Transitioning to Harvard: International Students

learner-centered environment characterizes US classrooms. This means that students are expected to take an active role in their learning through class participation and engagement with faculty and classmates. Courses taught in a lecture format will also feature a separate, smaller discussion section centered on student participation. Several strategies can prepare you for a learner-centered environment: 

Be prepared for your class meetings.

Come ready to take notes, ask questions, and share your opinions. Class participation is important, particularly in smaller classes and sections. Your instructors and peers want to hear from you! 

Form or join a study group.

Working with your peers will help you process the material. It will also give you the chance to engage with less pressure before speaking up in class.  Check out the ARC webpage on study groups for tips on creating one of your own.

Reach out to your instructors early in the semester to establish a rapport.

If you are still working on becoming more comfortable talking in class, reach out to your instructor by coming to class early, staying after class, going to office hours, or sending an email. You can ask your instructor if other forms of participation are possible, such as engagement via email, discussion board, or office hours. 

Meet with an Academic Coach at the Academic Resource Center.

Through one-on-one meetings, academic coaches work with students on optimizing their learning experience. An academic coach can offer strategies for preparing for class discussion, give pointers on attending office hours, help with composing an email to an instructor, and more.  Use the ARC Scheduler to schedule an appointment with an academic coach.

Another defining aspect of the US classroom is its emphasis on academic integrity. Harvard has established an Honor Code that students are expected to understand and respect. You are encouraged to reach out to course faculty, your proctor, or your resident dean with questions about the Honor Code.

Collaboration policies might be new to you. It is important to know that different courses have diffierent policies around collaboration. The good news is that these policies are explained in the course syllabus. It is important to know the collaboration policy for each of your courses, so be sure to read the syllabus for each course. Some collaboration, such as collaboration on submitted work, will need to be acknowledged. Other collaboration, such as having a peer proofread your essay for grammar, may not need to be acknowledged. It is essential to refer to each course's policy and to contact your instructor if anything remains unclear.

Feedback can look different from what you’re used to. Feedback is a vital part of the learning process; it provides an opportunity for reflection on our performance and engagement with course material. It is important to take time to process written feedback. It may be that feedback at Harvard comes in a different tone than you’ve had in the past, and that means it may require some extra work to understand fully. For example, if you are used to getting very direct feedback, you may find comments from some Harvard instructors difficult to interpret at first. In U.S. universities, instructors often provide criticism in language aimed at softening its impact, which can cause students used to a more blunt style to miss the instructor's criticism altogether. If you're having any trouble understanding or interpreting your instructor's feedback, go to office hours to ask for help.

In addition to seeking support from instructors, many other programs and centers at Harvard provide support for international students.

Academic Resource Center (ARC)

The ARC recognizes the additional pressures international students might experience during their transition to Harvard. Please meet with an Academic Coach if you are experiencing difficulty with any aspect of learning at Harvard. You don't even have to know what the problem is! If you're having trouble managing your schedule, your schoolwork, or your relationships with faculty, or if you feel you aren't getting the most out of your educational experience, please reach out. We'll assist you in working through these issues and help you find anyone else you might benefit from working with.

ARC English Language Conversation Program (ELCP)

If you're looking for conversational support, the ARC peer tutoring program offers English Language Conversation Partners, who will work with you on your spoken English.

Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) hosts a weekly International Student Support Group.

First-Year Advisers, Proctors, and Peer Advising Fellows (PAFs)

Reach out to your academic adviser when you have questions about course selection or how to achieve your academic goals. (The ARC is a great place to go to set those goals!) Your proctor and PAF can give helpful tips about the subtler aspects of Harvard culture. 

Harvard College Writing Center

The English Language and Grammar Tutor at the Writing Center is a great resource for international students seeking support for writing in courses and for applications.

Office of International Education (OIE)

The OIE supports your curricular and extracurricular experiences and can connect you with academic and University resources to enhance your education. It also supports the First-Year International Program (FIP) and collaborates with the Harvard Woodbridge International Society. Your fellow international students can provide invaluable insight into navigating Harvard. For first-year students going to FIP, try to connect with some of your leaders and consider joining the Woodbridge Society.

Accordion style