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.