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Student stories

Harvard Is A Playground

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By Zak Adams – 18th August 2023

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The wonderful Zak Adams, Zero Gravity member + Campus Ambassador and former HQ intern, breaks down life at Harvard, answering all the big questions you have. Why study at Harvard? Are there career opportunities for low-opportunity students at Harvard? How do you even APPLY to Harvard? Read below to find out.

Studying at Harvard is like being in one big playground.

There are lots of different things to try, and see what sticks. At first, it can be a bit overwhelming with having so much on offer. But you just need to run around and find that one thing you just keep wanting to come back to. For me, it was the overwhelming sense of opportunity and exploration which encapsulates the true power of studying in the US. This was my reason for choosing Harvard: opportunity.

Harvard or Bust?

I was actually extremely close to not taking the leap of applying to Harvard. Now, I am so grateful I did. You see, for many, a US university is a dream that only becomes a reality for a few. And unfortunately that has nothing to do with not being good enough - and everything to do with not having the support you deserve. Entering the realm of US applications is a daunting task to do alone. With few sources of inspiration, and a lot of missing bits of knowledge, it almost seems as if the US doesn’t want you. Though once you get there, everything is fair game. Harvard wants you, and that goes for any US university you can think of.

That one big playground wants to give you everything you need without any compromises.

Whaddya mean ‘Opportunities’?

I mentioned opportunities. That’s a big word. But there are big opportunities here!

Going from Bedworth (a little place next to Coventry) to Harvard was a jump. Suddenly, there weren’t 20 A-level choices, there was 3,700 classes on offer. No longer was there a handful of school clubs, there was a club for anything you could think of. Those opportunities to delve further into any academic area and any passion you have is why people should go to the US.

Harvard has some serious in-classroom opportunities. Four years, thirty-two courses, and the ability to hop between departments. Your degree is not set in stone immediately, in fact, if you are able to switch degrees and fulfil requirements, you can do it! In return, you leave with great knowledge in a chosen area, but also a versatile skillset developed through perspectives only certain academic departments can offer.

Say your heart is set on Computer Science. Well, most of your classes will be Computer Science. You still must take a writing class. You still must take a language class. Oh, and that humanities class you thought you escaped after your GCSEs? You have to take it. Why? It makes you more versatile. The US prepares you for a job in any area you see yourself entering. Your journey stays open. People say as one door closes, another one opens. However, when studying in the US, doors don’t close, they just open.

Getting outside the classroom

Growing up, I had so many interests. I was mad about sports. Acting was cool – I even managed to work my way up to being a failed child actor. There was enjoyment from supporting students in realising their potential. Maths was my favourite subject, but history was a close second. Each passion shaped who I am today. When I was looking at university, I was preparing to give up parts of myself in order to continue moving forward. That was, until I took the US as a serious option.

It was incredible to find that Harvard has a million out-of-classroom experiences on offer as well as their academic offerings. When I say there is a club for anything and everything, I meant it. You want to do consulting? We have that. You want to volunteer? We have that. You want to play… Quidditch? Yep, we have that too. You are not only encouraged to join a club, but to also help run it.

Encouragement doesn’t end on campus. Support in finding a summer internship is everywhere. In fact, most people do an internship of some sorts each year. My choice to find that dream internship came from the US university culture. I hate to think how boring my summer could have been.

Who is going to have my back?

At the heart of both in-classroom and out of classroom experiences is the community. I struggle to think of a better place to start navigating my future. The people around me are some of the funniest, and most talented people I will ever meet. The US doesn’t push the narrative of having to always maintain perfect grades. It pushes the narrative to be yourself and explore.

Those friends you meet over mediocre food, worryingly late study sessions, and questionable life decisions are priceless. Without my friends (shoutout Charles, Mohamed, Hans, Josh, Dai, and Katie) this experience would have been so different. The connections you make in the US are so much more impactful. It’s exactly why I chose Harvard.

That big playground is a place I take pride in calling home.

Zak with his Harvard pals

No need for Cash Fears

I had my worries about Harvard and the US. My background as a socially mobile student is something I take great pride in. I thought it could have issues at Harvard, but it never did. Financial Aid makes sure university is affordable for you the second you step on campus. In fact, it made Harvard my cheapest option. All clubs and opportunities are fair game. You just must show up and work towards your goals like everyone else. If it isn’t going to plan, there are resources to get you back on track. Faculty are only ever a message away. FGLI (first-gen low-income) support is everywhere. There’s a home to be found for everyone.

Convinced? Here’s how to apply to Harvard

The true tricky part is getting here! In fact, it’s the complications of the process which inspired me to work with Zero Gravity! I’ll break it down.

One 650-word essay, 10 activities, 5 awards, 1 counsellor recommendation, 2 teacher recommendations, possible supplemental essays, and maybe an interview. Oh - and applying for Financial Aid.

It’s a lot. It’s do-able though. My issue is no one really exists to prove its possible for anyone. Most people pay a load of money to learn about the US and create their applications. It shouldn’t be like that. Like Zero Gravity says all the time, it should be about opportunity matching talent.

The truth is the application is one big personality quiz. Show your passions. Show how you push yourself in and out of the classroom. Show how you are a leader, someone who is innovative, collaborative, and someone who can make a difference. Tell stories that evoke emotions and let people get to know you. The UCAS personal statement is a chance to geek out about your subject. The US application is a chance to show your entire personality.

That big playground is open for anyone - people just haven’t been told that yet.

All in a Summer’s Work: Zero Gravity x Harvard

My work with the Zero Gravity team this summer (alongside fellow Harvard intern Annabel) was focused on making the US a known destination. Its goal is to give people a choice. Is the US for you? For too long, socially mobile students haven’t had the support to apply. Meaning, the decision on whether you can apply was already made for you. Now, you can control that choice.

Zak and Annabel

The programme will teach the entire application and put names to faces. Every element of the application is covered, with insider tips from students just like you. That information people pay thousands for, is now free. Which, if you ask me, is how it should be.

‘Putting names to faces’ is a term I use frequently. It is something I firmly believe will make the project successful. Let us show you just how attainable the US is. People have done this before. They are willing to show it is possible and support you in doing so. Let us share those stories and make this whole process seem that bit more realistic. Sometimes, that realisation realises just how talented you are. You aren’t on this journey alone.

Any Zero Gravity member could set foot on Harvard – or whatever US university you may dream of. Let us show you that it’s possible.

That’s why I am writing this piece. I love connecting and talking to students about the US and helping you out wherever I can. If it can help you realise you can achieve those goals, that’s all I want.

Harvard is my big playground. Hopefully, you find your own playground too.

Interested in applying to Harvard? Sign up here.

[Last Reviewed by Sophie P. on 9/04/24]

Zak, outside Zero Gravity HQ

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