Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?

When I decided to return to school in the spring of 2018, I knew that I wanted the most challenging academic experience I could find, while continuing to work full-time and avoid relocating. I spent a lot of hours online, comparing schools and programs, and found that there were a lot of places where I could finish a degree in a short period of time, but only a couple of programs that offered the kind of academic rigor I wanted. 

For me, Harvard Extension School’s “prove your way in” admissions made it the clear first choice. I knew that if I could clear that hurdle, I would be able to compete at the highest academic levels. I think this policy is brilliant, as it places the responsibility for admission squarely on the student candidate, and removes the temptation to fluff up a resumé or rely on recommendations. It creates a level playing field, and contributes to the egalitarian atmosphere of the school. 

How has your HES experience helped you in your career or personal development?

Before beginning at HES, I was adept at balancing multiple demands and complex schedules, but my time at Harvard added another dimension. Looking back now, as a new graduate, I can’t believe how much I’ve done over the last few years. I was recently listening to an episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, in which he said that Harvard folks “have a relentless confidence in their own hands.” That really resonated with me. Aside from the perspective that I’ve gained from my field of study in Philosophy & Ethics, my renewed belief in myself and my capability has been a huge help professionally and personally.

What was the most challenging aspect of your time at Extension? What was the most rewarding?

I took a full load of classes each summer session, for four years. With the benefit of hindsight, I likely shouldn’t have! Juggling twelve hours of regular class meetings weekly, alongside section discussions, writing deadlines, and testing requirements, stretched me to my personal limits. But, I learned that I can stretch pretty far, without breaking.

The most rewarding part of my time at HES was during the early months of the pandemic. Keeping regular class meetings, while all else was in turmoil, was an emotional anchor for me and many of my classmates. And, we were meeting from all over the world; that was invaluable, as it magnified the common humanity we all share in the face of existential threats, like pandemics! I will long remember my classmates from that time.

How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities?

Fortunately, both my family and my work were incredibly supportive. I consulted with each before registering for classes each term, and sometimes adjusted my courses based on conflicts or concerns that other folks in my life raised, when looking over my proposed schedules. The most important thing was communicating my schedule with each, from class meetings to important deadlines. With my family, particularly, we learned to take advantage of moments of “found time,” when we had last-minute shifts in the schedule.

Do you have any advice for new students?

In general, learn to be open to feedback and other viewpoints. Resist the temptation to defend your writing, and realize that if someone is raising concerns about how you’ve developed your argument, or phrased a clause, you’ve likely got some clean-up to do! 

One specific piece of advice: fill out your course evaluations with honest, detailed feedback; and, use the course evaluations from previous years when choosing what classes to register for. You’ll soon get a feel for what classes, and professors, you’ll connect with. That will make your experience much more enriching.  

Describe your Extension School experience in one word.


*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.