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My boyfriend and I visited Boston a while back, and of course, being in Boston one cannot miss out on visiting America’s first institution of higher education: Harvard University, where we took a 2-hour walking tour around the prestigious campus. Visiting Harvard really interested me, as I was very aware of the fact that Harvard is ranked as the best university in the world and has been the home of many of history’s important individuals, from US presidents to the founder of Facebook. To go back to university, specifically the idea of studying among the intellectual elite of the world, is something I very much desire. Unfortunately, for many of us, Harvard is but a dream.

The fee for Harvard, like many other American Universities, is 60.000 dollars a year. Although our tour guide told us that there are many scholarship opportunities at Harvard, the maximum amount of support you could receive is 45.000 dollars. Leaving you to pay 15.000 dollars a year. This amounts to a debt of 60.000 dollars after four years of college. Although our tour guide made this sound like a bargain – his wife in fact has a debt of 110.000 dollars after graduating from Boston University – for a Dutch person, it’s beyond our imagination to spend that amount of money on tuition fees.
In the Netherlands, all universities are ‘fine’. Rather good actually, but nothing ‘exceptional’. People don’t even look at the rankings; whichever university you go to, you will get a good education. But… in my opinion, Dutch universities won’t truly challenge you intellectually or give you the feeling of world-class excellency.
I very much value the idea that everyone should be able to go to university, whatever background you are from or amount of money you have in your bank account. I believe a country is wasting good brains by allowing only the rich to study. Therefore, I appreciate that the Dutch fees are affordable, even though the ‘best’ professors may find their job elsewhere at a university who is willing to pay them more. Harvard is able to attract the very best professors from around the world as it has an estimated value of 36 billion dollars!
However, a lot of people in the Netherlands never learned to strive for something and got stuck in the ‘zesjes-cultuur’. Meaning that they aim for the lowest grade that still allows them to pass and get their degree. To be around an intellectual community like Harvard’s that is ambitious and appreciates gaining knowledge, is something that appeals to me.
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The other thing that I really like about Harvard, is the sense of community. Undergraduate students live on campus for the entire four years of their degree. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of York in the UK, so I know how enjoyable it is to live on a campus. It’s like living in a little student city where all your best friends are just around the corner. I could roll out of bed at 9 for my class at 9.15 because the psychology department was right outside my block. The gym was another 5 minutes away. However, in York, you only got this opportunity for the first year of your degree. Harvard University has 12 houses, to which you are assigned to randomly in the beginning of your first year. You will stay in the same house throughout your entire degree. The houses have their own library, lounge, kitchen and gym. Harvard’s campus is about 5000 acres. There are 6000 undergraduate students and 10.000 postgraduate students, of which 10% are international. The housing application is 50 pages long. Harvard’s criterion is that they want to put five people in a house together that can become best friends. Harvard has a 98% graduation rate, and according to our guide that is because of their support systems. They have different communities, the first being the suit you are living in, the second being a block of 6 houses put together and the third community is the hall where you eat together. They have a proper ‘Great Hall of Hogwarts’. This is where all the students have their dinners together and are supposed to network. They are told in the beginning of their education that during these dinners, they should find out the strengths of their fellow students, so they can exchange their skills in times of hardship. We were not officially allowed to go into the hall, but we had a sneak peak when a student walked out and left the door open. It’s absolutely like you are on the set of Harry Potter.

They also have the largest academic library in the world. There’s actually quite an interesting story behind it. There once was a man called Harry Widener, who was a fond book-collector and had a son who studied Liberal Arts at Harvard. Back in the days, one would go on a grand tour of Europe for about a year after graduating, to explore the European history and sights. Harry’s son fell in love with Europe and decided to stay. After several years, Harry thought it was time for his son to come back home. Therefore, he wrote him a letter saying that he and his wife would come to visit him in Europe. They visited for three weeks and had a marvelous time. The day before his parents would return to America, Harry gave his son an envelope. This envelope contained a ticket back to America on a cruise in a luxurious first class suite. Harry’s son decided that this was a good way to return to his homeland in style, so he took the offer. Unfortunately for Harry and his family, they had booked a luxurious suite on the Titanic and Harry and his son both died. His mother survived however and she decided she wanted to give something back to Harvard University in the name of her husband and her son. Harvard needed a new library, and as her husband had been a book-collector, she thought this would be the perfect gift. She granted the university an equivalent of 81 million dollars and built a beautiful new library. However, there was one condition: they could not add or remove a brick ever again. The library had to stay exactly the same. Over time, Harvard’s book collection expanded and since they couldn’t expand the library on the sides or on top of the building, they started expanding underground. Now, there are 4 stories underneath the ground consisting of 15 miles of shelving. One could run two marathons in the library without coming across the same book twice. Still, every morning someone comes in to bring flowers and turn a page of Harry’s Gutenberg’s bible.

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One crazy thing about Harvard is that until 15 years ago, there were technically no female students studying at Harvard University. There was a female college called Radcliffe right besides Harvard’s campus, but Harvard itself was all-male. In 1999, Radcliffe College and Harvard University merged together and women were allowed to apply to Harvard. Now, the rate of men and women is 50-50%. Obama actually graduated from Harvard (law school) as well as 7 other American presidents including George W. Bush, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. The average IQ score of Harvard’s students supposedly is 127.

All in all, I had a wonderful time visiting the campus but it was accompanied with some mixed feelings and jealousy !

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