The Absentee’s Guide to Visitas

Were it not for recent shootings in Boston, yesterday would have marked the start to Harvard’s annual Visitas, a smorgasbord of events meant to titillate those prospective students not already titillated by the “Intro to Congress” cheating scandal, the faculty email scandal, and HUDS chicken francaise. While it’s unfortunate that the weekend has now been canceled, we can fill you in on some of the details. Prefrosh — what you missed!

The relevant point is that we have everything Yale has, plus science. Perhaps this matters little to you; perhaps you intend to curl up with Plutarch and Wittgenstein. But had you been my prefrosh, I would have advised that you at least sit in on a computer science lecture, maybe a class on abstraction with Greg Morrisett or an algorithms course with Michael Mitzenmacher. So many people realize junior or senior year that they should have studied computer science that it’s best to get the jolt early. Read the rest of this entry »

Freshman Fifteen

A little while ago, I was delighted to receive an email from a friend back home. She had been admitted to Harvard and wanted to ask me a couple questions. Amid mundane worries about the weather in Cambridge and about Harvard’s many course offerings were some more provoking in nature: How happy are you on a day-to-day basis? How often do you compare yourself to those around you? What advice would you give to a freshman entering college?

I want to touch on that last one because while advice is ubiquitous, it is often difficult to apply. “Start a fresh chapter,” people will say, or “be open to new possibilities.” What that means now in hindsight is change your name, cut your hair, and dump your boyfriend.

Life moves in limps and lurches. College, especially the beginning of college, is a sprint. And in the spirit of giving useful advice, here are fifteen actionable tips to help you run faster. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Camp

PRISE, Harvard’s undergraduate science research program, is full of smart kids, grant money, and cutting edge experiments. But deep down it’s still summer camp. And summer camp has always been a time-warped, over-sexed, over-scheduled version of real life. So there’s the quiz bowl, the mandatory celebrity lectures, the repetitive dining hall back-and-forths, the awkward allusions to instances of PRISE-cest. Go forth and cross-pollinate!

Summer camp is often a fascinating social skills incubator. You’re forced to meet a hundred supposedly like-minded individuals, socialize with them, and walk away co-authors. If you don’t, you suffer the consequences, which may include sitting alone in the cafeteria or “not having a good time.” Both are fatal.

But seriously. I read an article in The New York Times that reported a recent spate of mothers bringing their 12-year olds in for leg and bikini waxes as preparation for summer camp. I saw it and thought, that’s bullshit. If they need any preparation, it’s this: Read the rest of this entry »

Eligible Women

The lack of eligible females is a common refrain heard at Harvard (and everywhere else). Yet I look around and see plenty of girls who are beautiful, brilliant, and determined. Even assuming an overly-generous evaluation on my part, there still seems to be a major discrepancy between the supply of dateable girls and the male perception of that supply.

Some of that discrepancy can be chalked up to bitterness on the male end (as the women of Harvard will be quick to point out), but the result still seems surprising. If you’re a nerd, there’s no better place to find a girlfriend than a school where people enjoy debating the relative merits of Python and Ruby and the relative demerits of Livy and Cicero. Your chances for a meaningful emotional and intellectual connection should be higher. Your complaints, if any, should be over things like looks. Read the rest of this entry »

Primal Scream

Of Harvard’s many traditions, Primal Scream is the best. It’s naked girls, naked guys, and the men’s cross country team.

So as an aid to your efforts tonight (midnight, Old Yard), I’m going to present some ground rules. Try to remember them no matter how inebriated you are later.

Attire: For girls, trench-coats. For guys, underwear. Doff once in the Yard. Also, shoes. You don’t know what the Occupy people have fertilized that lawn with.

Positioning: The issue with being at the front of the pack is that you’re more likely to be photographed. The issue with being at the back of the pack is that you’re more likely to be photographed. The issue with being in the middle is all the strange penises pressing up against various parts of your body. But that won’t get you kicked out of your New York congressional seat, so stick to the middle. Read the rest of this entry »


As a follow-up to my post on formal etiquette, I’d like to provide a guide to dirty dancing at Harvard. Since so many guys get so many steps of this wrong, I’m going to be thorough.

You and your bros arrive at a large, muggy room somewhere in the quad. Hopefully the place is already packed with CSA girls. If it isn’t, leave and come back later.

The dance party is now in full swing. Maybe you’re standing awkwardly to the side, holding a beer, and looking at your phone like someone is actually calling you. Put the phone away. There is a group of girls jumping frantically up and down in the middle. Move toward the one closest to you. Place your hand firmly on her shoulder and leave it there until you have her attention. Say exactly, “Would you like to dance?” A lot of guys just start grinding up behind a girl, and to be honest, meet very little resistance, but that’s poor form. (Note: Make sure to get rid of your beer in advance. You’ll need both hands free for this.) Read the rest of this entry »

Formal Etiquette

Formal season approaches, and for those of you whose prom experience consisted of breathalyzers, forced poses, and tuxes that made you look like a cater waiter (that is, all of you), this is an opportunity to recoup your losses!

First off, formal is primarily about your date. Don’t let the House Committees, with their themes and live bands and ballroom dancing lessons, persuade you otherwise. It’s Harvard. If you wanted finger food you’d go to a recruiting event.

So who should you take? A debate that my girlfriends and I have every semester is whether to invite a romantic interest or a good friend. The pros of inviting a good friend are that it’s likely to be less awkward; if you plan ahead you may wrangle a good dancer, and since you’re not too worried about impressing him, you can just re-wear the obscenely shiny gold dress that you keep on hand for Gilbert and Sullivan parties. He’s also probably already friends with your other friends, and all in all, this could be another Saturday night out, with fruitier drinks. Read the rest of this entry »