So, you’ve been admitted to HGSE for the 2017-18 academic year – CONGRATULATIONS! Now what? How do you decide whether to attend or not? Here are a few thoughts as you consider HGSE from Gabi and Arpi:
Q1: Where were you and what were you doing when you found out you were admitted to HGSE?
Gabi, HDP: I was out on vacation in Salvador, Brazil, with my parents. The process of gathering material and writing statements can be very stressful, so some time after I was done submitting my applications, I decided to take a work leave to let off some steam and distract myself from the anxiety of waiting for answers. One day when we got back to the hotel I checked my email and it said there was an update to my Harvard application. My parents sat down by my side as I opened the message, and we celebrated together in a crazy mix of laughing, crying and hugging.
Arpi, MBE: I was in my dorm room, running late for dinner with a friend. I was a heartbeat away from closing the lid of my laptop when suddenly the email popped up from the admissions office. In some incomprehensible blur of happiness and exhilaration I called my parents to tell them the news. I still attribute my breathlessness over the phone to the excitement of receiving the decision rather than physically racing out the door.
Q2: What was important to you in deciding to attend HGSE?
Gabi, HDP: The factors that most influenced my decision to join Harvard were the focus on research and financial aid (I should note that financial aid information doesn’t always come at the same time as the general admission decision).
Arpi, MBE: The connection between students and professors was definitely of importance to me. I was nervous that one year was too short to make meaningful connections with our academic advisors and professors, but was impressed when I visited for the admitted student open house day how fond the students were of their professors and the connections they made with them. The professors here make themselves readily available to their students, get to know us by name and aspirations, and are genuinely invested in our achievement and success. Even Professor Brennan knew all 100+ of her students in T550 by name!
Q3: Did you speak to anyone at HGSE who helped you make the decision to enroll? What advice did they give you?
Arpi, MBE: Less than a week after being admitted, a current HGSE student in my program called to congratulate me and answer any questions. I, being pleasantly surprised by the unexpected phone call, yet again running late for dinner with a friend, and still in shock of receiving the admissions decision a few days earlier, could only formulate one question: “Do you like it there?” (Geez, could I think of a more blunt question?) The student I spoke with couldn’t convey her love of her HGSE experience more, and even rallied a few other MBE students in the room with her to express this. I also visited campus and was entirely taken by the community here, just as I had felt in my virtual interactions until then. So it wasn’t necessarily advice that solidified my decision; it was more so a vibe and reassurance that this community would be welcoming of me and my goals in the MBE program. (Note to the newly-admitted MBE students: I will be one of the current students on the HGSE end of the phone line this year during call night (woohoo!). Please feel free to ask us any questions about our experiences as MBE/HGSE/Harvard students, we’re all very excited to speak with you!)
Gabi, HDP: I spoke to so many people in order to make my decision: my family, my boyfriend, friends, HGSE alumni and my HDP Program Administrator from Harvard, other schools I was considering, and finally my undergraduate professors from Brazil. I would say it was especially helpful to talk to recent alumni, as they still had the fresh experience in their mind, but were able to have some distance when looking back. To find these people, I reached out to the Admissions Office and asked to be connected with alumni with similar backgrounds as me. I think more than giving me advice, they gave me valuable information about what the program would be like and the life I would have here, which made me confident to make my own decision.
Q4: Are you happy that you ultimately enrolled at HGSE?
Arpi, MBE: Unquestionably. I still feel butterflies whenever I walk through the main University gates, onto Appian way, or into class each day. This has persisted since day one of orientation.
Gabi, HDP: Yes. It has been a crazy few months since I arrived at Cambridge in August, but some things I know for sure: I love my friends. I learn from them everyday. I love my professors. They push me to do my best and inspire me to be my best self. I love being here.
Q5: What information do you wish you knew when you were deciding whether or not to accept your offer of admission from HGSE?
Arpi, MBE: I wish I more fully understood how quickly one year flies by. Suddenly it’s March, and the Ed.M. and finishing doctoral students are realizing that graduation is on the horizon. It makes every moment here invaluable. While I’m still incredibly happy to have enrolled in HGSE’s full-time Ed.M. program, the length of the program is certainly an important consideration and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Q6: The idea of Harvard can be intimidating. When did you begin feeling like you belong at Harvard? What helped you feel this way and what advice would you give to someone to help them along this journey?
Arpi, MBE: Oh undoubtedly, the Harvard name can be intimidating. It carries a lot of prestige and respect and I wasn’t sure if I would fit the mold. It turns out that mold does not exist – at all. Within the first hour of orientation I felt a connection to my cohort as we exchanged stories and we realized that we all had the same apprehensions and excitements for being here. When Dean Ryan came onto the dance floor at the “Back to School BBQ” before the start of classes (I have photographic proof below!), I knew that HGSE welcomed me as a person, and not just as an application for admission. It took some time for me to feel like a member of the greater University, as being admitted to HGSE tends to keep you on Appian Way, but that adjustment came with a little help from the rest of the HGSE community. We attended lectures hosted at the main campus, the Harvard-Yale football game, cross-registered for classes at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and bought a couple sweaters in the process. It only took a short walk into main campus every so often with a buddy to explore what the rest of the University had to offer for us, and that helped us first feel a sense of belonging at Harvard.
Gabi, HDP: That’s a funny question. When I decided to apply for Harvard, I wasn’t fully convinced it would be the best fit for me. However, as I gathered more information, as I watched videos and read blog posts and read about professors’ work and research, I started to realize that Harvard wants to produce research that is relevant and meaningful–and that’s what I want too. The moment I submitted my application, I knew that I could belong here. So I guess people realize they belong at different times, in different ways, and that’s okay–Harvard welcomes everyone.
Dean Jim Ryan with members of the MBE cohort at the “Back to School BBQ”
Q7: What advice would you give to someone trying to decide what graduate program is the best fit for them?
Gabi, HDP: It’s okay to take some time to make your decision; talk to people and think about how the program you’re about to start will help you enter the next step of your career. Don’t forget that the ultimate decision is always yours. After you’ve decided, don’t look back–it is your commitment and your choices in the graduate program that will ultimately make the experience your own.
Arpi, MBE: Two things: First, consider the academic experience in its entirety. Flip through the course catalog of each program and pretend to build your dream schedule – are you excited about the course offerings or professors teaching them? Will those classes develop the skills or knowledge you need to further your goals? Go to the events pages or calendars for the schools you’re considering – which lectures or workshops would you attend? Second, visit the schools! Talk to some of the current members of your program, sit in on lectures, and take a walk around campus. If you’re considering HGSE among your options, come visit us during admitted students weekend! It’s time to more than just picture yourself here. We’re looking forward to meeting you and welcoming you to the HGSE community!
Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.
Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.