The Class of 2020 saw administrators implement many changes to academic requirements and undergraduate social life — including an overhauled General Education system and the elimination of Harvard time — during their four years.
Seniors arrived on campus in 2016 in the midst of unparalleled change. As seniors started their academic careers, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences worked to establish a new General Education system, a process that did not conclude until the Class of 2020’s senior year. During seniors’ time at Harvard, FAS added new fields of study and eliminated Advanced Standing. Administrators also worked to reshape social life at the College.
Even the physical landscape changed during their four years. Harvard finished construction on the Smith Campus Center and concluded renovations of Winthrop House and Lowell House. The class of 2020 are not the only ones departing Harvard this year — they will be followed by five Houses’ faculty deans.
As in previous years, most seniors reported prioritizing academics during their college careers. Nearly 90 percent of the Class of 2020 said academics were “very important” or “important” to them, and respondents reported devoting an average of 34 hours a week to academics — a figure identical to last year’s average. During seniors’ time at Harvard, FAS added a new concentration, Environmental Science and Engineering, and a new secondary, Educational Studies, to bring the total number of concentrations to 50 and total number of secondaries to 67. The top concentrations among seniors were Computer Science, Economics, Applied Math, Government, and History and Literature.
- Similar to previous years, a plurality of seniors — 36 percent — concentrated in the social sciences. A quarter of seniors concentrated in the Sciences, 21 percent in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and 16 percent in the Arts and Humanities.
- Eighty-two percent of respondents said they were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their concentration, and 78 percent said they chose their concentration primarily due to academic interest. Nine percent reported post-graduation preparation as their primary reason for choosing their concentration.
- Fifty-eight percent of seniors said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their experience with General Education; 21 percent reported being “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”
- Five percent of respondents are graduating with Advanced Standing, a program that allowed students to use advanced high school credits to graduate early or earn a master’s degree in four years. The Class of 2020 will be among the last to have Advanced Standing graduates, as the program was axed last year and replaced with a concurrent bachelor’s and master’s degree program open to all College students.
- Fifty-three percent of respondents said they chose to write a senior thesis.
Grade point averages continue to inch upward as many seniors reported high GPAs. Grade inflation has long remained a concern ever since a former dean of undergraduate education revealed in 2013 that the median grade at Harvard was an A-, and the most commonly awarded grade was an A.
- Seventy-two percent of respondents reported a GPA of 3.7 or higher. An A- is a 3.6, according to Harvard’s grading scale.
- The most commonly reported GPA — rounded to one decimal place — was a 3.9, comprising 24 percent of respondents. Two years ago, the most commonly reported GPA was a 3.8, which comprised 20 percent of the Class of 2018.
- Seniors with advanced standing tended to have higher GPAs. Fifty-five percent of those with advanced standing reported having a GPA of at least 3.9, compared to 32 percent of seniors without advanced standing.
During the Class of 2020’s first semester on Harvard’s campus, more than 60 students in Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I,” appeared before the College’s Honor Council for academic dishonesty. CS50 has some of the highest enrollment numbers at the College, with 636 students at the time of the cheating incidents. Three percent of survey respondents said they had appeared before the Honor Council, a figure similar to last year’s. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they have cheated in an academic context, including on homework assignments, projects, and both take-home and in-class exams.
- Of the seniors who said they have cheated, 93 percent said they did so on a problem set or a homework assignment; 42 percent on a paper, take-home exam, or a project; and 14 percent on an in-class exam.
- Roughly 17 percent of students who reported earning a 4.0 GPA also reported cheating in an academic context at some point during their college career. Students with a GPA of 3.4 had among highest percentage — nearly 40 percent — of people in that category who reported cheating.
- The Class of 2020 overestimated the number of their fellow seniors who cheated on regular homework assignments. When asked to predict the percentage of their classmates who have cheated on homework, respondents on average estimated 56 percent.
Extracurriculars and Varsity Sports
As in previous years, seniors reported prizing extracurricular activities: 74 percent of respondents said extracurriculars were “very important” or “important” to their lives at Harvard. Surveyed students also said they spent an average of 17 hours a week on extracurriculars.
- Seventeen percent of seniors reported playing a varsity sport while at Harvard. Of those students, roughly half said they were recruited to play for the Crimson, and around 28 percent said they stopped playing at some point during their time at Harvard. A separate Crimson analysis found that more than a quarter of varsity athletes in the Class of 2020 quit by senior year.
- Thirty percent of seniors — down seven percentage points from last year — said that paid employment was “very important” or “important” to their time at Harvard. Respondents reported working on average 11 hours a week.
House and Social Life
Before the coronavirus outbreak forced seniors to scatter across the country, a majority of the Class of 2020 resided in one of Harvard’s 12 undergraduate Houses, a living arrangement that 87 percent of seniors said left them “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.” Harvard is currently undertaking a more than $1 billion project to modernize the Houses and is in the middle of renovationing Adams House.
- Cabot House boasted the highest satisfaction rate — 98 percent — out of the 12 Houses.
- Kirkland residents were least satisfied with their accommodations. Sixty-one percent of Kirkland seniors reported being either “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied,” and 29 percent reported either being “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their living arrangements.
The Class of 2020 reported prioritizing their social life at higher rates than previous classes. Eighty-two percent of seniors said their social life was “very important” or “important” to their time at Harvard, representing an increase of five percentage points from last year. This year’s seniors also reported spending more time on their social life. On average, the Class of 2020 devoted 20 hours a week to their social life, up from the 16 hours per week the Class of 2019 reported last year.
- Thirty-six percent of the Class of 2020 — marking a decrease of nine percentage points from last year — said extracurricular organizations were “very important” to their social experience at Harvard. Twenty-two percent of seniors identified private dorm parties as “very important,” and 16 percent said the same about final clubs, fraternities, sororities, and other social organizations.
- Only 10 percent and 9 percent of respondents said House-sponsored events and College-wide events, respectively, were “very important” to their Harvard social experience.