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Choose Williams over Harvard

Julia Sendor, an 18 year old high school senior in North Carolina, is deciding between Williams and Harvard.

How’s this for a potential headline: Award-Winning High School Journalist Turns Down Harvard.

Julia Sendor — an East Chapel Hill High School senior who on Monday night won an award named for the late Rick Kaspar, former publisher of The Herald-Sun — said she is considering snubbing the legendary Cambridge, Mass., university to study anthropology at nearby Williams College.

Julia would be better off if she choose Williams instead of Harvard. (I spent 4 years as a tutor — JA for upperclassmen — at Harvard so I know whereof I speak.) Williams would be a better undergraduate experience than Harvard because:

1) She would know the names of her professors at Williams and they would know her name. The typical Harvard undergraduate is known by name to only a few faculty members. Many students graduate unknown to any faculty. The typical professor at Harvard is primarily concerned with making important contributions to her field. The typical professor at Williams is primarily concerned with educating the undergraduates in her classes.

2) She would get feedback on her work from faculty at Williams, not from underpaid and inexperienced graduate students. More than 90% of the written comments (as well as the grades) on undergraduate papers at Harvard are produced by people other than tenured (or tenure track) faculty. The same is true in science labs and math classes.

3) She would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for the paper or sing in an a cappella group at Harvard, it is difficult to do much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

4) She would have a single room for three years at Williams. The housing situation at Harvard is horrible, at least if she cares about privacy. Almost all sophomores and the majority of juniors do not have a single room for the entire year. Only at Harvard would she learn the joys of a “walk-through single” — a room which is theoretically a single but which another student must walk through to get to her room.

5) She would have the opportunity to be a Junior Advisor at Williams.

6) The President of Williams, Morty Schapiro, cares about her education specifically, not just about the education of Williams undergraduates in general. The President of Harvard, Larry Summers, has bigger fish to fry. Don’t believe me? Just e-mail both of them. Tell them about your situation and concerns. See who responds and see what they say.

Of course, there are costs to turning down Harvard. Your friends and family won’t be nearly as impressed. Your Aunt Tillie will always think that you actually go to “Williams and Mary.” You’ll be far away from a city for four years. But, all in all, a majority of the students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off if they had chosen otherwise.

Choose wisely.

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#1 Comment By Eric Smith ’99 On April 21, 2004 @ 8:17 am

Well said and I think I would have raised the exact same points.

It should also be noted that many times when at a university and you have a graduate student as your interface to the class (theoretically there is a professor for the course, but you never see them), it is very highly likely that English is not the grad student’s first or even second language.
Especially at a place as high a caliber as Harvard, it will draw brilliant minds from all over the world to study under the best grad program for their particular field (notice I say grad program – I am in agreement with probably all other Williams grads that Harvard undergrad is hard to get into and then easy once there, which is agreed upon by my friends that went there).
Just because someone is brilliant in their field – say chemistry – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a firm grasp on a language – English in this case. Having sat in on many of my dad’s classes in his early years of his grad school time (at Virginia Tech, not Harvard) – it is incredibly frustrating to be dealing with material that may or may not be difficult in and of itself, and then you can’t even understand the person that is supposed to be relaying the information to you.

This is in no way a slam, derogatory remark, or even xenophobic – it is just a fact of the process that if you have a professor teaching you, they were hired in some part by their ability to communicate their ideas to you.
Whereas the grad student was brought in simply because there was a need that had to be met and they were at the right place at the time. Their communication skills aren’t necessarily all that high on the list of things that they look for out of a small pool of applicants.
Culturally it is fantastic to be around a wide and varied group of people – but in terms of actually learning, it can make an already frustrating experience that much harder.
In my time at Williams, I only had this happen once with a guest lecturer on astrophysics. My notes on that class were fairly amusing.
(I should also note that I too barely have a grasp on the English language and would make an awful prof… and I was born in America)

And then class size is another key factor. One of the greatest parts of my Williams experience was near one on one time with professors that actually cared (even if I didn’t at the time).
This is rare if not nonexistent at large universities.
They have shown that the optimal classroom size before it becomes fairly useless is around 17 (although to be fair, I think that is more applicable to kids than it is college).
Granted, there are large classes at Williams for certain, but they are all 100/101 level classes (Chem 101, Bio 101, Astro 100/101, Psych 101, all huge classes).

With a Harvard education, you can go anywhere in the world and drop that you went there and people will immediately have an opinion of you having heard of it… mind you, perhaps not a good opinion of you.
Perhaps it is annoying when people actually correct you when you say you went to Williams and they put up their hand and say, “I think you mean Williams and Mary” and you want to say “oh yes, of course, how silly of me to forget where I went to school – obviously you would know better that I went to some bastardized creation in your head, thanks!”
Note that “Roger Williams” is also a popular one to mistake it for.

#2 Comment By Aidan On April 21, 2004 @ 9:10 am

Julia, if that is your real name, don’t come to a school that has a tool blog where people you don’t know are giving you free advice because they found your name in a google search. For the love of all that is holy, go to Harvard!

#3 Comment By Loweeel On April 21, 2004 @ 10:17 am

A single for 3 years? Ha. Not anymore.

#4 Comment By Mike On April 21, 2004 @ 11:25 am

Re: The well-rounded class vs. class of well-rounded individuals, Williams is undoubtedly more the latter then Harvard (though I grant my knowledge of Harvard is limited to basically having spent one weekend a year for the last 4 years there as two of my good friends from HS go there), but Williams actually no longer looks for the class of well-rounded individuals anymore. Indeed, the idea of the upgrade of the science buildings, the new theater and dance program, and our excellent athletics is so that Williams can attract the best scientists, best artists, and best athletes in the world to come together in our community.

Personally, I’d rather have the 10th best violinist in the world if he’s more friendly and well-balanced then the best. Again, Williams is probably better than almost any other school at getting well-rounded people, but even administrators will say the goal is the well-rounded class. This is an unfortunate trend in America which is discussed best in David Brooks’ excellent Atlantic Monthly article, The Organization Kid.

#5 Comment By Cristie On April 22, 2004 @ 3:20 pm

I accepted at Williams over Harvard seven years ago and have not regretted it. You can get an excellent education at either, but they are also–as everyone points out–two very different schools. Ultimately there is no right answer, you just have to look long and hard at what you think is important to you and what kind of experience you hope to have during your four years at college.

#6 Comment By Josh Herman On May 3, 2004 @ 4:21 am

Wow, this is so funny that you guys have a post here trying to convince Julia to go to Williams over Harvard. I am an East Chapel Hill High graduate, and I go to Tufts as a freshman. Julia Sendor is one of my closest friends, and I googled her name just out of curiosity. I had no idea that it was such a big deal that she is choosing between harvard and williams. The very fact that there are people who would devote an entry in a blog to try to get her to come to your school makes me feel like her decision to go to williams over harvard was definitely the right one. I mean, I kind of thought she should go to williams anyway, but being at Tufts, I selfishly wanted her to go to school close to me. Why am I writing this comment in here? I need to write my paper. Julia Sendor is the shit. peace

#7 Comment By Elaine On May 3, 2004 @ 12:18 pm


let me be the first person to offer condolences on your decision to go to Tufts. I’m sorry you couldn’t get in anywhere better. In any case, we don’t have any school loyalty, because we are all collectively at a safety school. Oh well–it did teach me a lot about suffering–something that is a life lesson people at happier schools don’t always learn.



#8 Comment By Josh Herman On May 3, 2004 @ 2:57 pm

hahahahaha, thats pretty funny.

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