Find out what the members of the class of 2015 are up to in their first year of college. A college freshman is featured in the Freshman Focus every week.
Claire Pinson, ‘15, is a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. She was recruited for their varsity swim and dive team.
Q: What classes did you take during fall semester?
A: I took Life and Physical Sciences A, which is just a chemistry and biology course.
I took Expository Writing 10, a required class for all freshmen. (You have to take EW 20 – which is harder than 10 – but I decided to start off with 10 and take 20 next semester.) I’m also trying to do pre-med, so those two classes will fulfill my requirement of a year of English.
I also took Japanese BA which is the most basic Japanese class offered, and then I took a pass/fail class called Predictions: From Ancient Omens to Modern Computer Simulations. That class was one of a bunch of different topics you can pick from for what are called Freshman Seminars. You only take one of the seminars, and they’re only offered your freshman year.
Q: Which class do you like the best?
A: I really enjoyed my Japanese class, but it was also the hardest class that I took.
My least favorite was definitely Life and Physical Sciences A. It was a lecture-style class that I needed to take to get a requirement out of the way.
Q: How are the dorms?
A: I really lucked out with the dorms. I love my dorm and my roommate. I ended up in a room with one other girl, and we both have singles with closing doors connected to a common room. It’s awesome. If we want to be social, we can hang out in the common room, but we also have our own space.
Harvard organizes communities inside each dorm building based on what they call “entryways.” I live in Matthews, which is coed (there are no floors organized by gender), and it’s really cool to get to know all of your floormates, or your entryway. My floor has a really good mix of people.
Q: The food?
A: When you start off, you’re like “Dorm food! Yes!” But it gets kind of old. There’s only so much the cooking staff can do because they have to mass-produce food for the thousands of freshmen in the dining hall. They do their best, but it’s hard to navigate eating healthy because they try to satisfy everyone.
Q: What extracurricular activities do you participate in?
A: I’m on the varsity swim and dive team, which takes up all of my time. I’m really enjoying it, though, and a lot of my friends are also on the team.
Q: Do you enjoy being on the team?
A: Yes. The swim and dive team is my family on campus. We all come from very different backgrounds and all have very diverse personalities, but we come together and gel perfectly.
Q: What is it like swimming for Harvard?
A: Swimming for Harvard gives me so much pride and is an opportunity for me to push myself and get out of the academic world for a couple of hours every day.
Q: How is swimming different in college compared to high school?
A: College swimming is different in the fact that it’s team-oriented. In high school and club swimming, it’s usually a very individual thing because your priorities are your times, with qualifying times hanging over your head.
In college, times are insignificant. Your only objective is to touch the wall before the person next to you. My college coach explained that a true team player immediately looks up at the scoreboard after a race to find her place before her time. It’s all about the team – always.
Q: How often do you practice?
A: Our practice schedule is two hours every Monday-Friday, and two-and-a-half hours every Wednesday and Saturday. I myself try to eat proper meals, hydrate, rest, and stay mentally prepared for practice. Those things are all a 24/7 job for anyone on the team.
Q: What meets have you had so far?
A: So far we’ve had dual meets against Penn, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern. We have also had a meet in Iowa against some teams outside of the Ivy League. Harvard is undefeated in the Ivy League, and we’ll be competing against Yale and Princeton this weekend. In about two weeks, the whole Ivy League will compete against each other at the season championship meet.
Q: How do you like Cambridge?
A: I actually like it a lot. We have our own little college “bubble” on campus, and when you step off campus, it’s real life. There’s a good balance of having seclusion and feeling like you’re a college kid, and then having shopping and restaurants at your fingertips.
The public transit here is also very convenient. I’ve made it a goal to get off campus and into the city at least once a month, just to explore and get out of that bubble. It’s very easy to do that.
Q: Have you had any interesting experiences in the city?
A: One weekend I actually decided to go to New York. I took a bus with one of my teammates to New York, and we saw a Japanese rock band that I’ve always wanted to watch.
Then we were able to stay at the apartment of a Harvard alumna who was also on the swim team. It’s kind of insane how you immediately have that connection with someone. That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve done.
Q: How have you adjusted to college life?
A: I’ve gotten lost. A lot. The first week of classes, I had to use Google Maps every single time, and I still got lost. It’s kind of surprising, because the campus really isn’t that big; I think I’m just horrible with directions. Once you get the hang of all of the walking, it’s not too bad. I had to get myself some higher-quality shoes, though. It took me a few weeks to get it all figured out.
The most embarrassing mistake I’ve made is actually when I was going to a TA’s office hours for help with a group of my friends. We messed up the room, and we accidentally walked in on a class that was already 10 minutes in. We didn’t realize we’d done it, and the professor just told us to grab a seat. We thought they were explaining the material we needed help with, but we realized after a bit that they were talking about astrophysics and quantum theory and that we had absolutely no idea what was going on. So we had to get up and say “Oh, sorry!” and leave, because we were in the middle of someone’s class. It was mortifying!
Q: What makes Harvard special to you?
A: Well, firstly, when I was looking at colleges, I didn’t just look at all of the Ivies. I feel that a lot of people have the preconceived notion that all Ivies are the same, which they absolutely are not.
So Harvard stood out to me partly because of the swim team, which is such a large part of my college experience – I really connected with the coaches and my teammates – and partly because of the opportunities that are around me in the city. There’s no limit to what I’m able to do here, which I love.
Q: What advice do you have for the class of 2016?
A: When you come onto your college campus, don’t expect to make friends immediately. That will come. It might be lonely, but when you find the right people who you connect with and relate to – and you will find those people – you’ll be perfectly fine.
—By Sahej Claire