More than an observer: 5 Points for Class Visitation

So you’ve requested a class observation from HGSE Admissions and received a confirmation that you got that class you wanted. You’ve made it to Cambridge, found Appian Way (welcome to HGSE!!!), and navigated to Larsen, Gutman, or Longfellow for that class you want to sit in on. Here are five points for making the most of visiting a class at HGSE:

Point 1: (This is more like a point 0, because it’s a preparation step, but in any case) If you know ahead of time which class you’ll be sitting in on, look up the professor on the HGSE website. Check out their areas of expertise, some of their published works, and which HGSE programs they are affiliated with (it will help you with figuring out which program to apply to, if you’re interested in more than one). Understand the perspective they’ll take in teaching their class.

Point 2: Introduce yourself as a prospective student to the professor before the session starts. Of course, clarify with them that you can sit in on their lecture that day (99.99999% of the time, the answer is a welcoming “yes!”), and remember to thank them for the opportunity. Now, go and find a place to sit!


Point 3: Realize as soon as you sit down that classes don’t actually start at the time they are said to in the course book. Classes at HGSE are usually on “Harvard time,” which is unnecessarily specific terminology for starting 10 minutes after their scheduled time. It’s quite the blessing for students trekking from main campus to get to class on time, and for the hungry students grabbing bite to eat before their next lecture. Despite this, get to the classroom early! The next point will tell you why.

Point 4: Now that you have newfound time on your hands, look to your left and right, and introduce yourself to the students sitting next to you. Note: chances are, they’ll beat you to it and introduce themselves to you since you’re a new face in the class, but in any case, HGSE students are always happy to speak with you about their experiences. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear more about being a student at HGSE, straight from the sources. Use it!

Point 5: Depending on the class, get ready to do more than just listen. If you’re sitting in on the ever-popular T552 (Innovation by Design) or A608 (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning), for example, prepare yourself to walk around or otherwise engage with the students in the room. Classes here often break off into discussion groups, disband all written and unwritten rules of lecture structures, and call for every form of interaction with the professor and your fellow students. If the weather is nice, this may even result in holding the class outdoors in Radcliffe Yard. If you feel so compelled, (with the instructor’s permission) join in on the action!

Check out the classes that are open to prospective students here. What better way to picture yourself as a student here than to take some classes for a day?


T550: Designing for Learning by Creating, taught by Prof. Karen Brennan, takes over Radcliffe Yard during small group discussion time (photo credits to the T550 teaching team)

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.

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