Former Seren student Raphaelle Soffe, from Ewloe, North Wales, is studying at Harvard University in the US.
Here she tells us about life at an Ivy League university…
How has your experience of studying at Harvard so far matched up with your expectations?
Harvard is an amazing place with endless opportunities. Professors are always easily accessible and there are a wide range of classes.
There is a very strong community feel, with freshmen (first-year students) all eating in the same food hall.
There are frequent social events and trips to anything from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to hiking in New Hampshire.
Harvard has far exceeded my expectations, and I am very much looking forward to what it has to offer for the next three years of my studies.
What do you think are the main differences between the US university system and that of the UK?
The US system encourages closer relations between students. Most freshmen (first years) share dorms, and social events focus on reinforcing these developing friendships.
I also benefit from being heavily involved in the international community. To help international students settle in, Harvard runs a Freshman International Program (FIP) in August before the start of classes.
Students from all over the world are brought together and then split into smaller FIP families, with upperclassmen (senior students) acting as “parents”.
Academically, the structure of my degree is far more flexible than in the UK. I don’t choose my main subject until the second year, and I have to satisfy ‘general education’ requirements that ensure you take classes outside of your concentration.
I intend to concentrate in Government, with a secondary focus in Economics, but last semester I took a class on Shakespeare and this semester I am taking an architecture class.
The main difference is the greater focus on extracurricular activities. On top of completing my degree, I write for the Times Higher Education, and freelance for the Harvard Political Review.
I also sit on the Harvard Political Union Executive Board as Co-Director of Discussions. My role involves inviting, and liaising with, famous politicians and economists. Recently I organised a trip to the British Consulate in Boston, and moderated the discussion with the British Consulate General Harriet Cross.
I am also a Research Assistant at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs to a Research Fellow. I am currently researching women’s voting habits across the world, and specifically the development of female suffrage in France.
The American system is perfect for me. Some people prefer a greater emphasis on academia, but Harvard offers that too. Harvard has the incredible ability to mean many things to many students. It fits the student; the student doesn’t fit Harvard.
What have been your university highlights so far?
My roommates are the reason why Harvard feels like home. We’re so close, we have chosen to live together for the next three years.
Through the highs and lows, they have been there for me, and I for them. They are the closest thing I have to family here.
I couldn’t possibly put into words just how important they are to me, and to my enjoyment of the Harvard experience.
What are your plans for the future?
Sometimes it is easy to forget those who are less fortunate than you. I have tried to keep focused on what I want to achieve.
In the future I intend to commit myself to helping others, maybe through politics or another avenue.
What would you say to Seren students who are currently considering applying to Harvard, or any other US university?
Go for it. Life only happens once, and you must always try to fulfil your potential.
It’s important you don’t apply to Harvard for the name, but for the opportunities it will provide you.
This applies across the board to all universities. Think in the long term; what university will help you satisfy your career and life ambitions?
Read how Raphaelle got accepted to Harvard in a previous blog she wrote for us.