Monday, April 26, 2010

Harvard Admitted Students Weekend Review, Part 1


I showed up a little early on Saturday because there was a Teach For America tea, and was glad because I quickly made some unexpected connections with several other corps members who would be my classmates in the fall. Strangely enough, there were three of us who had left the great state of Kentucky, followed undergrad with TFA, and will be attending Harvard Law School starting in the fall. We ran the gamut of teaching commitments: one deferred law school for TFA, I applied within my two-years, and another stayed in education to serve as a founding teacher for a KIPP charter school. The fact that all of us have very similar “softs” is another piece of evidence for the inference that HLS can’t get enough of TFA corps members.

Registration was painless and quick, and netted me my bus fair reimbursement—to be sent via mail in 4-6(!) weeks—and a long sleeve HLS t-shirt. The free food and drink was readily available throughout the weekend; I voluntarily took out my host student to dinner and met a few friends for ice cream and drinks, but otherwise the food situation was completely taken care of.

Next up, the campus tour introduced me to a few of the major buildings I would be using the next year, including the small but workable law school gym, the library—beautiful—and Austin Hall, where most of the whole-group seminars would take place. The Northwest Corner Project looks to be aesthetically pleasing and address a dearth of workspace for both informal group meetings and student groups. Since I’ll hopefully be spending my second year at Harvard with the business school, the building will be fully online and functional for my 2L and 3L years—starting in the fall of 2011.

Throughout the entire event, some of the most helpful information came from current students who were able to quickly describe their law school experience and the path they were taking afterward. From answering general questions about the day-to-day living experience, food, housing, professors, job prospects, etc, the students were both able and willing to give frank answers. While I’ve never been to an admissions event where the current students refuse to answer questions, they have directed back to the administrators far more than the students at Harvard did.

Because there are so many students and programs at Harvard, each of the 30+ students I spoke with had a distinct story. While I found that breadth and depth to inspire curiosity, many people talk Harvard down as a “diploma mill” because of its size. In my mind, a mill produces an identical product. The students I encountered at Harvard were incredibly diverse in socioeconomic background, interests, and future plans: anything but a cookie cutter big law attorney.

Although the current students' perspectives were incredibly helpful, the most exciting and illuminating parts of the weekend were interactions within and outside the classroom setting with professors. The first faculty presentation, from Jonathan Zittrain—founder of the Berkman Center—was exactly up my alley and in line with my personal statement. He is one of the most engaging professors I’ve ever heard speak, but more importantly, he structured the presentation and the subsequent class conversation to achieve a predetermined outcome. As a teacher, I know that skill is incredibly difficult to hone with concrete examples like 8th grade math; Professor Zittrain was able to do it with ease about a form of Internet sociological interaction that most of the people in the class had never heard of.