What My Freshman Course Load Was Like at Harvard

Author: Gracia Perala

Wide-eyed and freshly eighteen, going into my freshman year, I had minimal perception of what I wanted to do with my life. While I was mostly certain that I wanted to study English in college, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if there was a field better suited to me that I’d never had the opportunity to pursue? My freshman year at Harvard was spent doing just that – exploring courses in a range of subjects in order to solidify my academic passions. I took a total of 8 classes (32 credits) split between my fall and spring semesters.

In the fall, I chose an introductory psychology course, a class on legal philosophy, contemporary literature, and the required freshman expository writing course. A semester of humanities-based courses was marked by ample amounts of reading and writing assignments, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The English classes came easier to me: that type of reading and analytical writing had always come more naturally than any other assignment structure. The psychology course had midterm and final exams, but the other classes had final projects or papers that I could complete from anywhere on my own time. This final format was especially helpful for me, as it allowed me to leave early to visit my family across the country while completing these papers from home.

In the spring, I chose an English course on literary forms, a general education course on the Holocaust, a general education course on poetry and borders, and a history seminar-style class on the AIDS Epidemic. In terms of subject matter, this semester was much more difficult than the first – my courses dealt with intense and often difficult topics. However, my assignment load lessened, as most of the classes were structured with smaller weekly assignments and longer papers spread throughout the semester. Similarly to my first semester, during the spring, the majority of my time was spent reading and writing. Aside from one midterm exam in my Holocaust general education class, all of my other midterms and final exams were projects or papers.

As I reflect back on my freshman course load, I recognize a few different things: first, I gave myself the opportunity to explore my academic interests. I set aside a few classes each semester in order to learn about the things I was interested in outside of English. Though legal philosophy and the history of the AIDS epidemic will not count towards my concentration, I allowed myself to ease into college by studying the things which reminded me why I enjoyed learning so much. While I did not end up pursuing History or Philosophy further, the introductory psychology course during my very first semester solidified my interest in the field, leading me to declare it as my secondary field of study. I filled my schedule with courses that would fulfill English requirements, ones that strengthened other interests which I now continue to pursue, and classes that I genuinely enjoyed just for the sake of inciting excitement to learn.

In addition to purposeful subject choices for my freshman classes, I made thoughtful decisions about the assignment types that would be required for my classes. Looking at my academic history, I have prospered when faced with reading and writing assignments. While I could have gotten my Quantitative Reasoning with Data or foreign language requirement out of the way, I knew that I would transition best into the college academic world by sticking to my strengths and not putting additional strenuous or uncomfortable expectations on myself. Before registering for my classes, I looked at each course’s syllabus and asked myself: is this a reasonable amount of work? What type of exams will the class have? How do the expectations and responsibilities balance with other courses I am considering? After attentive analysis of the classes, in consideration of my own strengths and weaknesses, I chose classes that I thought would set me up for success and satisfaction during my freshman year.

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