your TV pilot. It's much better to get all your ideas out during the brainstorming sessions and see where they naturally go than risk delivering a half-baked essay built around one of those bad ideas.

Narrative arc

3. Your essay is a story with a beginning, conflict, and resolution

Your essay should tell the reader something unique about yourself that is not captured elsewhere in your application.

If your essay simply restates the extracurriculars listed on your Common App, then the reader gains nothing from reading your essay. Instead, you’ve just wasted 650 precious words that could have added an entirely new dimension to your application.

Admissions officers read 100's of essays every year. Multiplied over a 10-year career, and they’ve seen pretty much every cliche. To get a sense of truly how bored real admissions officers get, see this Quora thread .

Their eyes will glaze over and skim paragraphs the second your essay loses steam. You need to keep things compelling and interesting enough to ensure that your essay gets fully read, as well as memorable enough to not be instantly forgotten.

Get inspired from the success of others

4. Read other successful admissions essays for inspiration

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

For college essays, this only applies to high-level concepts and stylistic suggestions -- Obviously, don’t plagiarize. However, there are many resources online and in bookstores that contain past examples of successful essays.

For example, The Crimson (Harvard's student newspaper) published several books containing successful Harvard essays .

Other books have also been published for other Ivy League schools and for Stanford University

If you want direct feedback on your essays from Harvard students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, visit us here.

What do colleges like more: GPA or ECs?

November 17, 2019 by | GPA, ECs, Regular Decision, Common App, Spike

Let's say you had the choice between 2 options:

Option 1) A high GPA (4.0) with little to no extracurriculars (ECs) beyond clubs at school and regional awards

Option 2) A relatively mediocre GPA (3.6) with significant extracurricular involvement and awards (at the state or national level)

While you may be tempted to argue that Option 1 shows evidence of a much more intellectually capable and hard-working student, you'd be wrong.

Option 2 is preferable for college admissions, but not for the reason you’d expect.

The most common way to get into a selective college is to have a “spike,” i.e. a world-class talent in one specific area, or several notable (non-world-class) talents in multiple fields.

Colleges want students farther to the right of this spectrum. (Image Source)

If being “well-rounded” is being above average at everything you do, being a “spike” means being great at one or two very specific things and average/above average at everything else.

For example, winning an International Math/Physics/Bio Olympiad, placing 1st in the country at the national debate championships, or writing and publishing a novel would be “spike” attributes that give your application the eye-catching pop that admissions officers love.

Ivy League Admissions statistics for the Class of 2020 (Image Source)

Colleges want to know that the students they accept will go on to change the world and make their college even more famous. Applicants who’ve already changed the world through their “spiky” talents are often the safest bets.

Option #1 clearly does not qualify as a “spike.” Simply running the numbers reveals this:

There are roughly 40,000 high schools in America. That means there are 40,000 valedictorians in the US alone every year, and 400,000 students in the “top 10” of their class.

Have a high GPA? Great, get in line behind these other 400,000 students.

Thus, Option #1 will never be the primary reason why an Ivy or highly selective college selects you. Having a high GPA is the first hurdle you need to clear to get accepted into a selective college — it isn’t what gets you in.

If you’re just a GPA, then, unfortunately, you have virtually no shot at a highly selective college — it just doesn’t differentiate your application.

Average high school GPA of admitted students to all 8 Ivy League schools. (Source)

However, all hope is not lost.

Based on my experience with admissions, high-GPA-only students have gotten into Harvard, but it has always been through the strength of the other aspects of their application — (1) teacher and counselor recs, (2) essays, and (3) interview.

Unfortunately, you have no direct influence over your teacher recommendations, and the interview can be a crap-shoot depending on how well you click with your interviewer.

Thus, the essays are your best chance to frame your application in the best light possible and convey why you and only you can add something uniquely meaningful to the incoming class.

As Logan Powell, Dean of Admissions at Brown University, once said:

“The essay is one of only two places where the student can tell us exactly who they are, in their own words (the other place is the interview).”

If you want additional personalized feedback on your essays and direct help from current Harvard students, check out the services we offer .

That leaves us with Option #2.

Though “low GPA” could be disqualifying in and of itself, if “low GPA” is meant relative to the typical Ivy League applicant (i.e. a 3.6–75), then it is definitely still possible that you could qualify for admission.

However, having “many extracurriculars, high grades in standardized tests…and honors in several prestigious competitions” doesn’t actually matter.

Simply participating in many student clubs or doing charity work for 5 hours a week doesn’t count on a college application. Anyone can put minimal time and effort into many different activities. Unless you have a leadership role, started the extracurricular you’re involved in, or grew it substantially, it doesn’t really count — imagine how many “debate team captains” there are in the US.

Annenberg Dining Hall at Harvard, where freshman eat their meals. (Image Source)

Similarly, having “high grades in standardized tests” won’t get you in anywhere. Having bad scores is disqualifying, but the opposite is not true. 10,000’s of applicants have great scores.

Finally, having “honors in several prestigious competitions” doesn’t mean much unless these are well-respected competitions and your honors occurred at the state, national, or international level.

Personally, if forced to choose, I would much rather be in Option #2. Obviously, it would be ideal to be the complete package.

Importantly, though, what will tip an application stuck in Option #2 towards either acceptance or rejection will be the rest of your actual application — teacher and counselor recommendations, interview performance, and essays.

In order to stand out, you must work extremely diligently on your essays.

As David Jiang , an Admissions Officer at Dartmouth College, has written:

"As an admissions officer reading hundreds of applications and essays in a short period of time, it takes something unique or memorable for an application to stand out at the end of the day.”

These three factors determine the “Personal Qualities” rating of your application.

They add a human dimension to your application that can help set you apart from the stack of nameless papers on an admissions officer’s desk.

They are your best chance to make the case for why your unique combination of personal qualities, interests, and motivation makes you especially well-qualified for the incoming class and can be the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Tl;dr: While Option 1 has no real chance without an incredible application, Option 2 could be a promising candidate. That, however, assumes the GPA is not too low (relative to the average admit of the college) and the essays, recs, and interview go well.

I'm Waitlisted - Now What?

The 4 Steps You Should Take

November 14, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Waitlist, Deferral, Enrollment

1. Take a Few Days Off

Being waitlisted in March or April can be incredibly frustrating. After fervently crafting your application for months, there is no easy way to accept being told to wait even longer for a clear decision.

It is important to take some time off from thinking about college -- hang out with your friends, pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read, or take a much needed nap.

Acting immediately will not make the waitlist move any faster, or move at all, so ensuring you are in a positive headspace is the best first step to take.

2. Assess Your Other Options

It is more than likely you have a wealth of other college options to consider from the regular decision round. Attend prospective student events if offered, reach out to friends who attend schools you have been accepted to, or even purchase an article of school swag.

It is important to get excited about the options you have and ultimately select an option to put a deposit down. You can always unenroll if you are taken off the waitlist, but failing to put a deposit down can land you in hot water in terms of enrollment down the line.

3. Patiently Submit Additional Materials

Quality over quantity is the best motto to adopt when on the waitlist. By waitlisting you, a school is already admitting that you would be a fantastic addition to their school. After taking a few weeks away from the college grind, review your application and see if there are any additional materials that can shed light on a new aspect of your candidacy.

The two most common options for additional materials are submitting a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI) or an additional letter of recommendation.

However, some schools do not allow waitlisted candidates to submit supplemental materials, so be sure to check your admission’s portal for waitlist expectations.

A LOCI should be a simple one-pager addressed to a school’s admissions office that begins with a brief paragraph stating your desire to attend if accepted. It is then crucial to list 3-5 bullet points of new developments in your candidacy since submission that you would like to bring to the attention for the school.

Content may range from extracurricular accolades accomplished during senior year to personal circumstances that have recently changed. It is incredibly important that these new pieces of information are unique from what you included in your application. If you cannot come up with enough new information, then it may make sense to submit an additional letter of recommendation.

If you decide to submit an additional letter of recommendation, you must ensure that the individual who writes it can speak to different elements of your candidacy than the two letters of recommendation you submitted in your Common Application.

For example, a student who received a letter of recommendation from their English and Science teachers should approach an athletics coach, dance instructor, or volunteering supervisor instead of another subject teacher. Be sure to choose someone who actually knows you -- many students will try to choose the most prestigious person they know to boost their applications, when a letter spoken from the heart will go farther in practice.

Ultimately, the waitlist is a black box. Be sure to keep up your grades, spend time building excitement towards your accepted schools, and enjoy senior year. If you would like a member of Veritas Essays waitlist team to review your LOCI, check out our services!