Harvard University

Students Speak…

Harvard University courtyard

Student: Mike Shao | College: Harvard University

Introduction: My name is Mike and I’m a sophomore at Harvard studying History. I’m interested in early modern history and love watching movies and hiking in my spare time. I met Vinnie in my junior year of high school and appreciate his incredibly helpful advice on planning my high school career and preparing for college applications. Vinnie helped me brainstorm extracurricular activities that suit my interest and adopted a very detail-oriented approach while giving feedback on my college essays. He trained me to become a much better writer who knows how to tell a compelling story. He understands very well what it entails to be considered for America’s top colleges, and loves to give students pep talks to encourage them to stay focused and motivated.

January 2019: Mike's Interview

1.) Tell me about your experience at Harvard.

Harvard has been an absolutely eye-opening experience for me. I could never have imagined that I would be able to get into a selfie with Mitt Romney, interview former Department of State senior officials, invite world-class professors to a one-on-one faculty dinner, and get involved in so many high-impact extracurricular activities as a college student. Sometimes professors complain that Harvard students are not taking their academics as seriously as they should. That doesn’t mean students are wasting their time–they’re often so busy with everything else that there is little time left for completing work assignments.

However, not every single day at Harvard is filled with so much excitement. It can feel like a normal college where students are allowed to make mistakes and have no idea of what they want to do in life. It’s a place with a diverse group of students, ranging from aspiring archaeologists, scientists, artists, musicians to those focused on their pre-professional pursuits. People are friendly and nice to each other, but they can be too busy for each other. They are ambitious, but not annoyingly competitive.

2.) What’s the international community like there?

There are around 10% of international students, hailing from over 80 countries. Canadian students are the largest among internationals, followed by British students. The number of Chinese international students has stayed very low each year. Therefore, students generally have a very integrated social experience (rather than hang out exclusively with students from their own country).

3.) What is the best thing about studying there so far? What do you find unique about the university or surprising maybe…

The opportunity to take classes taught by world-class professors and exchange thoughts with incredibly bright peers. Many professors are experts in their field (my freshman seminar professor is an expert on death penalty in America, and we read many of her own papers in class, which were considered must-reads in the field), and get called to DC occasionally to provide policy advice. There are also many “informal” opportunities of learning, such as attending talks by politicians (we were honored by the visits of the Colombian President, John Kerry, and Malala in the past semester). My classmates always amaze me with their thoughtfulness and eloquence. In my Social Studies introduction class, students sometimes openly take issue with the professors’ stance and are able to defend their opinions eloquently.

4.) What are some activities you’re involved with there? Briefly describe…

Institute of Politics: hub of political enthusiasts at Harvard, with exciting opportunities such as visits by state leaders and congressional leaders. I got involved in a study group in freshman year and even staffed a talk by Mitt Romney (took a selfie with him).

Harvard College China Forum: we run one of the largest U.S.-China forums in North America, covering a wide variety of topics including international relations, finance, entrepreneurship, culture, and entertainment. The conference is hosted in April with 1000+ attendees each year.

The Harvard Crimson: oldest college newspaper in America. I’m involved in the Business Board (for better hours) and am in charge of brainstorming alternative revenue projects and helping coordinate summer tutoring programs for high school students.

5.) What’s your favorite local food since you’ve been there?

Lobster roll is probably my favorite local food in Boston, although I cannot afford to have it very often. Try to plan a trip to Maine and order lobster roll at a traditional lobster shack.

Burgers-wise, Shake Shack is my favorite. I love ramen places, Thai and Indian restaurants in Harvard Square. There are also good Chinese restaurants like Flame and Dumpling House.

6.) What advice would you give to other students planning to attend university overseas?

1. Manage your time well and learn to prioritize.
2. Be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Embrace friends from different backgrounds.
3. Have a lot of fun and seize every opportunity to travel when you can.
4. Take classes that challenge you intellectually, but don’t cause a disaster to your GPA.
5. Expect a lot of readings but learn to skim.
6. Start thinking about planning your career early and solicit advice from people who’ve been through the process.