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Studying at Harvard University USA

Studying at Harvard University USA

I don’t think I need to introduce Harvard University to anyone. Studying at Harvard University is a dream of many and I never thought I would get the chance to study there. My family could never finance the expensive tuition costs and on top of that I’m a foreigner.

But, one day I received a newsletter about scholarship opportunities for Polish people to study in the US, and I immediately applied to a couple of universities recommended in the newsletter. Harvard was one of them. I never expected a reply, especially because at the same I was traveling somewhere in Israel.

But few months passed I received an acceptance letter to an MBA program. The school wasn’t great (I’m not going to reveal it here), but it was still an MBA program in the US. Unfortunately, it turned out that the scholarship was only partial, so I had to give this opportunity up. I was prepared to forget about studying in the US and get a job there on a work & travel visa instead.

Applying to Harvard University Extension School

This is when I looked at applications to Harvard and I noticed how many possibilities they offered. I figured that if I took only some courses on campus and others online through their Extension School, I could pay much less and actually use my scholarship. Well, that was step one, but step two was to get accepted. But as you can see from this post, somehow I got in…

Boston ducks
Boston ducks

Living on Harvard campus in Cambridge, MA

Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, right next to Boston. The city’s Metro Line stops directly in front of the Harvard gate, so there was no problem for me to go to Boston any time I wanted.

Cambridge is pretty much a town built for Harvard and MIT students, so the atmosphere is awesome, as long as you’re an actual student or work on campus. But, don’t be fooled, it doesn’t mean it’s a cheap student town. Similar to Oxford in the UK, Cambridge isn’t cheap at all.

My friends were usually going out in Boston, but I only went a couple of times as the nightclubs in Boston are expensive – the cheapest entrance fee was $50 and this was back in 2010! Instead, I was hanging out at the river.

Cambridge, Mass.

Student Halls at Harvard University

When I received an email with my student hall assignment, I was terrified. I wanted to live on the Harvard yard and the student hall I got didn’t seem like it was next to anything However, I couldn’t have been more wrong about my dorm – Quincy House. It was probably the best out of all the student halls!

Quincy yard
Quincy yard

I’m not sure if any movie about Harvard actually represents the reality of dorm standards, the answer is NO. Dorms are definitely not as fancy as in movies like Legally Blonde (the movie wasn’t actually filmed at Harvard).

At Quincy we lived in segments of 5 people and shared one bathroom. No AC and no portable units were allowed, so it was getting quite hot inside at times. I don’t want to discourage any future students, but our bathroom was just horrible. We had a hole in the wall, so I could say ‘hi’ to my neighbor through it, and the cupboard in the main bathroom was pretty filthy.


The room itself was very basic with an old wooden bed, desk, and a small cupboard with a clothing rack. The majority of people used the opportunity of an annual sale to buy fridges, microwaves, and room decorations pretty much on the first day, but since I was on a budget I passed on this opportunity. 

There was always something going on, if not on the Harvard yard then on my dorm yard. One day there was a muffin fight going on, the next day some people set up some live music. The next there would suddenly be a free ice cream stall.

However, during the exam period the whole campus fun had to stop completely, because no noise was allowed. The rule was that groups of 3 or more, weren’t allowed to be on the Quincy Hall yard. My friends who ignored that rule got caught by the security guard and had to collect trash for a week as a punishment. Ouch!

Facilities at Harvard University

The most well-known building on Harvard University is probably the library. Widener Library is a huge building in the middle of the Harvard yard and probably the biggest library I’ve ever been to. We all studied there a lot, as it was often too hot to be in our dorm rooms, and the library was obviously fully air-conditioned.

You could often get lost in the basement and accidentally scare someone when moving book stock. The Widener Library was a place to be for sure!

Widener Library
Widener Library

Although, I often went to the art history library instead as it was less crowded. At the end of the day it was getting pretty scary, as I was often alone and the tables were located in the basement. I guess watching a lot of horror movies of how you can get locked in a library didn’t help.

Harvard University has had a statue of its founder standing proudly in the yard. During the summer tons of visitors come to the statue and touch his foot. The legend says that if they do, they will get admitted to the university eventually. Although… John Harvard was actually not the founder of Harvard and the man portrayed in the statute is also not him, but some random guy.

Also, my insider tip is that touching his foot is never a good idea. There are strange things happening to it overnight during party time 😉

That's the statue!
That’s the statue!

Another iconic building at Harvard is Annenberg Hall, as it might remind you of the dining hall from the Harry Potter movies (actually filmed at Oxford University). Visitors and summer students can eat meals there, as students don’t have their own kitchens open in the dorms.

I must say that it was the best food I’ve ever eaten on ANY campus. There was always a huge diversity of things to choose from, so everyone could get meat, seafood, vegan, kosher, halal, gluten free, or whatever they wanted every day. Every Sunday you could also even make your own waffles with the Harvard emblem on them!

Annenberg Hall
Annenberg Hall
studying abroad at Harvard University

Unfortunately, nobody can say the same good things about the food served in the dining halls of the dorms. But don’t worry, everyone could always get a burger from the famous Mr. Bartley’s Burgers.

Study Program

My program was quite specific, because of the nature of studying Journalism. So it’s hard for me to say if there was a lot of actual studying involved. In my case, we had a lot of assignments and it was completely normal for us to write a 2000-word assignment in 2 days. After all, it was totally manageable.

You can do some courses on campus, and some online. It’s an excellent solution, as it can save you a lot of money on not living in Boston. I was finishing some of my courses online while already working as an intern in Argentina.

These systems aren’t unique to the US actually. In fact, when I was at Harvard I was also working on my thesis from the UK and I could just submit it by mail. As long as you have all your materials you can be anywhere.

Hanging out at the river
Hanging out at the river

Methods of Teaching

In the US, there are huge differences comparing with education systems in the UK or Poland. Especially when it comes to defying the focus of professional skill development and actually learning things by heart.

At Harvard, teachers are trying to prepare you for something you want to do after school. They focus less on what should be done for a particular course, counting on personal interests and the development of a student. You can work closely with your professors, and if you need any extra consultation there’s never a problem. I approached my supervisor many times with questions technically not related to my course but my internship, and she was more than happy to help.

However, it doesn’t mean that the rules don’t apply. If you’re not in the class on time, you usually can’t get in. If you miss a certain amount of classes on a student visa you can get suspended – not just school, but also your visa.

I actually know someone who thought he could make stuff up to make up for him skipping classes and it didn’t end up pretty. I’ll spare you details as this person probably wouldn’t want me to share this, but trust me – you don’t want that.

Benefits of Studying at Harvard University

I don’t think I need to list the benefits of graduating from a top Ivy League school. A degree from Harvard can definitely benefit your curriculum, BUT it does NOT guarantee your success.

In my opinion, the most beneficial thing one can gain from studying at Harvard University are connections. You can meet a lot of intelligent and influential people from all over the world that can open many doors to your future career.

studying at Harvard University
Inside Widener Library

Do you have any questions about studying at Harvard University? Drop me a message in comments section!

Felix Gyamera Asare

Friday 5th of January 2024

Very insightful to read about your experiences in Harvard.

Bob Frasure

Friday 21st of May 2021

Why can’t you be straightforward about what you really did at Harvard and how you got in. It’s not a mystery but people like you trying to pass yourself off as a full on tenured degree seeker and graduate at Harvard ruins everything for others who truly are since it forces the university to adjust its degree program to avoid those who abuse the name. I speak from experience. Please modify your article to be honest with people. You should be proud of your education there but at the same time acknowledge the facts and give the university the credit it deserves so others can follow in your footsteps.

Anna Karsten

Saturday 22nd of May 2021

I'm not even sure what your comment is supposed to mean, especially regarding adjustments to a program and giving credit to the university.

Petar Romanov

Monday 6th of January 2020

Hi Anna,

How did you find the extension school - was it worth studying/graduating there? Did you have any troubles with the required GPA? How long did it take you to graduate?


Jessica Wong

Saturday 9th of November 2019

Hi Anna,

I am interested in taking a pGdip in Journalism at Havard extension school as well. Just wondering, how long did it take you to complete the degree? How much time did you spend in campus? What was the workload like? And, is it hard to get into?


Anna Karsten

Saturday 9th of November 2019

Things might have changed as it's been almost 10 years (lecturers for sure did), but it used to really depend on you and how much workload were you going to take on at once.


Friday 18th of October 2019

Great article! I'm a high school student from Colombia and your website has helped me a lot. It's also really interesting and enjoyable. I went to Harvard last summer and I totally loved it, I'm currently starting to prepare myself for a scholarship and your tips have been really useful. Do you know any organizations or programs that help foreign students find opportunities to study abroad? ?

Greetings from Colombia!

P.S: You definitely should try to come here, we have amazing landscapes, food, and people.

Anna Karsten

Saturday 19th of October 2019

I've been to Colombia actually, just haven't written much about it yet ;-)

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