Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest higher education institution in the United States, and is widely regarded in terms of its influence, reputation, and academic pedigree as a leading university in not just the US but also the world.
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, three miles north-west of Boston, Harvard’s 209-acre campus houses 10 degree-granting schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, two theaters, and five museums. It is also home to the largest academic library system in the world, with 18 million volumes, 180,000 serial titles, an estimated 400 million manuscript items and 10 million photographs.
Like most of the United States’ pre-Civil War colleges, Harvard was founded to train clergy, but Harvard’s curriculum and student body quickly secularized, and in the 20th century admissions policy was opened up to bring in a more diverse pool of applicants.
Now, a total of 21,000 students attend the university, each of whom at some point can be seen bustling past the famous statue of John Harvard, the university’s first benefactor and founder, which looks on benignly in the center of the campus. The bronze statue’s gleaming foot is due to almost incessant rubbing by tourists and students, who believe the act brings good luck.
Only the academic elite can claim a place at Harvard, and the nominal cost of attendance is high – though the university’s hefty endowment is such that it can offer generous financial aid packages, which around 60 per cent of students take advantage of.
As freshmen, students live in one of the dormitories in Harvard Yard, a prime location, and eat in the historic and picturesque Annenberg dining hall. Harvard students are active around and beyond campus, with over 400 official student societies including extracurricular, co-curricular and athletic opportunities. Whether playing on the field in Harvard Stadium, fostering entrepreneurial activities at the Harvard innovation lab or writing and editing at the daily newspaper the Harvard Crimson, student life is a rich and rewarding experience.
Harvard’s alumni include eight US presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. Whether it be Pulitzer Prizes, Nobel Prizes, or Academy Awards, Harvard graduates have won them. Students and alumni have also won 108 Olympic medals between them. The university is regularly ranked number one in the world, and the consistency of its chart-topping performances shows that success is yet to breed complacency.